SASKATOON, Sask. --
"Everyone thought in the New Year's game we played real poorly, not a lot of people respected how well the (U.S.) played. They've got a real good hockey team. They proved that against Finland and Sweden. It doesn't surprise me at all how well they played."
-- Canada coach Willie Desjardins
So who, exactly, is the favorite going into the gold-medal game of the World Junior Championship?
It depends who you ask.
"They outplayed us the last game and they are the favorite going into this game, I think," said Canada captain Patrice Cormier
. "We have to prove we can play with them."
"No, I'd say we're the underdogs," replied U.S. forward Ryan Bourque
. "Not sure how you can say Canada is the underdog when they've won five-straight gold medals. I think we're an underdog and that's how we want it to be. We're going to have to play a nearly perfect game to beat them."
Regardless, about the only thing the U.S. and Canada players and coaches were in agreement on is that Tuesday's gold medal game here at the Credit Union Centre (8 p.m. ET, NHLN-US) will be a good, competitive game.
"Everyone thought in the New Year's game we played real poorly, not a lot of people respected how well the (U.S.) played," said Canada coach Willie Desjardins. "They've got a real good hockey team. They proved that against Finland and Sweden. It doesn't surprise me at all how well they played."
In that memorable Dec. 31 affair, the U.S. led 4-2 with 10 minutes left in regulation, but a pair of Canada goals tied it and then Brandon Kozun
scored the deciding goal in the shootout.
U.S. coach Dean Blais said his team took as much from losing that night as it would have if it would have won.
"I think we gained a lot of confidence losing in that shootout," he said. "The big pressure was to get to that and being 3-0. I think we surprised Canada a little bit by our team speed and got them into the shootout, which we eventually lost. It was a compliment to us to be on the same playing field as Canada, which has won five-straight gold medals."
Blais said he hadn't decided who would be in goal for his team. He alternated between Mike Lee and Jack Campbell
in the preliminary round, but since Campbell started against Canada in the teams' first meeting, Lee has played the last two games. Blais has the most familiarity with Lee, having coached him last season with Fargo in the United States Hockey League.
"He took us from a brand new franchise to the national championship," said Blais. "It wasn't our good play, it was Mike Lee. He can play."
"Both Jack and I are ready to go," said Lee. "Jack gave them a run for their money on New Year's Eve. We're both going to be ready. Whoever's name they call we're going to give our team the best chance we can."
Desjardins has no such issues; Jake Allen
will be his starter. Allen started the tournament with a pair of shutouts, and, outside of the U.S. game, he hasn't really been tested. In four games, Allen has seen only 74 shots -- with 28 coming against the U.S. -- the fewest of any goaltender to play at least three games.
"He's looked good," said Desjardins. "He's a good goaltender. He hasn't had a lot of work in the tournament, but we expect him to play well tomorrow."
The other place Canada needs to be better is on the power play. The U.S. scored a pair of shorthanded goals in their previous meeting.
"I think for us we need to get shots and try to get to the net," said Jordan Eberle
, one of Canada's best offensive players. "They blocked too many shots. ... It was almost to the point where we went out there and tried not to get scored on. They're a dangerous team shorthanded."
Canada had six chances with the man-advantage in the first meeting, and regardless of how well the U.S. power play did, Blais knows that can't happen again.
"We have to play with a lot of discipline. We took six penalties against them; that's too many because more than likely they're going to get a couple in the next round." -- U.S. coach Dean Blais
"You don't want to give a team that's 60 percent a whole lot of chances," said Blais of Canada's power play, which actually is only at 37.8 percent now after being well above 50 percent in the preliminary round. "We have to play with a lot of discipline. We took six penalties against them; that's too many because more than likely they're going to get a couple in the next round."
This game has a huge amount of meaning for both teams.
For Canada it's their ninth-straight year in the gold-medal game and a chance for a record sixth-straight gold medal.
"That's our goal," said Cormier. "We want it to happen, but we don't really imagine it happening. We just want to go out there and play a hard game and hopefully come out on top."
For the U.S., however, this is a pretty rare opportunity. Since the current format was adopted in 1977, the U.S. has won five medals total, and is playing for the gold medal for just the third time.
"It would be unbelievable for our country and our team and everyone that's been supporting us," said Bourque.
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com