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Big games loom for Canadian junior hockey team after 4-1 win over Denmark

NHL.com @NHL

PARDUBICE, Czech Republic - Canada has to win three games in four nights to get another gold medal at the world junior hockey championship.

It's not a daunting prospect for the major junior players on the team. "Sounds like an OHL weekend," Niagara IceDogs forward Stefan Legein said with a grin. Canada stepped on the ice against Denmark on Monday knowing, win or lose, they were going to finish second in Pool A and play Finland in a quarter-final Wednesday. They mustered enough intensity to down the Danes 4-1.

Sweden (4-0) had already clinched first place and the bye to Friday's semifinals by beating host Czech Republic 4-2 prior to Canada's game.

Canada finished second at 3-1 and the Czechs third at 2-2.

The U.S. (4-0) had clinched first in Pool B before Monday's 5-3 win over Finland (2-2). Russia (3-1) secured the No. 2 spot by edging the Swiss 4-3.

Kyle Turris, out of the University of Wisconsin, led Canada with a pair of goals Monday.

Oshawa Generals forward John Tavares scored his first even-strength goal of the tournament and assisted on one of Turris's. Shawn Matthias of the Belleville Bulls also scored for the defending champions in front of an announced crowd of 1,158, most of whom were Canadian.

Defenceman Josh Godfrey of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds had two assists while goaltender Steve Mason of the London Knights had mostly light work in stopping 15 shots.

Canadian head coach Craig Hartsburg will decide Tuesday whether it will be Mason or Jonathan Bernier who will start against the Finns.

"I don't think we can go wrong in whoever we pick," Hartsburg said. "There's going to be one disappointed one for sure."

Denmark broke Mason's shutout bid at 9:36 of the third period. Mikkel Boedker of the OHL's Kitchener Rangers scored with Canada two men down due to penalties.

Christian Moeller had a solid performance in net for the Danes, stopping 39 shots.

Canada scored two power-play goals on nine chances, while the Danes were 1-for-5.

While the Swedes and the Americans have three days without a game before Friday's semifinals, it will be a long road to gold for Canada.

The Canadians have to beat Finland on Wednesday (10 am. ET), the U.S. in Friday's semifinal and then win Saturday's final to claim a fourth straight title.

"We're going to win the gold medal," Tavares declared. "We're going to play hard and do whatever it takes and trust me, we want to win."

Added Legein: "We've got to do it. It's our only chance and it's my only chance to win a gold medal at this. The boys will be digging deep, we're in all in good shape and we can skate forever so we should be fine.

"This is when the cream really rises to the top and this is when Canadian hockey really shines, in games that matter."

Denmark, coached by Calgary's Ken Babey, is participating in the 'A' world junior championship for the first time after earning promotion from last year's 'B' tournament. The Danes have skill and speed and got some scoring chances from Lars Eller, a first-round draft pick of the St. Louis Blues.

But Denmark couldn't compete with Canada's physical game and often bailed out of trouble in their own zone by icing the puck.

"For small Denmark, I thought we did a really good job in some respects," Babey said. "Danish ice hockey has a decision to make and they're going to have to get a national program together for these young guys that are in Denmark.

"Sitting on the bench in a pro league in Denmark doesn't help them develop. They've got to get reps in."

While Canada won the game without much struggle, their performance was important to set the stage for the next round.

The victory also allowed Canada to put distance between them and Saturday night's 4-3 loss to Sweden, in which Canada led 2-0 early in the third period and allowed the winning goal with just seven seconds remaining.

"Certainly after a tough loss, you're not really sure what to expect, but our kids did a great job in a game that's hard to play," said Hartsburg. "It's a game that doesn't mean anything and our kids are used to playing games that mean something.

"They knew the importance to our team and did a great job. We wanted to have a game we could build on."

Hartsburg wanted more scoring chances out of his team. He he put 17-year-old Tavares on the wing of 19-year-old veterans Matthias and Halischuk and moved his other 17-year-old, Steven Stamkos, between Riley Holzapfel and Wayne Simmonds.

Tavares seemed anxious to take advantage of his extra even-strength shifts as he worked the puck furiously around the Danes' crease to open up scoring opportunities.

"There was good chemistry there and it was nice to get an opportunity," said Tavares. "The coaching staff told me it would be a good way to ease me into the tournament, starting on the power play and saw I was doing well and rewarded me and it's been nice."

Hartsburg also replaced Zach Boychuk on Brandon Sutter's checking line with power forward Colton Gillies.

Canada will play its first quarter-final game since 2002, when the tournament was last held in the Czech Republic. There wasn't a bye to the semis in the tournament that year.

Since 1998, the tournament format has switched between rewarding the top team in each pool with a bye, or having them play in a quarter-final against the fourth-place team from the other pool.

The only country that has come through a quarter-final and won the tournament in a year where there was a bye to the semifinal was Russia back in 1999 in Winnipeg.

CP player of the game - John Tavares. Oshawa Generals forward created chances around Denmark's net with hard work and his considerable smarts and puckhandling skills, and contributed a goal and an assist in the victory.

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