CALGARY - For the second straight year, Russian captain Yevgeni Kuznetsov helped end Canada's dreams of winning gold at the IIHF world junior men's hockey championship.
The 19-year-old forward had a hat trick and an assist to lead Russia to a 6-5 win over Canada in semifinal action in front of a sell-out crowd of 19,289 at Scotiabank Saddledome.
Last year in Buffalo, N.Y., Kuznetsov had three assists in the third period of Russia's stunning come-from-behind 5-3 win over Canada in the gold-medal game.
"I thought he played the best game of the tournament so far," Russian coach Valeri Bragin said through an interpreter. "He's our captain and our captain should play in that way in key games like that. He's an experienced player. He's playing for the senior national team so I'm happy with the way he played."
After the game, Kuznetsov said he gave everything he had to help Russia advance to Thursday's gold-medal game against Sweden, which beat Finland 3-2 in overtime earlier in the day in the other semifinal.
"I'm empty right now," said the first round pick of the Washington Capitals in the 2010 draft. "I'm exhausted ? all the emotions."
When asked to compare Tuesday's win over Canada to last year's gold medal victory, Kuznetsov replied: "Same emotions. We're happy. I'm glad that Canada will not win gold this year."
Alexander Khokhlachev had a goal and an assist for Russia, while Nikita Kucherov and Nikita Nesterov also scored.
Nail Yakupov, a highly-touted draft prospect who plays for the Ontario Hockey League's Sarnia Sting, chipped in with four assists.
"We're pretty excited," Yakupov said. "We beat Canada. ... Russia's better than Canada."
Russia led 2-0 after the first period and 5-1 after the second period. Kucherov then scored at 7:54 of the final period before Canada mounted a furious comeback that came up one goal short.
"We weren't happy obviously when it was 6-1," said Canadian captain Jaden Schwartz, who scored Canada???s third goal. "We had too many defensive breakdowns and were undisciplined at times, but we battled back hard. We had chances to tie it up. We just couldn't capitalize."
Starting Russia goalie Andrei Vasilevski stopped 44 of 49 shots he faced before being replaced by Andrei Makarov at 14:17 of the third when Brandon Gormley scored to pull Canada within a goal. Makarov stopped all seven shots he faced to preserve the victory.
"I like the way Makarov played when he came into the game," Bragin said.
Both Russia and Sweden will practice on Wednesday in preparation of Thursday???s final.
"We don't have enough time to think about the finals," Bragin said. "It's too early right now."
Yakupov said that it will definitely be a tough challenge to beat Sweden, which fought back from a 2-0 deficit on Saturday to beat Russia 3-2 in overtime in the final preliminary-round game for both teams.
"The Swedish play hard," Yakupov said. "We play hard too. We just want to win the game. We're pretty excited."