Canada crushes U.S. in world junior semis
Gold-medal game Wednesday against Russia
HSBC Arena, Buffalo, N.Y.
Mark Visentin, G, CAN — 22 Saves, 1A
Ryan Johansen, F, CAN — 1G
Zack Kassian, F, CAN — 1G
Steve Yzerman sure has the golden touch these days.
In the past 11 months, he steered Canada to gold in Vancouver as the men's Olympic hockey team executive director. He also has the Tampa Bay Lightning off to a decent start as a rookie general manager in the NHL.
And 24 hours after he improved the Lightning by acquiring veteran goalie Dwayne Roloson, Yzerman addressed the Canadian junior team.
His encouraging words had a hand in the teenagers' impressive 4-1 victory over the rival United States on Monday in Buffalo, N.Y., to earn a spot in the gold-medal final of the world junior hockey championship against Russia on Wednesday.
Yzerman's message after Canada's quarter-final victory against Switzerland on Sunday was simple and similar to the one he delivered through a speakerphone when candidates for the 2009 Canadian junior team gathered for the selection camp.
He told the youngsters to have fun and know that sometime during the game they would face adversity. How well the juniors dealt with that adversity would determine the difference.
Funny thing is, the Canadian juniors never faced any adversity in their near-perfect performance against the U.S. They did, however, need to overcome stage fright and poor goaltending early in the tournament, which had hindered their play.
Leading Canadian scorers
*Tournament position in brackets
|1. Brayden Schenn (1)||7||9||16|
|2. Ryan Johansen (T2)||3||6||9|
|3. Ryan Ellis (4)||2||7||9|
|4. Louis Leblanc (14)||3||3||6|
|5. Erik Gudbranson (19)||3||2||5|
Mark Visentin was sound in net, with a 22-save effort and no soft goals. The players in front of him were spot-on. The defence defended. The forwards forechecked.
The Canadian juniors were strong in their positional game, superior physically with some booming bodychecks, moved the puck with precision and made the most of their scoring chances on U.S. netminder Jack Campbell.
"You have to give the Canadians credit, they came out and played like men," said U.S. forward Chris Kreider.
Canada outshot its rivals 41-23. The score could have been more lopsided if Campbell did not play as well as he did. The winner of two world under-18 championships and last year's world junior in Saskatoon was seeking his fourth international title in a row.
"There's not much to say," Campbell said. "Canada came out and definitely brought their 'A' game. It's pretty disappointing right now. I don't think every guy in our locker room could go around and say they played their best game, even including myself.
"I've never gone through this before. [U.S. forward] Jason Zucker and I have been talking about making it four straight ever since we won last year. To actually be shut down by a great Canadian team has already hit me, and it sucks."
So how did Canada overcome its early tournament jitters? Each player talked about the lift he received from the loyal fans who have flocked to Buffalo, investing money in tickets and overpriced parking as well as time in two-hour-plus delays to get across the Peace Bridge that connects Fort Erie, Ont., with Buffalo.
"The biggest thing: our fans were there for us," Canadian forward Ryan Johansen said. "During the warmup, you're basically shivering because of how loud it was. We know we have our country behind us and it's a great feeling."
Partisan Canadian crowd
Of the 18,690 who filled the seats at HSBC Arena, about 80 per cent were cheering for Canada. What they saw was Canada jump to a 2-0 lead in the opening 20 minutes. Curtis Hamilton banged in his own rebound and Quinton Howden converted a Brett Connolly pass on a 3-on-2 rush.
The Canadians upped their lead to 3-0 with a Johansen power-play goal during a 5-on-3 advantage, when he knocked in a rebound on captain Ryan Ellis's blast from the point.
Ellis, however, was not credited with an assist, which would have extended his record for all defencemen at the world junior tournament to 25 points in 18 games.
Zack Kassian thrilled the Buffalo Sabres fans in the crowd — he's a Sabres prospect — with a breakaway goal in the third period on a perfect stretch pass from defenceman Calvin de Haan to put the Canadians up 4-0.
"It's probably the most complete game as I've ever played with a team," said Ellis, a two-time Memorial Cup winner with the Windsor Spitfires and 2009 gold-medal winner with the Canadian juniors. "My team tonight was lights out, second to none. That's a very good team over there, but we just had something else tonight."
Howden said he watched last year's U.S. win in overtime in the gold-medal final at home with his buddies in Moose Jaw, Sask., where he plays for the Warriors. It was tough to watch, even though he didn't make the team. But the Canadians wanted to exact revenge for the four returning players Ellis, de Haan, Jared Cowen and Brayden Schenn.
"We've all seen that goal that [U.S. defenceman] John Carlsson scored a 100 times," Hamilton said. "This means a lot, but it means more to the [four returnees]."
"Losing last year really stung a lot, for a lot of Canadians," Ellis said. "Everybody kind of bashed us in the media, saying we're not skilled, we're not the go-to team, we're underdogs. That lit a little fire, everyone doubting us. You can never count us out. I'm just proud of the boys."
This is the first time since the tournament went from a round-robin format to a playoff format that the two advancing quarter-finalists have gone on to the final.