For the sixth time in the last eight years Canada will face off against the Russians in the medal round of the World Junior Championship. Canada is 15-11-2 vs. Russia/USSR going back to 1982 (the first year for the Canadian National Junior Team) but the only thing that matters right now avenging a 5-3 loss to the Ruskies from one year ago.
The Russians squeaked into this one with a 2-1 OT win over the Czech’s while Canada won Group B, and had the quarterfinal bye. Game time is 8:30 pm EST / 6:30 MST
The only team to come through the tournament with a perfect 4-0 record, Canada looks to keep on rolling. Mark Stone is tied for the lead in goals, with seven (9 pts) and Jonathan Huberdeau is second in assists, also with seven (8pts). Add Ryan Strome (8 pts) to the mix and the Canadians boast three of the top ten scorers in the tournament. Canada has dominated the face-off circle from the beginning; Boone Jenner leads all centers at almost 72%.
Canada will have had an immediate advantage with having the day off yesterday, and by the sounds of it, it was well needed. The flu has found its way into the dressing room and the team has taken every precaution to ensure it has no effect on the performance of the players today.
Both Don Hay and assistant coach, Scott Walker, were absent from yesterday’s practice. When Michael Bournival got hit with the bug, team doctors began taking every measure to curb the matter; mandatory hand washing and personal hand sanitizers for each player to get them through these last few days. After missing the game against Denmark, Bournival will return to the line up. The rest of the team is ready to go.
Nathan Beaulieu appears to be ready, even after taking a shot to the face, so that is good news. It also appears Scott Harrington will be back in the lineup despite leaving last game with what was only called an "upper body injury". All in all, Canada will roll with the line up that brought them this far.
Jaden Schwartz – Mark Scheifele – Brendan Gallagher
Jonathan Huberdeau – Ryan Strome – Mark Stone
Quinton Howden – Freddie Hamilton – Brett Connolly
Michael Bournival – Boone Jenner – Tanner Pearson
Brandon Gormley – Dougie Hamilton
Scott Harrington – Ryan Murray
Jamie Oleksiak – Nathan Beaulieu
Scott Wedgewood leads all goalies with a 1.00 GAA and will get the call against Russia. Wedgewood has played very well for Canada and has earned the right to carry the mail for the remainder of the tournament.
Many fans held their breath against the U.S. when Emerson Etem spontaneously took up human bowling, and took out the Canadian goalie in a race for the puck during the NYE contest. Wedgewood was knocked into a full flip in the air, landing awkwardly.
Some have questioned the presence of Visentin on the club over a goalie like Tyler Bunz. Bunz outplayed Visentin during the selection camp, though Mark got the call anyways, mostly because of his experience. It was his experience last year with the Russians that left fans holding their breath when Wedgewood was sent airborne. Apparently with the day off though, he will be good to go.
Despite the fact that no one is surprised to see this team once again in the semi-finals, the Russians were a not the dominating force we have become accustomed to seeing. Their path to the medal round wasn’t exactly awe inspiring.
They started with a 3-0 win over the Swiss, then followed that up with a 3-1 win over Slovakia; not exactly the beating a relegation team and an underdog should have been handed. The 14-0 win over Latvia is more like what everyone, including the Russians, are used to.
Sparked by a 9 pt (3 G 6 A) performance from Kusnetsov, the Russians more resembled the former Big Red Machine against the Latvians (then again…itwas Latvia). Should they or anyone be impressed by that? Should anyone be worried about paying special attention to Kuznetsov after a 9 pt buffet? Well he doesn’t have a point in any other games so far.
Nail Yakupov is more one I would worry about. Although The potential first overall pick in the upcoming draft has not been dazzling – he comes into this game with just 5 pts, none of them goals – this might be the game that puts a bee in his bonnet to ramp it up, and put some numbers up in the goal department.
Nikita Gusev – Mikhail Grigorenko – Nikita Kucherov
Yaroslav Kosov – Denis Apalkov (A) – Yevgeniy Kuznetsov (C)
Ivan Telegin – Alexander Khokhlachev – Nail Yakupov
Ignat Zemchenko – Pavel Kulikov – Sergei Barbashev
Artyom Sergeyev – Zakhar Arzamastev (A)
Igor Ozhiganov – Viktor Antipin
Nikita Nesterov – Grigoriy Zheldakov
Ildar Isangulov – Mikhail Naumenkov
Andrei Vasilevskiy played out of his mind against the Czech Republic, matching and eventually beating the awesome display of goaltending put on by Petr Mrazek. The young 17 year old was equal to the task and only surrendered one goal on thirty-nine shots. It’s hard to imagine the Russian coach not going back to a goalie this hot and in a groove, but he apparently is not a proponent of playing youth in favour of experience. If that is the case and the quarterfinal took too much out of Vasilevskiy, then look for Andrei Makarov to get the nod.
This is finally the game we have all been waiting for. Say what you want about not facing the U.S. in a meaningful game, but Canada vs. Russia is the way it should be; it’s the way it has always been. This is Canada’s shot at retribution for having the Gold medal ripped from their grasp one year ago; the chance to tell the defending champs that lightning will not strike twice…not in our own barn.
The concern is if Canada will be ready for a Russian team that is going to be fuelled by adrenaline and looking to stick it to a team, and a country, that they know doesn’t like them. Canada is the third most penalized team in the tournament. Killing that many penalties will wear down a defence that isn’t as deep as originally believed. It is also not a good idea to be taking unnecessary penalties against the Russians who rank first in the tourney on the PP.
Most of all, Canada has not faced adversity in the tournament, the lone pontentiala preliminary that test was removed when the Americans failed to meet their own expectations. The Russians on the other hand, have been in playoff mode for the past two games. Having the Swedes come back and score three unanswered goals, and then win in overtime, coupled with the dramatic and taxing quarterfinal game against the Czech Republic will have the Russians battle tested and ready to go.
Even with the absent physical presence of Devante Smith-Pelly, the Canadians have plenty of muscle in this game. There are not any really big Russians that should be able to take the physical game to Canada, and Mikhail Grigorenko is hurt. He played against the Czech’s but not for very long; after the first period, he had the best seats in the house, watching the game from the Russian bench.
In the end Canada needs to muster all that hate they have in this rivalry, remember the agony of a single 20 mins in last year’s tournament and just run the Russians down like the tired team they should be. Adrenaline will burn off after awhile. If Canada can get off to a good start and dictate the play, they should be able to keep those Godless commies from getting going, stalling that Red Machi…er, pseudo-capitalistic folks in their path.