SASKATOON - Canada's path to a record sixth straight gold medal goes through an American team that has already given them one scare at the world junior hockey championship.
Canada will face the United States in the final on Tuesday night (TSN, 8 p.m. ET) looking to settle any question of which country has the better team after pulling out a comeback 5-4 victory in a shootout over the Americans in round robin play Dec. 31.
"It's good for us because we feel we didn't play a very good game against them the first time," said Canadian forward Brandon McMillan. "We weren't ready to play and they took it to us.
"We didn't play that Canada style of dumping pucks in and getting to work. If we play that game, we'll be fine."
Switzerland faces Sweden for the bronze medal (TSN, 4 p.m. ET).
The Credit Union Centre will no doubt be as solidly behind Canada as it tries to make history by winning a sixth straight gold, as they were on New Year's Eve when the Americans came within five minutes of an upset win over their hosts.
The U.S. outplayed Canada for 2 1-2 periods and took a 4-2 lead 1:01 into the third frame before Jordan Eberle scored at 10:03 and Alex Pietrangelo tied it with a short-handed goal with 4:15 left in regulation time.
It went to a shootout, where Eberle, Nazem Kadri and Brandon Kozun all scored on Jack Campbell, while Jake Allen stopped American veteran Jordan Schroeder to secure the win. Mike Lee is expected to be in goal for the U.S. in the rematch.
The Americans threw speed at the Canadians, who were slow to respond and gave up numerous turnovers and surrendered two short-handed goals.
"Everyone thought we played really poorly, and not a lot of people respect how well the States played," said Canadian coach Willie Desjardins. "They've got a real good hockey team.
"They proved that against Finland (in the quarter-finals) and Sweden (a 5-2 win in the semis). We played well in the last part of that game, but we'll have to be prepared for that."
It won't help that Canada will be without defenceman Travis Hamonic, who suffered a suspected separated shoulder when he was hit from behind into the boards in the final minute of Canada's 6-1 victory over the Swiss in the semifinals.
Hamonic was part of the team's shutdown defence pair with Marco Scandella.
Desjardins may deal with the loss through a combination of playing with five defencemen, using Jared Cowen, who stayed on the bench against the Swiss, and moving the versatile McMillan back to defence when needed.
Cowen was benched after he struggled against the Americans.
"We've all had bad games," said Desjardins. "It's how you respond to them.
"He didn't get a chance last game, so if something comes up for him this time, he'll have to be ready."
McMillan is a converted defenceman and still plays on the blue-line at times with the Kelowna Rockets of the Western Hockey League. He was moved back against the Americans when, already missing defenceman Calvin de Haan, Desjardins shortened his bench in the third period. De Haan has since returned from a head injury.
"I'm pretty comfortable with it," McMillan said. "I played defence at the Memorial Cup and other big games, so if I'm called upon I'm sure I'll be ready."
Mostly, McMillan has skated on the top line with Eberle and centre Brayden Schenn, but there are capable replacements available, particularly skilled winger Kozun.
Canada won gold five straight times from 1993 to 1997 and has done it again, winning their fifth last January in Ottawa. It helps that the tournament is held in Canada at least once every three years because of the huge interest from fans and television in the junior tournament.
Two of the five golds in the current run were on Canadian ice, while others were in North Dakota (2005), Sweden (2007) and the Czech Republic (2008).
The current edition has been tested only in the game against the U.S., having breezed to wins over Latvia, Slovakia and twice against Switzerland. They got a break when the Swiss upset Russia in the quarter-finals.
"It's not hard to find inspiration when we're playing the U.S.," said defenceman Ryan Ellis. "We've grown up playing against them.
"It's an opportunity to win another gold medal. Personally, I had a tough game against the Americans too and I'd like have a good one."
American sniper Danny Kristo would like nothing more than to knock Canada off.
"Losing in a shootout isn't really a loss," said Kristo. "We were one shot away from beating them last game.
"We get another crack at them and everyone's excited about that. Our forwards are probably the fastest in the tournament. Their defencemen can move the puck, but I don't know if they can handle our team speed."
Hamonic watched practice Monday with his arm in a sling.
"I play through injury all the time, but this is serious," the St. Malo, Man., native said. "I can't move my arm one bit.
"I'd play with one arm if I had to, but I have to look at the team. I'm probably out six to eight weeks now."
Switzerland's Jeffrey Fuglister was given a major penalty and a game misconduct for the hit.
"I've watched the hit a few times - I was kind of grossed out, to be honest," Hamonic said. "I went in really awkwardly and I'm grateful I put my arm up.
"But as far as the hit itself, a lot in hockey happens at high speed and you just have a split second to make a decision. I'm sure it's something he didn't want to do and that he feels bad about it, and that's as much as I'm going to comment."