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Canada-Russia rematch sees berth in WJC final at stake

by Mike G. Morreale
CALGARY -- It's a good thing players on the Canadian National Junior Team aren't making a big deal out of the rematch that most Canadian fans have patiently waited 12 months to sink their teeth into.
On Tuesday, Team Canada will meet Russia in the semifinal round of the 2012 World Junior Championship at the Scotiabank Saddledome, 7 p.m. ET. The winner earns a one-way ticket to the gold medal game against either Sweden or Finland on Thursday at 6 p.m. ET.
Excited? Well, you kind of get the feeling Russian captain Yevgeni Kuznetsov couldn't care less.
"I don't care if they're motivated to beat us," Kuznetsov said. "I like when the crowd is against us, so I think [Tuesday] we will be more motivated than [Monday]. I remember the moment from the last final, and how one minute before the final whistle, people started to leave arena."
So there you have it. Less than an hour after the Russians secured their date against the Canadians in the semifinals following a dramatic 2-1 overtime victory over the Czech Republic on Monday, Kuznetsov was offering a little gamesmanship.

"Every time Canada plays, they are really hard and physical and they have had really good starts. We need a good start [Tuesday] and everyone understands it will hard game." -- Russian forward Alexander Khokhlachev

"Every time Canada plays, they are really hard and physical and they have had really good starts," Russian forward Alexander Khokhlachev said. "We need a good start [Tuesday] and everyone understands it will be a hard game."
Team Canada opened the scoring in all four preliminary-round contests last week on the way to earning the top seed in Group B behind four victories. The team outscored its opposition 26-5.
The Russians rallied for three straight medal round victories last year against Finland, Sweden and Canada to claim its third WJC gold medal in 10 years. In the gold medal triumph, an experienced Russian team wiped out a three-goal deficit with five goals in the third period en route to a 5-3 victory over Canada.
"This is a totally different group this year," Canada assistant coach Ryan Huska said. "We said on day one that a majority of this team is totally new, so whatever happened last year is last year. This group is focused on this year and getting Russia has nothing to do with what happened last year. There is no revenge factor … it's just about us playing and playing our best against a very good team."
The Russians finished second in Group A pool play this year with three victories and one overtime loss, outscoring its foes 23-5.
"We will need to play a spirited passing game with speed in order to beat Canada," Russian forward Danil Apalkov said through an interpreter. "We have to move puck very quickly."

2012 World Junior Championship

Player performance fell short for USA

Mike G. Morreale - Staff Writer
Jim Johannson, USA Hockey's assistant executive director of hockey operations, pointed to player performance as the prime area of concern in why the team came up short at the World Juniors.

Both teams have excelled on special teams. Team Canada is ranked No. 1 among the 10-team field with a 43-percent efficiency on the power play (6-for-14) and Russia is second at 42 percent (5-for-12). The Russians are tops on the penalty-kill, having not allowed a goal in 22 times short. The Canadians, meanwhile, have allowed just one goal in 21 times short (95 percent).
Team Canada captain Jaden Schwartz is looking forward to the matchup.
"We have a chance to do something special here and obviously there's pressure associated with that, but we're not going to worry about outside distractions," Schwartz said. "We just want to focus on us. We're all excited about the game."
Russian linemates Nikita Gusev and Kuznetsov are ranked fourth and fifth among the tournament scoring leaders with 9 points apiece. Each has 3 goals and 6 assists. The Russians have seven players with two or more goals.
Goalie Andrei Vasilevski was splendid in a 2-1 overtime victory over the Czech in the tournament quarterfinal round on Monday, turning aside 38 shots, including 19 in the third and overtime periods. Vasilevski is 3-1 with a 1.23 goals-against average and .970 save percentage for the tournament, yielding just five goals on 164 shots.
Canada has been led by Mark Stone, who ranks third in scoring with 9 points and 7 goals. Center Brayden Schenn holds the Canadian record for most points at a WJC tournament, producing 18 (8 goals) in seven games last year.
Canada's Brett Connolly is second on the team with 4 goals while Jonathan Huberdeau (7 assists) and Ryan Strome (3 goals) have eight points apiece. The club has received solid goaltending throughout. Newcomer Scott Wedgewood has become Canada's darling the last two weeks. The New Jersey Devils prospect is 2-0 with a 1.00 GAA and .966 save percentage. Mark Visentin has also played well, winning both his starts with a 1.50 GAA and .941 save percentage.
"The relationship I have with Mark has built over this tournament," Wedgewood said. "Coming into the evaluation camp in December, me and Mark were going through things together and weren't really that close. Then we got to room together in Banff [Alberta] for most of the training camp and started to click.
"Now we're each other's biggest fan. When Mark is in the net, I'm his biggest supporter and when I'm in the net, he says stuff to me. I feel everyone is starting to click and it's a great group. We've come together quickly in a short period of time."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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