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All eyes on the kids

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

BROSSARD – It’s safe to say the majority of Michel Therrien’s troops will be glued to their flat screens on Monday night.

With 13 Canadians on the Canadiens roster – 14 if you include dual Russian-Canadian citizen, Andrei Markov – and three native Russians in the fold, too, in Markov, Alexei Emelin and Sergei Gonchar, there will be no shortage of interest in the gold-medal matchup featuring Team Canada and Team Russia at the 2015 World Junior Hockey Championship in Toronto.

“I think just about every Canadian will be watching and cheering on Team Canada,” offered Carey Price, who represented Canada at the annual tournament back in 2007 in Leksand, Sweden, pacing the squad to its third in a series of five consecutive gold medals with a win over Russia in the tournament finale. “It’s a big tradition in Canada. It’s always a fun tournament to watch. It’s good to watch the kids have fun.”

You can bet that Price will be paying particularly close attention to the performance of Canadiens prospect Zachary Fucale, who will make his third consecutive start in goal for Team Canada on Monday night at the Air Canada Centre. Having spent time with the 19-year-old in recent years, Price is adamant that the Laval native boasts the ingredients necessary to succeed on the biggest of stages, just like the one he’ll encounter come puck drop at 8:15 p.m. EST.

“I think he’s got the right type of personality and the right type of mentality to know that he has the opportunity to win. It’s not overbearing. It’s an opportunity. You can’t over-expect too much from kids. We put way too much pressure on them. The name of the game is to have fun. It’s not about winning all the time necessarily. They’ve done a great job of putting themselves in a great spot to win,” stressed Price, who went undefeated during his lone trip to the World Juniors, winning tournament MVP and top goalie honours by going 6-0-0, while registering a 1.14 goals-against average and a .961 save percentage along the way. “He’s got a lot of character. He plays hard. He’s very sound technically. He’s got all the tools.”

The same was likely said of P.K. Subban when he donned the Maple Leaf at the World Juniors on two occasions, claiming gold twice, including Canada’s most recent title back in 2009 in Ottawa.

“I think the biggest thing is that Canada hasn’t won since 2009. When we won, I definitely didn’t think it would take us six years to get back into that position again. Hopefully, they just enjoy the moment because it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience and not everyone gets the opportunity to represent their country,” mentioned Subban, who, like Price, can also call himself an Olympic champion after the pair captured gold alongside one another in Sochi in February 2014. “They’ve got a great opportunity to do it on Canadian soil. In my opinion, there’s no better place to win than in your home country.”

Gonchar insists, however, that Russia’s efforts in the quarterfinals against the United States and the semifinals against Sweden suggest his countrymen aren’t going to make Canada’s bid to secure World Junior Hockey Championship supremacy at home an easy one.

“I liked the way the team played in the semifinals. It was a great team effort. I think they played very well structure-wise. If they do the same thing, the same way, they’re going to have a good chance,” explained the four-time Olympian, who took part in the event over two decades ago, earning a sixth-place finish in 1993. “Every time you play in the Finals, especially in Juniors, it means that there are some good young players coming up. It’s great for the country. We did well in the World Championships after the Olympics in Sochi. The guys won it. Now, we’re playing in the Finals again. It means that Russia is developing good hockey players and moving in the right direction.”

While players weren’t about to open up on any wagers that had been made leading up to the classic showdown up the 401, it’s likely that a jersey exchange of sorts might be in order for Tuesday’s morning skate for those supporting the losing side.

When asked about how the Canadiens’ contingent of Russian defenders would look in Team Canada colors if Benoit Groulx’s group prevailed, Price served up a rather poignant response.

“I think they’ll look good,” cracked Price. “I don’t think Marky would mind that much. He is Canadian after all. I’m sure there will probably be some jeering, though.”

And, what does the Canadiens’ bench boss think about all of that?

“Well, I got my red jersey today and I’m going to have a red jersey on when I watch the game. This is a classic. It’s the time of the year that all Canadians pull for Team Canada. Hopefully, we’ll be on the right side. I’m confident,” confirmed Therrien, whose squad includes 18 World Junior Hockey Championship vets with 16 total medals between them. “[As for Markov], I’m pretty sure where he’s going to put his support.”

Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.

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