The United States juniors claim they haven't yet played their best hockey at the 2013 World Under-20 Championship, but they sure looked like they were in top form against the Czech Republic on Wednesday.
On the strength of five power-play goals, including three from 5-foot-8, 150-pound Calgary Flames prospect John Gaudreau, the U.S. whipped their opponents 7-0 in the quarterfinals at Ufa, Russia.
If there was a lesson hammered home from the dominant U.S. shutout win, the Canadians know they will need to be disciplined in the rematch from Canada's 2-1 victory against the U.S. in the round-robin on Sunday.
The American juniors have the tournament's most efficient special teams. They have gone 12-for-33 in man-advantage situations, including a power-play goal in that loss to Canada on Sunday, and they also have killed off a tournament-best 21-of-23 penalties.
Discipline was a concern for the Canadian juniors when they arrived in Ufa after a pair of penalty-filled pre-tournament games against Finland and Russia. But Canada has calmed down a bit once the tournament began.
With the exception of the five-minute major penalties and game misconducts to Canadian forwards J.C. Lipon and Anthony Camara in the game against Slovakia last Friday, they have been good boys in Russia. They have yielded the opposition a respectable 18 power plays in four games.
The Americans will be a physical test. They started the previous game against Canada that way, but abandoned the blueprint when Canada swiftly built an early 2-0 lead.
Teammate vs. teammate
Whenever Canada and the U.S. clash in this tournament, some teammates from back in North America meet up. This game will see Canadian head coach Steve Spott and Kitchener Rangers defenceman Ryan Murphy go up against U.S. and Rangers goalie John Gibson, who stopped Murphy on a three-on-one break in Sunday's game.
Portland Winterhawks teammates, Ty Rattie of Canada and U.S. blue-chip defenceman Seth Jones, will see plenty of action against one another.
U.S. forward Tyler Biggs and his Oshawa Generals linemate Boone Jenner also will clash in this one.
Meanwhile, the other semifinal on Thursday will see a rematch of last year's Russia-Sweden gold-medal final after Russia survived a scare to score a come-from-behind 4-3 shootout win against Switzerland.
Here are five tidbits about the North American semifinal matchup and Russia's close shave against Switzerland.
1. U.S. coach Phil Housley has on his team 13 U.S. college players, nine CHLers and an AHLer in New York Rangers prospect J.T. Miller, who plays for the Connecticut Whale.
The NHL may not be thriving in some Sunbelt cities, but hockey clearly has spread to all corners of the U.S. This year's U.S. junior team has representation from 13 different states: California, Florida, Illinois, Ohio, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin.
2. The U.S. junior team certainly reflects the way Housley (351 goals, 1,288 points in 1,580 combined NHL regular season and playoff games) generated so much offence from his blue-line position.
The U.S.'s top six defencemen - Jones, Jacob Trouba, Connor Murphy, Mike Reilly, Shayne Gostisbehere, Jake McCabe - have scored a combined eight of the team's 26 goals and, in total, 23 points in five games.
Jones, a candidate to go first overall in the 2013 NHL draft, and Trouba, a Winnipeg Jets prospect, lead the way offensively from the back end. Trouba has four goals and eight points. Jones has scored once and assisted on six others.
3. When the Canadians beat the U.S. last Sunday, they accomplished the feat with only 11 forwards. Third-line centre Jenner was sitting out the third game of a three-game suspension for a late hit in an exhibition game versus Sweden on Dec. 22. Lipon was banished for a one-game suspension he incurred in the round-robin game against Slovakia.
Jenner gave the Canadian junior team a huge energy and physical boost in his return against the Russians. His return also strengthened the depth of Canada's top three lines.
4. What did the Canadians do on their two off days? On New Year's Day, they stayed off the ice and instead had a team video hockey tournament. On Wednesday, Spott put his players through a high-tempo and intense practice.
5. Switzerland coach Sean Simpson of Brampton, Ont. continued to impress the hockey community with the job he did with his junior team. The Russians needed a power-play goal with one minute, 39 seconds remaining in the third period to send the quarter-final game to overtime and then survive in the shootout. Switzerland hasn't lost a game in regulation time in Ufa, but has dropped three games in a shootout and another in overtime.
The 52-year-old Simpson played for legendary coach Brian Kilrea and the Ottawa 67's between 1977-80 and actually suited up for the 1980 world junior tournament.
His best season was a 65-goal year in 1979-80 on a line with Jim Fox and Yvon Joly. That entire trio was picked up to play in the world juniors by the Peterborough Petes, who, as the reigning Memorial Cup champs, represented Canada back then.
A Chicago Blackhawks draft pick, Simpson helped the AHL New Brunswick Hawks win the 1981-82 Calder Cup championship, but he never played an NHL game and finished his career in Europe.
Simpson has coached in Germany and Switzerland for 13 seasons with stops in Munich, Hamburg, Zug and Zurich before taking over the Swiss national senior and junior programs.
Simpson also was the head coach of the gold-medal winning Canadian team at the 2007 Spengler Cup and was runner-up at the same tournament in 2008. He also led Zurich to the Champions Hockey League title in 2008-09, and guided the Munich Barons to a German league title in 1999-2000.
He certainly caught the hockey world by surprise three years ago when he steered Zurich to an upset 2-1 victory against the Blackhawks in the exhibition Victoria Cup in Sept. 2010. Eight months later, Chicago won the Stanley Cup.
Simpson almost caught the hockey world by surprise again on Wednesday.
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