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Canada coming home with all the momentum in Super Series against Russia

NHL.com @NHL

MOSCOW (CP) - It wasn't supposed to be this lopsided.

Canada's junior team was expected to arrive in Russia and try to gut out a couple rusty, jet-lagged wins in the first four games of the Super Series before going home for the second half.

Instead, Canada swept all four games. The visitors controlled every game with the exception of the opening period of Game 1 on Monday in Ufa, where Canada fell behind 2-0 early.

It's been competitive hockey, especially since the season has yet to start.

But the Canadians threaten to completely drain the suspense out of this series if they win Tuesday in Winnipeg.

That would leave very little on the line for the Canadian players except pride and the chance to impress Hockey Canada scouts enough to earn a spot on the world junior hockey championship team in December.

After Winnipeg, the teams meet Wednesday in Saskatoon, Friday in Red Deer, Alta, and Sunday in Vancouver.

This series celebrates the 35th anniversary of the 1972 Summit Series between Canada and the Soviet Union and there's a certain irony in Canada's stranglehold on this junior series.

It was during the Summit Series that it dawned on Canadians that the Soviet national team played a more disciplined and offensively creative team game than Canada and the Soviet players were more physically fit.

The tables seem to have turned in this junior Super Series as it's been Canada with the superior team dynamic.

"This Canadian team is coached very well and they're very disciplined and every player knows their role very well," Russian coach Sergei Nemchinov said. "I tell my team you can't make mistakes against this team."

The Canadians have adhered to the template established by head coach Brent Sutter when he coached Canada to back-to-back world junior titles in 2005 and 2006.

He calls for defensive responsibility by defencemen and forwards alike, the willingness to pay a physical price to gain the puck and make a quick transition with it, as well as a commitment to taking away the middle lane of the ice and forcing the opposition to make plays and pass from the outside.

The Russians spent more time together preparing for this series and even played two exhibition games before it opened.

But they've often relied on individual efforts or long, risky passes to generate offence. Their defence around their own net and behind their own goal-line has been porous and they've been beaten to the puck a lot.

All three of Canada's goaltenders have come up with big saves because Canada has been penalized and a man down a lot in this series.

Russia lacks a goalie to bail them out of their mistakes, which has also been the case in the last three world junior hockey championship finals, in which Canada has beaten Russia for gold every time.

The loss of star forward Alexei Cherepanov to a concussion in Game 2 took away a large chunk of Russia's offensive creativity and speed.

Two other players have been knocked out of their lineup with injuries and reinforcements have been called in for the Canadian leg of the series.

What the series has really turned on, however, is special teams as Canada has held Russia scoreless on 30 chances with a man advantage, including several 5-on-3s.

The double benefit of Canada's work ethic while a man down is that it has frustrated and demoralized Russia while giving it momentum.

On the other side of the ledger, Canada has scored six power-play goals in four games, including four in Game 3.

This series was the brainchild of Russian Ice Hockey Federation president Vladislav Tretiak and the Russian players seem to care about it.

Forward Artem Anisimov is said to be injured, but played in Saturday's Game 4 anyway.

Tretiak spoke to the players after Friday's 6-2 loss in Game 3 to give them encouragement.

Russia responded with the most passion and emotion they've shown in the series. In getting some speed in their forecheck and pulling within a goal in the third period, it made the game the best of the four.

But the team was going all the way from Omsk to Winnipeg on Sunday with little confidence from the first four games.

Russia must do on foreign ice what it couldn't do in its own back yard, which is win a game.

As of Friday, ticket sales for Tuesday's game at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg were 10,603 (capacity 15,003). For Saskatoon, they were at 8,300 (11,310) while Red Deer is sold out at almost 7,000. Vancouver sales had reached 13,200 (16,150).

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