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Goal in bronze-medal game to take a medal home

by Shawn P. Roarke
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- In all honesty, Wednesday's bronze-medal game is one neither the U.S. nor Sweden has any interest in playing.

But, play it they will Wednesday (3:30 p.m. ET, NHLN-US, TSN) at the HSBC Arena, trying to salvage something of a tournament that has gone horribly wrong for both teams.

Instead of playing for gold -- and at worse silver -- in the evening's main event, the U.S. and Sweden have been relegated to the undercard, left to fight over the final medal.

Yet, each side says that will be enough to bring out their best in their final game of the 2011 World Junior Championship

"A medal is a medal and you want to come out of this tournament with some kind of hardware," said U.S. forward Chris Brown, who scored Team USA's only goal in a 4-1 loss to Canada in Monday's semifinal. "Whether we are playing for gold, silver or bronze, we are going top play as hard as we can.

"It didn't work out for us in playing for the gold, so now we are going to play Sweden. We know they have a lot of skilled guys and they are very well-coached, but we have to come out and play harder than we did (against Canada). We want to take home that bronze, we want to take home some hardware."

Sure, the U.S. wants to take home some hardware, but the question remains as to whether they can turn the page on what happened Monday when Canada out-played the U.S. at every turn and stomped on Team USA's dream of defending the gold medal won at the 2010 tournament.

U.S. coach Keith Allain believes his club can do just that. He put his players through the paces during a short but crisp practice Tuesday afternoon at HSBC, just 17 hours removed from the loss to Canada.

"I think we are better now than we were before practice," Allain said. "I think that's the beauty of a day like today. I think the guys were disappointed, obviously, that we didn't play the way we wanted to last night, and as a result, we didn't get the result we wanted."

Thinks were pretty bleak this morning, according to U.S. forward Nick Bjugstad. He admitted it was tough to wake up and the team breakfast was far quieter than normal. But after the practice and a talking-to by Allain, the mood had lightened considerably.

And what was the message Allain -- who said Monday night that he would appeal to his team's pride in preparing them for Wednesday -- passed along to the team?

"The message is simple: We're competitive people and every time you put on that (Team USA) sweater, you want to win," Allain said. "The fact that we get a chance to play for a medal makes it better. But that is the nature of the beast -- you say hockey game and you go and compete."

Certainly, the U.S. will have to be near their best against Sweden, a team Allain called "the best in the tournament, in my opinion."

Sweden is a fast, skilled team with a very good goalie in Robin Lehner. Monday, they jumped to a 3-1 lead against Russia before the wheels fell off in the final four minutes of regulation. Russia scored a pair of goals during that time frame to tie the game and then won in a shootout to advance to the gold-medal game.

And, like the U.S., Sweden's players are stewing after failing to deliver their best game at the most important time. Both the U.S. and Sweden had byes into the semifinals, yet neither advanced to the gold-medal game. It is the first time in the nine years of the current format that neither bye team reached the gold-medal game.

"This was my last year so I'm disappointed, and we expected to make the final," said defenseman Adam Larsson, who figured on all three Sweden goals in the semifinal. "We're working together and working for each other and going out there and working 60 minutes. It wasn't enough tonight."

Will it be enough Wednesday afternoon against the U.S.?

"It's hard right now to think about it, but we'll work on it and be ready for (Wednesday)," Larsson said.

If both teams find a way to deliver on the promises issued Tuesday about being ready for the bronze-medal game, Wednesday's game could be a spectacle as both teams have the individual skill and team continuity to make it an entertaining, hard-hitting affair.

"It's still a big game for us, the bronze medal is up for grabs," said Charlie Coyle, who leads the U.S. in scoring with 2 goals and 6 points. "We're looking forward to that. We just have to bounce back, play our game -- the USA game -- and just use our speed and just play our game and we'll be good."
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