Canada, Russia battle for gold
Canada will shoot for a third consecutive gold medal victory over Russia at the world junior hockey championship on Friday (1:30 p.m. ET).
While the respective teams are focused on the task at hand in Leksand, Sweden, the game also will result in some historical bragging rights. Regardless of the outcome, the winning team's country will move to an all-time best 12 world junior titles since the tournament was sanctioned by the International Ice Hockey Federation in 1977.
Canada overcame their stiffest test yet in a 2-1 shootout win over the U.S. in the semifinal on Wednesday.
The team is hoping that Jonathan Toews won't have to resort to his shootout mastery in the finals for a win, though the University of North Dakota forward wouldn't seem to mind.
"It's almost like you are your country's hero just for a night and to get that feeling again would be unbelievable," said Toews. "That's what I'm playing for — for everyone back home and the guys on our team."
The Canadian coaches would welcome some more production from Toews's fellow forwards. Not counting the goal awarded for the shootout, the team has scored 15 goals in five games, with eight of them scored by defencemen.
In addition, half of the total goals have occurred on the power play.
"I think we need to get excited about playing well rather than worrying about playing well," coach Craig Hartsburg said Thursday.
For their part, Russia scored three unanswered goals en route to a 4-2 victory over Sweden to advance to the final. The Swedes were the only common opponent of Friday's finallists, with Canada beating the host country 2-0 in the tournament's opener.
Canada beat Russians in 2005, 2006
Canada drubbed the Russians 5-0 in 2006 in Vancouver, and 6-1 the previous year in North Dakota.
In addition to those defeats, Russian forward Ilya Zubov said motivation comes from the perception of the team back home.
"Last year we had [Evgeni] Malkin and all the attention was to him," Russian forward Ilya Zubov said. "This year, we don't have a star, but we are playing as a team.
"In Russia, nobody believes in us for this world championship. We want to show them what we can do."
While Canada has won a couple of low-scoring affairs, thanks to their team defence and the goaltending of Montreal Canadiens prospect Carey Price, Russia has scored at least three goals in every contest.
Skeptics would point out that Russia had an easier group of teams to contend with in the first round, with 12 of their 24 goals coming in a pair of games against Switzerland and Belarus.
Alexei Cherepanov, 17-year-old eligible for the next NHL entry draft, leads the team with five goals and three assists. Semen Varlamov, a first-round draft pick of the Washington Capitals, has played strongly in net.
While Canada has enjoyed tremendous success in the last two tournaments and are riding a 17-game winning streak,it has been 1997 since a squad has won it all outside of North America.
TheU.S. edged Sweden 2-1 in Friday's bronze-medal game.
with files from the Canadian Press