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Jordan Eberle keeps coming up big for Canada at world junior hockey championship

NHL.com @NHL

SASKATOON - Jordan Eberle keeps coming to the rescue when Canada is in tight spots at the world junior hockey championship.

The 19-year-old from Regina, who will likely move into Canada's top two all-time in world junior scoring at this tournament, has shown talent both last year in Ottawa and this year in Saskatoon for scoring goals that wrest momentum away from the opposition, as well as finishing the job in shootouts.

When Canada trailed the U.S. by two goals with just over 10 minutes to go in the final round-robin game of the tournament Wednesday, Eberle sparked his team and incited the Credit Union Centre crowd by tipping in a Brandon McMillan shot to pull his team within one.

The first Canadian up in the shootout, Eberle squeezed a backhand shot past Jack Campbell to rattle the American goaltender's confidence and pave the way for teammates Nazem Kadri and Brandon Kozun to score in a 5-4 victory.

Eberle's two goals - he'd tied the game 2-2 in the second period - plus another in a shootout, were pivotal in Canada winning its pool and securing the bye to Sunday's semifinal (TSN, 5 p.m. ET).

While the bye won't guarantee a sixth straight gold medal for Canada, it increases the host country's chances. Teams that earn the bye have won the gold seven out of the 10 times the world junior tournament followed this format.

Sweden also has a bye to the semifinals and meets the winner of Saturday's Finland-U.S. quarter-final. Canada awaits the winner of Saturday's other quarter-final between Russia and Switzerland.

Eberle salvaged Canada's gold-medal hopes in Ottawa by scoring with five seconds remaining in the semifinal against Russia to send it to overtime. He and John Tavares scored in the shootout to keep the drive for five alive.

When everybody else in the arena feels the situation is dire, the first-round draft pick of the Edmonton Oilers doesn't tighten up.

"When you play in pressure situations, the more you do it, the easier it gets," Eberle said Thursday. "Obviously there's still nerves. It's a matter of trying to use the nerves for you rather than against you."

Canada didn't skate Thursday, but players spoke to reporters in the lobby of their downtown hotel. Eberle and his Canadian teammates were still bleary-eyed from the previous night as the buzz from their dramatic win robbed them of sleep.

"You're pretty excited, especially when we watch the highlights," Eberle explained. "It kind of gets you pumped up and makes it a little tougher to sleep."

Eric Lindros ranks No. 1 all-time for Canada in world junior scoring with 31 points. With 10 points (five goals, five assists) in four games at this world junior championship, Eberle is at a career 23 and one behind Jason Allison at No. 2.

"That's special, but I'm more worried about the six-in-a-row record to be honest," said the five-foot-10, 187-pound forward.

Current Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews helped instill Eberle's belief that Canada may be down, but never out at the world junior championship.

At 16, Eberle watched on television as Toews scored three times in the shootout of a 2-1 semifinal win over the U.S. in Leksand, Sweden.

"That was pretty special," Eberle recalled. "I remember watching it on TV and him going three for three, that's unreal. Being in that situation, obviously it's not easy to block out the crowd, but it's fun. To see a guy like that do it three times in a row is pretty cool."

Canadian head coach Willie Desjardins has faith in Eberle's fearlessness and will put him out on the ice when a clutch goal is required.

"He's not afraid of the big situation," Desjardins said. "He wants the puck. Even the shootout moves and things like that, he makes real strong moves."

The Oilers drafted Eberle 22nd overall in the 2008 NHL entry draft. Kevin Prendergast, vice-president of hockey operations, says he's surpassed their expectations.

"The big thing with him was we felt that he was a goalscorer, a natural goalscorer," Prendergast said. "He was one of the players we certainly wanted going into the draft because we felt we needed that type of player, but he's taken his game to a level, at this point anyway, that we didn't expect him to get to so quickly."

The Oilers opted to return Eberle to the Pats in September to give him time to develop NHL strength and power to match his skilled hands and hockey smarts.

"I wanted to come back to junior and prove them wrong. That was kind of my whole thing," Eberle said. "For the most part, I think I have. I think this is a big thing that kind of kept my head up too, the world juniors, because it's such a fun tournament to play in, especially in my home."

He and defencemen Colten Teubert are two in a long line of Regina Pats who have represented Canada at the world junior championships. A record 20 have played in the tournament.

Regina is currently missing Eberle's scoring touch and Teubert's physical presence as they've lost nine in a row without them. Eberle has 29 goals and 31 assists in 28 games this season for Regina.

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