Emotions will be high Sunday in Sochi, Russia, when the United States faces Canada in the gold-medal game of the 2013 IIHF World Under-18 Championship, at Bolshoy Ice Dome.
Both teams advanced to the title game after winning their respective semifinals Friday. The gold-medal game will be played Sunday at noon ET.
2013 NHL Draft prospects Tyler Kelleher and J.T. Compher scored in a shootout to lead the United States to a 4-3 victory against Russia in the nightcap before a capacity crowd at Bolshoy. In the earlier semifinal, Canada secured a ticket to the championship game for the first time since 2008 with a 3-1 defeat of Finland.
The U.S., which rallied from 2-1 and 3-2 deficits against the host Russians, will seek an unprecedented fifth straight U-18 gold medal Sunday.
"When the U.S. plays Canada, it's a big game all the time, at any level," U.S. goalie Thatcher Demko said.
After a scoreless overtime, during which the Americans were forced to kill a 4-on-3 power-play when Will Butcher was sent to the box for hooking at the 6:31 mark, Kelleher scored in the opening round of the shootout. Demko, who made 26 saves in regulation and overtime, then denied Sergei Tolchinsky. Compher, No. 34 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters for this year's draft, sealed the victory in the third round when he scored on Russia's Igor Shestyorkin (54 saves). Demko stopped Tolchinsky and Pavel Buchnevich in the tiebreaker.
"I'm excited. I was a little nervous, but it was lucky I put it in [during the shootout]," Compher said. "Russia is an amazing team. They have played really well; we're just lucky to come out on top."
Russia had beaten the United States in eight of the previous 12 meetings at the U-18 tournament, including a 4-3 preliminary-round triumph in the opener for both teams.
After Russia's Vyacheslav Leschenko scored with 3:19 remaining in the third to give his team a 3-2 lead and send the locals in attendance into a frenzy, the Americans pulled even just 1:14 later when Anthony Louis scored his first goal of the tournament.
"We celebrated too much after [our] last goal in the third period and relaxed," Russian forward Ivan Barbashev said.
Thomas Vannelli and Mike McCarron also scored for the United States, while Buchnevich and Valeri Nichushkin, NHL Central Scouting's No. 2-rated European skater, scored for Russia.
"I respect [Canada]," Kelleher said. "They are pretty close to us. It will be more North American style of hockey. We beat them in an exhibition game, pretty easily. [Connor] McDavid is an unbelievable player, two years younger than us. I see what he is doing … two hat tricks in a row. It's unbelievable."
Compher also is looking forward to the matchup against Canada.
"Canada is a great team," he said. "They have been a dominating team in this tournament. We are really excited to get a crack at it. It's going to be a great game."
In their 3-1 semifinal victory, unbeaten Canada, which has outscored its foes, 23-3, took a 2-0 lead on defenseman Joshua Morrissey's power-play goal 4:52 into the second. Morrissey, No. 27 on Central Scouting's list of the top North American skaters, is having quite a tournament for Canada with three goals, seven points and a plus-11 rating in six games.
"I thought we hung in there. I don't think we played our best game," Canada coach Don Hay said. "We looked a bit tired, a bit fatigued from [the quarterfinals Thursday], but both goalies played well. For me, it was very pleasing to see different players step up across our team so we didn't have to rely on one line."
Finland received another stellar effort from goalie Juuse Saros, who made 36 saves, including 17 in the third when his team had pulled to within 2-1. In six tournament games, Saros, NHL Central Scouting's No. 1-ranked European goalie, is 4-2 with a 2.00 goals-against average and .943 save percentage.
"We played quite a solid game, the players gave everything on the ice," Finland coach Mika Marttila said. "Team Canada was strong, as well, and had good puck handling."
Finland will be playing for the bronze medal for the third time in four years.
Morgan Klimchuk scored his third goal of the tournament and added an assist for Canada, while Frederik Gauthier had two assists and goalie Philippe Desrosiers (4-0) made 25 saves.
"It was a tough game, the Finns are a really good team," Klimchuk, Central Scouting's No. 25-ranked North American skater, said. "They played a real [good] game against us, but we stayed patient throughout the whole game."
"We didn't play our best, but found a way to win," he said. "For the final, we'll need to get back to what we've done well before to succeed."
Joose Antonen scored a goal 7:13 into the third with his team working a 5-on-3 power play to help Finland pare the deficit to 2-1, but Samuel Bennett closed the scoring with an empty-net goal for Canada with just 38 seconds left in the third.
Finland and Russia will meet for the bronze medal Sunday at 8 a.m. ET at Bolshoy Ice Dome.