The players and coaches of the U.S. National Junior Team know the perfect tonic for overcoming a heartbreaking loss to Russia: a victory over archrival Canada.
The United States will get that chance Sunday when the hockey powers collide in their third game of Group B action in Ufa, Russia. A victory would certainly go a long way for the third-place Americans, who trail Russia by two points and Canada by three in the standings. A victory would catapult the United States into a tie with the Canadians while a loss would officially end any hope at earning a first-round bye in the medal round.
"They're a dangerous team, so one of the biggest things is we don't want to give them too much space," U.S. forward J.T. Miller told NHL.com of Canada. "Like any other team in this tournament, they have a bunch of big names, but other than that, we're not too worried about it."
The United States has posted a 5-1-3-26-3 (W-OTW-OTL-L-T) record against Canada in 38 meetings in the WJC. Canada has won eight of the past nine meetings, including a 3-2 preliminary-round matchup at last year's tournament. The U.S. team last celebrated a victory over Canada on Jan. 5, 2010 -- a 6-5 overtime decision in the gold medal game.
Both teams should be well-rested because each has a day off before facing off at Ufa Arena on Sunday at 4:30 a.m. ET (NHLN-US).
"The day off will be put to good use," U.S. coach Phil Housley told NHL.com. "We played a good opponent in Russia [on Friday], and now we'll regroup. It won't take too much for the guys to get up for Canada. They're a good hockey club with good forwards, a solid defense and good goaltending … much like Russia. We'll have our hands full, but hopefully we'll give the same effort, and then some, as we did against Russia."
The United States, which holds a plus-7 goal differential in two games, has been led in scoring by Montreal Canadiens prospect Alex Galchenyuk, who has three assists and four points in two games. Defenseman Jacob Trouba is the only U.S. player with two goals.
Topping Canada in scoring is Edmonton Oilers forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who has two goals and seven points. Ryan Strome and Mark Scheifele are tied for the team lead with three goals apiece. The Canadians have outscored their opponents 15-6, beating Germany 9-3 and Slovakia 6-3.
"We'll watch [the U.S. team] through video, we'll see exactly what we're up against, but we know they have a big, strong physical team," Canada coach Steve Spott said. "I think it'll be a physical game with speed and grit. I think it'll be a good North American hockey game and we're excited about that."
Boston Bruins prospect Malcolm Subban is the expected starter between the pipes for Canada. In the victories over Germany and Slovakia, Subban sports a 3.00 goals-against average and .892 save percentage. The United States will counter with Anaheim Ducks prospect John Gibson, who is 1-1 with a 1.21 GAA and .959 save percentage, including Friday's 2-1 loss to Russia.
"There's been great tradition in both countries on an international level, especially in facing each other," Housley told NHL.com. "It's a big rivalry and a lot of guys play against each other during the season with their minor league teams. It makes for an exciting game. I know when I played against Canada as a player, it was something special. You look forward to that and guys will be ready to go when the puck drops."
Canada will have just 11 forwards available against the U.S., as both J.C. Lipon and Boone Jenner will be serving suspensions. Sunday is the final game of Jenner's three-game suspension for a hit in a pre-tournament game against Sweden. Lipon was handed a one-game suspension for a high hit on Slovakia's Tomas Mikus on Friday.
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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