FARGO, N.D. - Tuesday's win was worth plenty to Canada at the world under-18 hockey championship.
Joey Hishon of the OHL's Owen Sound Attack scored twice, including the game winner, as the Canadians earned a berth in the semifinal with a 4-2 win over Sweden. The victory cemented top spot in Pool A for Canada (4-0), while the Swedes (3-1) finished second.
Canadian head coach Mike Johnston said the victory was a significant one.
"It's certainly important in a tournament like this," said Johnston, who coaches the WHL's Portland Winter Hawks. "This gives us an extra day off, which means extra time to practise.
"You look at the other side, too, and we would have had to play Finland, the U.S. or Russia in the quarters. That's a tough matchup for anybody."
Byron Froese of the WHL's Everett Silvertips had a first-period goal and Brett Connolly of the WHL's Prince George Cougars added an empty-netter as the Canadians put together a solid effort against a star-studded Swedish team. John McFarland of the OHL's Sudbury Wolves added a pair of assists.
Johnston credited his players with executing the team's game plan to perfection.
"We really did," said Johnston. "We had set matchups we wanted, and we got them. Our players responded - we knew the Swedes would come out strong, and we played well against them."
Despite the spotless record, Johnston knows his team has some work to do - particularly on special teams, an area of concern for the Canadian team the past two games.
"I think the key thing is special teams," said Johnston. "We're going to continue to work on that. Our power play will be better ... with any new group, special teams is about building cohesion and getting in sync."
Canada broke a scoreless deadlock late in the first period, with Froese and Hishon scoring 36 seconds apart to build a 2-0 lead through 20 minutes. Gabriel Landeskog cut the lead in half just 3:30 into the second period, but Hishon restored the two-goal cushion a minute-and-a-half later.
"I have to give all the credit to (McFarland) on that one," said Hishon. "He did all the work on that play, I just had to tap the puck into the net. It was definitely a big goal."
Tim Erixon moved Sweden to within one midway through the second period, but Canada held on from there, led by Michael Zador's 16 third-period saves. The Oshawa Generals netminder stopped 36 shots to preserve the win.
"I felt like (the Swedes) were more desperate with their plays in the third period," said Zador. "Our team really focused on blocking shots, and that helped us hold on to our lead."
Swedish goalie Robin Lehner stopped 40 shots in defeat.
The other Pool A game saw Switzerland (1-3) roll to an 8-3 win over Germany (1-3) at Moorhead, N.D. The German defeat means the Czech Republic (1-2-1) finishes third in the pool, and will face the second-place finisher in Pool B in a quarter-final game Thursday.
The Swedes will take on the third-place team in Pool B in Thursday's other quarter-final.
In Pool B action Tuesday night, Slovakia (1-2) faced Finland (2-1) and the U.S. (3-0) tangled with Russia (2-1).