BRECLAV, Czech Republic - Canada is facing a tall task at the world under-18 hockey championship.
After dispatching Russia with a 4-2 quarter-final victory on Thursday, the Canadians were left with less than 24 hours to prepare for a semifinal matchup against the unbeaten U.S.
"There's no question it's going to be tough, but I know our guys are going to rise to the challenge," said Canadian coach Jesse Wallin. "We're going to play back-to-back games, that's just the way it is. Tired is just an excuse — we're playing for our country here, we're playing to get into the gold-medal game, we're playing for our lives and we need everything that everybody's got.
"And I expect that we're going to get that."
Kerby Rychel led the way offensively against Russia with two goals while Matt Murray made 28 saves. It was a must-win game for a Canadian team looking to claim its first medal at the event since capturing gold in 2008.
Murray was particularly strong in the second period when Russia upped its effort and outshot Canada 12-5. He also made a key save late in the game to maintain a two-goal advantage.
"I thought he really stood tall for us and made those timely saves," said Wallin. "He's done that through the tournament and we need him to continue to do that for us. You need solid goaltending to win."
Matthew Dumba and Felix Girard had the other goals for Canada (3-2). Dumba and Rychel are tied for the tournament lead in goals with five.
A turning point in the game came with Canada ahead 2-1 midway through the second period when Dumba was sent off for a checking to the head penalty. That gave the Russians a two-minute power play and kept the Canadian captain off the ice for half a period because the infraction comes with an automatic 10-minute misconduct.
"Our team really got a lift when we lost Dumba," said Wallin. "We didn't like the call on our bench, we certainly didn't feel it was a warranted penalty. Yet those things are going to happen.
"We lost him for 10 minutes and I thought our guys really banded together."
They'll be looking to do the same thing against the powerhouse Americans, who have won gold at the last three world under-18 hockey tournaments.
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 that country's national development program based in Ann Arbor, Mich.
The Americans beat Canada 5-3 earlier this week to wrap up the round robin.
"We're certainly underdogs, but I think we can rise to the challenge," said Wallin. "Everybody is pulling in the same direction and when you've got that then you can do some special things. Sometimes you can be greater than the sum of your parts."