Canada And Russia To Meet In World Junior Hockey Championship Semifinal

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Canada and Russia to meet in world junior hockey championship semifinal

If the Canadian team downplayed the revenge factor heading into their world junior hockey championship semifinal, their opponent Russia didn’t.

Tuesday’s semifinal between Canada and Russia is a rematch of the gold-medal game last year in Buffalo, N.Y.

Canada led that game 3-0 heading into the third period when Russia poured five goals in Canada’s net to take the title.

"Everybody is remembering Canada lost in the finals," Russia coach Valeri Bragin said. "They’ll do their best to take revenge, but we’ll also try our best to win a second year in a row."

Sweden and Finland meet in the other semifinal. The semifinal winners play for gold and the losers for bronze Thursday.

For the Canadian players, even those who participated in the 2011 final in Buffalo, N.Y., there’s enough on the line without bringing up the past.

"It’s not last year," forward Brett Connolly pointed out. "It’s a new year for them too. They have new players too.

"We’re focused on getting to the gold-medal game and getting a win. There’s no revenge here."

A combined five people on both teams were involved in last year’s final. Bragin is behind the country’s bench again, while captain Evgeni Kuznetsov is the lone returning player from the championship side.

When asked if he thought Canada would be motivated to eliminate his team from gold-medal contention because of what happened last year, the Washington Capitals draft pick said via an interpreter, "I don’t care."

"We are not afraid of Canada," Kuznetsov added.

Goaltender Mark Visentin, who was in Canada’s net in last year’s final, Connolly and winger Quinton Howden played in that game. Current captain Jaden Schwartz was with the Canadian team, but didn’t play in the final because of a fractured ankle.

Connolly allows that his experience and those of the other second-year players can help settle their teammates down should the game against Russia get tense.

"When stuff starts going south, which it might, you never know . . . we’ve got to stick together as a team," Connolly said.

"Last year obviously in the final game that happened, but again, there’s a few returning guys who have been through that so we can help the other guys out if that happens."

Canada and Sweden earned byes to the semifinals by finishing first in their respective pools and didn’t have to play quarter-finals Monday.

Russia will play their second game in as many days Tuesday (TSN 9 p.m. ET). The defending champions needed overtime to put the Czechs away 2-1 in their quarter-final.

Russia’s protection of its own zone is its weakness, but goaltender Andrei Vasilevski has shown he can bail the defence out. He made 38 saves versus the Czechs.

Statistically, Russia and Canada ranked first and second respectively in the preliminary round in scoring efficiency, power play, penalty kill and goaltending save percentage.

Canada has dominated the first period, outscoring their opposition 9-0 in four games and drawing energy from the home crowd.

"Every time Canada plays, it will be hard and physical and a really good start they have," said London Knights defenceman Alexander Khokhlachev. "Everybody understands right now it will be a really hard game because they lost last year in the final."

Russia was pushed more this tournament than Canada, who went 4-0 and outscored their opposition 26-5 in the preliminary round.

"Within those games there are times where we had to step up and show some character," Canadian forward Brendan Gallagher said. "There were points in those games where we were being pushed and we had to stand strong as a team."

In addition to their overtime win, Russia lost in overtime to the Swedes in a game that decided first place in Pool B. Bragin didn’t believe Canada’s tightest game, a 3-2 win over the U.S., pushed the host country to its limits.

"It was like a friendly game against the United States. Not much hitting. No emotion," he said. "I don’t think it was a really good test for Canada."

Russia has six NHL draft picks in the lineup, as well as highly-rated prospects for the 2012 entry draft in forwards Nail Yakupov and Mikhail Grigorenko. Yakupov plays for the Ontario Hockey League’s Sarnia Sting.

The Scotiabank Saddledome was firmly on the side of the Czechs in the quarter-final versus Russia. The crowd will be even harder on the Russians when they take to the ice Tuesday night against the home team.

"Every fan says Czech Republic, Czech Republic. I don’t know why," Yakupov said in broken English. "I think because we’re better and we’re stronger and we’re the best team in the world juniors, so we don’t care."

Donna Spencer

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