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Canada kicks off quest for quadruple gold at world junior hockey championship

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PARDUBICE, Czech Republic - Jonathan Bernier wouldn't do it.

The goaltender was reluctant to compare the pressure of starting for the Los Angeles Kings in their NHL season opener in London to playing for Canada in the world junior hockey championship opener against the host Czech Republic on Wednesday (2 p.m. ET).

The 19-year-old from Laval, Que., is grateful, however, that he won that game for the Kings in a foreign land because it's a success Bernier can draw on when Canada begins its quest for a fourth straight gold medal.

"I was talking to (assistant coach) Clement Jodoin before the practice and said: 'You know, all those good things that happened to me in the past year really helped me grow up,"' Bernier said Tuesday following practice at Pardubice Arena.

Bernier went 1-3 in four NHL games in October before the Kings returned him to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League's Lewiston Maineiacs. He also played for Canada in the summer Super Series against Russia and won both games he started.

The six-foot, 180-pound netminder went 16-1 and was named post-season MVP in the QMJHL playoffs while leading Lewiston to a league championship last season.

Those experiences all contributed to Bernier's maturation.

He was devastated after being cut from the Canadian junior team a year ago. Jodoin was coach of the Maineiacs at the time and saw the effect - both good and bad - it had on his goalie.

"I remember right after the meeting he was crying like a baby and it took him about a week to recuperate after that decision," said Jodoin. "But I said 'there are so many challenges that are going to come. You are going to have to carry the Lewiston Maineiacs to the Memorial Cup.'

"This is what he did."

Added Bernier: "I'm not saying it was a good thing to get cut, but when you do, you learn from that. Being cut, it was the first time in my life, so I had to show character in what I could do after that. That was the most important thing for me, to bounce back, and I did."

Bernier, the 11th overall pick by the Kings in the 2006 NHL draft, has the ability to make difficult saves look easy, which boosts confidence in his teammates and crushes it in the opposition.

Canadian head coach Craig Hartsburg has not stamped the goalie as has his permanent starter. He left the door open for Steve Mason of the London Knights, who was Canada's starter in Game 1 of the Super Series, to get into some games.

"They're both going to play at some point," said Hartsburg. "We feel comfortable with Jonathan. We feel comfortable Steve could do the job and that may happen as early as the second game. We'll wait and see after the first game where we're at."

The Canadians open the preliminary round of Pool A with two games in as many days as they face Slovakia on Thursday (10 a.m. ET). The top team in each pool earns a bye to the semifinals while the second-and third-place team cross over to meet in the quarter-finals.

Canada went 3-0 in exhibition games against Finland, Slovakia and Austrian club team Red Bull Salzburg prior to their arrival in Pardubice. It gave the players a look at their potential as a team.

"When we want to be, we're incredibly explosive," said captain Karl Alzner. "Our defence is good, our penalty kill is good.

"I think we need to tighten up our power play and a little bit on some of our neutral zone and blue-line play because turnovers are huge."

Canada's forward line combinations in Tuesday's practice were Claude Giroux and Brad Marchand flanking centre Kyle Turris, Brandon Sutter between Stefan Legein and Wayne Simmonds, 17-year-old Steve Stamkos centring Matt Halischuk and Shawn Matthias and a four-player combo of John Tavares, Riley Holzapfel, Colton Gillies and Zach Boychuk.

The defensive pairings were Alzner and Drew Doughty, Thomas Hickey and Luke Schenn, Logan Pyett and Josh Godfrey, with P.K. Subban the seventh blue-liner.

The Canadians were reminded during their exhibition schedule of the differences in officiating standards between North America and Europe.

"It's been really hard because our kids are actually trying and still, some of the calls, we watch the video after and there are some penalties you deserve and there are others you are kind of left shaking your head and don't quite understand it," said Hartsburg.

The International Ice Hockey Federation is introducing a two-referee system at the world junior hockey championships this year. The two referees don't have to be from the same country.

Hartsburg says Canada has to stay the course no matter how games are called.

"Our concern has to stay with us as a team and whatever is going on around us with referees and crowd and the other team, we've got to try and block it out," he explained. "It's a good challenge for us. A big part of this is controlling the things that you can."

The Canadian team arrived in Pardubice on Monday following their 4-2 exhibition win over Finland in Chrudim the previous night.

While Canada doesn't have a small, cosy inn to themselves as they did last year in Leksand, Sweden, the team has taken over two floors of a hotel they share with the Slovaks. They have again brought along their own chef, Andrew Gass of Calgary.

Pardubice is an industrial city of 90,000 people just over 100 kilometres east of Prague.

The 9,413-seat Prague Arena is the home rink of the Czech club team HC Moeller Pardubice, which coincidentally plays Canada in the Spengler Cup on Wednesday in Davos, Switzerland.

Pardubice is the site of all Pool A preliminary games and the medal round. Sweden and Slovakia meet Wednesday prior to Canada's game against the host country.

Pool B games involving Russia, the U.S., Kazakhstan, Switzerland and Finland will be played in Liberec in northern Czech Republic. The U.S. opens against Kazakhstan and Finland faces Russia - the runner-up to Canada the last three years - on Wednesday.

Since the Canadian team's arrival in Europe on Dec. 15, the players have bonded over video and card games and snowshoeing and tobogganing in the Austrian Alps.

After reaching Pardubice, they exchanged Christmas gifts and all took a turn sitting on the knee of Santa Claus (goaltending coach Corey Hirsch), said Alzner.

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