It’s a bit of nerves, definitely some excitement. I think the toughest part is waiting for the game to start, the build-up. I’m sure they’re going to have a lot of fun. It’s a great experience. - Kris Russell
CALGARY, AB -- Kris Russell can relate. It wasn’t long ago that he was standing opposite the Russians with gold on the line. Twice.
Twice he helped Canada earn gold.
“It’s a bit of nerves, definitely some excitement,” said Russell, who helped Canada to a first-place finish in both the 2006 and 2007 World Championship. “I think the toughest part is waiting for the game to start, the build-up. I’m sure they’re going to have a lot of fun. It’s a great experience.”
Led by 2015 NHL Draft eligible Connor McDavid, Canada is set to compete against Russia again at the World Juniors with gold on the line. It’s the first time since 2011 that Canada finds itself in the first-place matchup.
The game resonates loudly in the Calgary Flames locker room.
“I think any World Juniors is easy to get up for,” said 20-year-old Sean Monahan. “It’s some of the most exciting hockey to watch. I’ve played with and against some of those guys that are on that team. I think they’re all great players. It’s exciting to watch.
“We talk about it. If the games are on, we have them on in the dressing room. Guys are always talking about it and highlights and how McDavid is doing and stuff like that.”
Four years ago in Buffalo, Canada fell to the Russians in the gold medal game.
They haven’t competed for it since until now.
There’s plenty of support to be found in Calgary’s camp.
“Obviously I’m a big Canadian fan,” coach Bob Hartley said. “I want Canada to win and I’m going to watch it as a fan. You always look also for how they execute, both teams. I like to analyze. It’s going to be a great game.”
And great memories for those in attendance at Air Canada Centre in Toronto, as Canada seeks gold for the first time since 2009, a 5-1 victory over Sweden in front of 20,380 at Scotiabank Place in Ottawa.
After failed attempts on home ice in Saskatoon (2010) and Calgary (2012), the pressure has mounted.
But it's always there, Russell admitted.
“There’s always some added pressure,” Russell said. “You’re in Canada and you’re expected to win gold. If you don’t win gold it’s kind of a disappointment. At the same time it’s a fun experience. You just take the experience you can. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity for some of these kids.”
RAYMOND READY FOR RESET
While there will be plenty of eyes on a Canada-Russia final, Flames forward Mason Raymond has his sights set on the Detroit Red Wings.
After serving as a healthy scratch for back-to-back games, Raymond will return to the lineup refreshed.
“I don’t think any player’s going to sit here and tell you they’re happy to be out of the lineup,” he started. “I haven’t ben out of the lineup since my rookie year. It is what it is. You learn from it. You move forward. I’ve dealt with it. I feel like I’m in a good headspace now and I need to move forward.”
Raymond missed 18 games earlier in the year with a shoulder injury. He returned to the lineup on Dec. 9, but went pointless in the 10 games that followed.
It wasn’t from a lack of effort.
It was from too much thinking, Hartley suggested.
“When you search for your game it’s a normal reaction for a player is that you start to think,” he said. “This game, it’s about reacting. If you spend a fraction of a second thinking if you’re in the right spot or where the puck’s going to go, by the time you react the puck is gone and the other team is on the attack.
“I think that it gets to players who don’t score for a long time or players coming back from an injury. They want to feel their way in. I use the term searching for their game.”
Raymond admitted that he was pressing leading up to the set of scratches.
He's hoping the time off will swing things his way.
“Are you pressing to contribute? Sure, but sometimes bounces don’t go your way,” he said. “I’m a believer in if you’re doing the right things and the team is doing the right things, things will trend out and go in your direction.”
RAMO NETS START
For the first time since Dec. 16, Karri Ramo will draw in between the pipes when Calgary hosts the Red Wings. He’s ready to go.
“It’s always nice to play,” Ramo said. “You always have to be ready to play.
“I think the most important thing is to focus. Try not to do too much, let the puck come to you.”
Ramo is 8-5-3 this season with a 2.69 goals against average and .903 save percentage.