January 2, 2006
VANCOUVER (CP) -- Canada is going to come up against red-hot Finnish goaltender Tuuka Rask in semifinal action Tuesday at the world junior hockey tournament.
Rask stopped 53 shots in Finland's 1-0 overtime quarter-final win against Sweden on Monday night. The Swedes threw everything they had at the Toronto Maple Leafs' first-round draft pick, but couldn't solve him.
"I have self confidence, I have to say,'' Rask said.
Canada's 16 goals scored were the second lowest total in the preliminary round of the six teams that qualified for the playoffs. So the Canadians will have to find some firepower Tuesday (TSN, 7 p.m. ET) to beat Rask and advance to Thursday's gold-medal game.
"The bottom line is we have to win hockey games and we've got to be one goal or more better than our opposition to do that,'' Canadian head coach Brent Sutter said Monday. "Let's just make sure we're keeping pucks out of our own net.''
Russia will meet the United States in Tuesday's other semifinal (TSN, 8 p.m. ET). The U.S. beat the Czech Republic 2-1 in Monday's other quarter-final game.
Canada pressured the Finns in their own zone and forced turnovers, while playing nearly air-tight defence, to open the tournament with a 5-1 win Dec. 26. The Canadians fired 31 shots at Rask in that game.
"We're not going to change here as far as our philosophy and the way we need to play,'' Sutter said. "We'll make some adjustments, but we have to stick to our game plan and to our identity and the way we need to play.
"Hey, it's got us this far, we're not all of a sudden going to go a different route.''
The defending champions went undefeated in the round robin at 4-0-0 and finished first in Group A to earn the bye to the semifinal. The Finns, who finished third in Group at 2-2, will be the more fatigued team after Monday's long bout with Sweden.
"It's only 20 hours to that game,'' Finnish goal Hannu Aravirta. "We have to have a real hunger and be more prepared.
"They're going to forecheck in the Canadian way.''
The goal for Canada is to continue playing an aggressive defence to keep the Finns in their own zone and gain the puck through turnovers, while keeping Finland to the outside in the defensive zone where goaltender Justin Pogge can see shots fired his way.
Pogge is coming off a great performance in Canada's crucial 3-2 win over the U.S. on Saturday, when he faced 25 shots and had to deal with several American power plays.
"Every game this tournament has been the biggest game of my life,'' Pogge said. "It just keeps on getting bigger and bigger.
"Hopefully we'll be ready.''
Canada's defence has been the bedrock of its success, tying the Russians for the fewest goals-against during the preliminary round with six and only one of them scored at even strength.
American referee Brian Thul may have his hands full Tuesday, as Canada is one of the tournament's most penalized teams. While its penalty killing has been strong, an untimely penalty the opposition converts into a power-play goal could be the difference between playing for gold or bronze Thursday.
"The other night, I thought we took some stick infraction penalties we can't take,'' Sutter said. "Hopefully we can be more intelligent that way.
"The physical part of the game, those aren't bad penalties.''
Canada demonstrated it is a gold-medal contender with its win over the Americans, who came into the tournament as the favourite. That game also reinforced how the Canadians must play to win and that's something they can't afford to have even one player forget, Sutter said.
"You have an identity you have to play in and you know to have success you've got to stay in that,'' he said. "It's funny. As soon as one player wavers off that, it's a magnet.
"All of a sudden, now you've got to or three or now your team's in trouble.''