BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The Canadian National Junior Team received quite an emotional lift following their quarterfinal round victory that ultimately set up their biggest rematch in 12 months.
Canada's prodigal son, Steve Yzerman, stopped by the locker room to offer some inspirational words of encouragement late Sunday evening in preparation for their semifinal-round showdown with Team USA.
Canada dominated from start to finish in the most anticipated contest of the 2011 IIHF World Junior Championship to date, scoring a 4-1 victory over Team USA in a game that really wasn't even that close before an energized crowd on Monday at HSBC Arena.
Still seething and seeking retribution for last year's overtime setback to the U.S. in the gold-medal game in Saskatoon, Canada wouldn't be denied this time around. And by the time the U.S. had finally solved Canada goalie Mark Visentin, their rivals from the North had already built an insurmountable four-goal cushion. Curtis Hamilton, Quinton Howden, Ryan Johansen and Zack Kassian scored and Visentin turned aside 22 shots to lead Canada into Wednesday's gold-medal game against Russia at 7:30 p.m. ET.
Canada and Russia become the first two teams to advance to the gold medal game after needing to win quarterfinal-round contests. In the current format, in place since 2003, only two teams that played a quarterfinal-round game had gone on to play in the gold medal final and both won -- Canada in 2008 and the U.S. in 2010. From 1998-2002, all medal round teams played in the quarterfinals.
"No one saw it coming and it was a great surprise to see someone like (Yzerman) come into the room," Visentin said. "It was like, 'Wow'. Here's a hockey hero giving a great character speech. It really pumped us all up. It's great that a character guy like Yzerman would so something like that for us."
The U.S., which received a stellar effort from goalie Jack Campbell (37 saves), will face off against Sweden in Wednesday's bronze medal game at 3:30 p.m. ET.
"They played well," U.S. forward Chris Brown said. "You have to give them credit. They came out and they played hard and they did everything their coach asked them to do and they won the game. They beat us to pucks, they played harder than we did. We just did not show up the way we needed to."
Canada not only gained the territorial advantage from the opening faceoff -- something they'd refuse to relinquish -- but they beat the U.S. to the puck in just about every zone. They forced turnovers, hit their opponent in every corner and had the Americans on their heels much of the night.
"That's our game plan and what we do best," captain Ryan Ellis said. "We have some big bodies up front, so getting mean and nasty is what we do."
One of the biggest contributors to the Canadian hit parade was defenseman Erik Gudbranson, who began it all with a crunching check on forward Jerry D'Amigo just 1:40 into the game.
"It was huge for our team to re-establish that," Gudbranson said. "We got away from that a little bit in the Switzerland game. Coach Cameron told us to be physical and pound them hard."
And pound they did.
Kassian closed out Canada's scoring 6:02 into the third, giving his team a 4-0 advantage when he converted a breakaway off a splendid outlet pass by Calvin de Haan. Brown would pare the margin to three on a power-play goal at the 9:32 mark, but Canada was just too good on this night.
If not for Campbell, the game might very well have been a blowout. By the midway point of the second, in fact, Canadian fans were already chanting, "This is our house."
Campbell stopped 15 shots in the second period but received little support in front.
"It's disappointing for sure," U.S. coach Keith Allain said. "Individually we were working hard, but our team game just wasn't there. Jack was the only player on our team playing to his potential."
Canada opened a commanding 3-0 lead 5:59 into the second when Johansen connected for his third goal of the tournament while working a 5-on-3 man advantage -- the U.S. entered the game as the least penalized team in the tournament. With both Charlie Coyle and Patrick Wey both in box for high-sticking, Johansen controlled a feed from Ellis and deposited his third of the tournament.
"We stopped them by keeping the puck," Ellis said. "If we have the puck, they can't take their speed to us. We started doing the things we needed to do in this tournament and played our game exactly how we wanted to."
For defensemen Ellis, de Haan and Cowen and forward Brayden Schenn, the victory was extra sweet. All four players were on the team that had to watch the U.S. players celebrate victory in 2010.
"It's huge," Ellis said. We were excited for this game and I'm so proud to be a part of it. To get some redemption … three defensemen on the team from last year felt the brunt of it. We had something to prove, as well as the rest of the guys, so we did our jobs."
Campbell would be called upon to make numerous stops from that point, including denials on Sean Couturier and Howden in the slot. Visentin was also up to the task, however, making some equally difficult stops when the U.S. did find a rare crack in Canada's defensive armor.
"I was just as confident as I was last game (against Switzerland)," Visentin said. "Whether I was or wasn't playing, you always have to be ready. It might have been on a bigger stage (against the U.S.), but the preparation was the same. Routine is a big thing that I pay attention too. I did what I do back home, just play as hard as I can."
Visentin made 10 saves in the second and seven more in the third to notch his third straight victory.
Canada opened a 2-0 lead in the first. Howden, who performed splendidly in the first, struck 13:54 into the game to give Canada a 2-0 edge. Brett Connolly took a feed from Erik Gudbranson and skated down his right wing before hitting the tip of Howden's stick in the slot. The deft deflection entered the far corner on Campbell.
Canada dictated much of the pace, throwing its weight around and bottling the Americans up in their own end throughout. Curtis Hamilton opened the scoring for Canada on a fine individual effort. After gathering the puck in the left circle, the Edmonton Oilers prospect sped towards Campbell and backhanded a shot that the U.S. goalie got with his left toe. Hamilton alertly jammed home the rebound at the 2:38 mark.
D'Amigo was the target of two big hits in the opening period -- one by Gudbranson and another by Howden.
"Our game plan was to jump on them really quick and be hard on them," Gudbranson admitted. "It was a great game for all of us."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale