BRNO, Czech Republic - The challenge was issued. And Canada responded with an emotional 6-2 victory over host Czech Republic at the world under-18 hockey championship.
Brendan Gaunce led the way offensively with two goals and an assist as Canada bounced back from a 4-2 loss to Finland.
"It was a much better effort and much better game," said Canadian coach Jesse Wallin. "The guys were challenged. Our last game against Finland was nowhere near the way we need to play and we really went after the boys hard to buy in.
"It was a make-or-break game, it was a must-win, it was a Game 7. They had to step up and rise to the occasion."
Scott Laughton, Sam Reinhart, Matthew Dumba and Kerby Rychel also scored while Matt Murray made 23 saves for Canada (2-1), which is assured of at least a spot it in the quarter-finals. It could still claim the top seed in Group A and earn a bye directly to the semifinals with a victory over the unbeaten Americans on Tuesday.
Wallin was particularly pleased with the Canadian team's improved forecheck, which helped it build a 4-1 lead in the first period. Volek scored in the second period to narrow that advantage but the Canadians remained composed.
"I thought our team really showed a great deal of resilience in the second period — they continued to stay with it and we were able to take the game over in the third," said Wallin.
The next challenge will be the toughest yet.
The Americans are the three-time defending champions at the event and have outscored their opposition 13-0 while winning their first three round robin games. Unlike the Canadian team, which is composed of players from various junior teams, the U.S. players spend the entire season together as part of the national development program based in Ann Arbor, Mich.
"They're a team that's been together for two years," said Wallin. "They're a very good hockey team. They're very organized and very structured, they've been together as a group so they know one another.
"They're going to be everything we can handle without a doubt."
But after watching the improved effort against the Czechs, the Canadian coach was feeling better about his team's chances.
"Our team got better today," said Wallin. "Tomorrow's going to be a new challenge, it's going to be another big game. But we feel a lot more prepared for it now after the effort we had tonight."