SASKATOON - The Stefan Della Rovere of a year ago was a human cannonball who kept opponents' heads up with his wild charges, but also kept Canada's penalty killers busy at the world junior hockey championship.
This year, the Barrie Colts captain is just as feisty, but has taken only two minor penalties in Canada's first four games.
"I still want to be that physical presence, but this year I'm just playing smarter," the 19-year-old said Saturday. "Last year, I think I was running around a lot more and this year I'm playing more hockey.
"It's a lot easier when you think like that and don't just try to kill guys out there."
Della Rovere is one of six players back from the 2009 team that won a fifth consecutive gold medal for Canada before huge audiences in Ottawa. They are gunning for a record sixth in a row before somewhat smaller but just as enthusiastic crowds in Saskatoon.
In six games in that tournament, Della Rovere had one goal, one assist and 26 penalty minutes - 18 more than the next closest on the team, Cody Goloubef, and one of the highest totals on any team.
As Canada went 4-0 in round robin play in this one, Della Rovere had two goals, two assists and only four penalty minutes.
Coach Willie Desjardins and his staff spoke to him about staying out of the penalty box this time around.
"They said I had to be more disciplined and I couldn't agree more," Della Rovere said. "I think I'm doing that.
"When you're playing on the edge, you can't cross that edge. Last year, I'd say I crossed it. It's a great atmosphere here and you want to make an impression, but you can't go over that edge."
Desjardins sees it as so far, so good.
"Sometimes you learn from your mistakes," he said. "He plays on the edge and like all players who do, sometimes they go over.
"Just because it's great so far doesn't mean it will stay great, but he plays hard."
Canada had a second day in a row without a game after earning a bye to the semifinals on Sunday against the winner of the Russia-Switzerland quarter-final.
Two ailing players were back on the ice as they held a one-hour practice - defenceman Calvin de Haan and winger Jordan Caron. De Haan returned after missing two games with a suspected concussion from a blindside hit from Switzerland's Mauro Jorg, while Caron left in the first period of Canada's 5-4 shootout win over the United States on Thursday with a virus.
"I had a little headache here and there," said de Haan, who was back to his spot on the point on the second power play unit with Travis Hamonic in practice. "The doctors treated it as a concussion but I don't think it was one."
Caron said he had a 24-hour gastrointestinal virus, but felt fully recovered.
But when Desjardins shortened the bench for a successful two-goal comeback in the third period against the Americans, Della Rovere was promoted to a top scoring line with Taylor Hall and Nazem Kadri. The trio didn't score, but had some chances. Della Rovere had scored Canada's first goal early in the opening period when he went to the net to knock in Adam's rebound.
"Those guys are quick," Della Rovere said. "You just try to get them the puck and they'll do the rest.
"They'll carry the puck up the ice and you just get in a good spot and they'll get it to you."
Della Rovere, drafted 204th overall by Washington in 2008, is an able scorer or in the Ontario Hockey League, but plays a digging and checking role for Canada. He's a fierce competitor along the boards, winning battles and getting the puck to teammates.
And this year, he's doing it without the needless penalties.
"Last year, sometimes I hurt the team," he admits. "This year I thought I'd play a hard, physical game like I'm doing now, but staying out of the box."
This year, the team's penalty minutes leader is Kadri with 14, although 12 of them came in the first period of Canada's opening 16-0 win over Latvia when he was given a minor and misconduct for boarding.