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Pride all that's at stake when USA faces Canada

by Mike G. Morreale /
EDMONTON -- Now that the anticipated New Year's Eve showdown between the U.S. National Junior Team and Team Canada in Group B preliminary-round play of the 2012 World Junior Championship has been "relegated" to just another game on the schedule, what could possibly motivate the players?
"One word … pride," U.S. coach Dean Blais said after his team suffered a 5-2 loss to the Czech Republic on Friday.
"Even though you're nicked up, you have to pull up the skate blades and go again. We don't have a whole lot of time for recovery and it won't be easy knowing that no matter how you play, you won't get a chance to win a medal and that's why we're here."

2012 World Junior Championship

Canada cruises to 5-0 win over Czechs

Mike G. Morreale - Staff Writer
Petr Holik scored twice and Tomas Filippi once in the third period and goalie Petr Mrazek made it stand behind a heroic 52-save performance as the Czech Republic scored a stirring 5-2 victory over the U.S. National Junior Team on Friday in Group B preliminary-round play of the World Junior Championship at Rexall Place. READ MORE ›

The U.S. loss to the Czech Republic, combined with Finland's 10-1 victory over Denmark on Friday, officially knocked the Americans from medal contention and into the relegation round.
Despite the fact both teams will be playing for pride only, no one expects a letdown from either side. In fact, the U.S. might very well be treating this game like its gold-medal matchup.
"They're still our rival so we still want to beat them," U.S. captain Jason Zucker said. "We still don't like them and they still don't like us. That's not going to be a hard game to get up for no matter what."
Zucker then went on to make a prediction.
"We're going to beat them," he said. "That's what we're going to do. We're going to try our best and we're going to go out there and we're not going to change anything we do. We're going to play."
Canada coach Don Hay, whose team has earned an automatic bye into the tournament semifinals, was asked if he felt the game will lack intensity now that the U.S. has been knocked from medal contention.
"You don't know [if their intensity will be gone]," Hay said. "You have to let the game take place, and I know there are two proud countries going head-to-head against each other. There are a lot of rivalries because some players play against each other in the CHL and other competition. I'm still looking forward to a good game and I'm sure the U.S. is as well."
The U.S. and Canada will be meeting for the 38th time at the WJC in their history. During that span the U.S. has won five times in regulation and once in overtime. Canada has taken seven of the last eight meetings, including a 4-1 decision in the tournament semifinals last year.
"It's a rivalry you think about a lot," Canada forward Brendan Gallagher said. "When that schedule comes out, you see that game against the Americans. Both teams are going to want to set the physical tone early, and for us it's about getting the crowd involved and playing our game … and our game is playing physical. It's important for us not to change if we're going to be successful."
The game might hold extra special meaning to Canadian defenseman Jamie Oleksiak, who attended USA Hockey's final junior evaluation camp in 2010 but didn't make the cut for the team. Oleksiak, who holds dual U.S.-Canadian citizenship, had also been invited to attend USA Hockey's National Junior Evaluation Camp held Aug. 6-13, 2011, in Lake Placid, N.Y., but opted for Hockey Canada camp instead.
It's a decision he doesn't regret, as the Canadians are now three victories away from earning their first gold medal since 2009.
"Ever since I picked Canada I haven't looked back," he said. "I was fortunate USA Hockey gave me an opportunity and I think it's been a phenomenal ride for me. Canada has been great and very supportive the whole way. I can't say enough about it. It's been a great choice for me."
The 6-foot-6 1/2, 244-pound Oleksiak played for the U.S. Men's Under-18 Team at the 2009 Memorial of Ivan Hlinka. He elected to join Canadian camp three days after opting to forego his college career at Northeastern University and sign with the OHL's Saginaw Spirit last summer.
"I feel I'm a Canadian … I was born and raised in Canada and still live [in Toronto], so I have more of a connection there," Oleksiak said. "It's kind of where when [Canada] gave me the opportunity to put on the jersey, it was a huge honor. It's something I've dreamt about."
U.S. center Bill Arnold, who is in a three-way tie for the team scoring lead with 4 points (2 goals), is confident the team will be ready for the Canadians. 
"The game against Canada means everything," Arnold said. "Canada is our biggest rival in this tournament and as much as the loss to the Czechs stings, we have to bounce back. We're going to come out and give it everything we've got to beat Canada, because no one wants to lose to them."
When told that Zucker had predicted a victory, Blais smiled.
"You have no chance if you don't believe, so it's my job to convince the other 22 players that we have a chance," Blais said. "The only thing is, we came in first of all to take care of the three games before Canada, but we didn't do that.
"We know what we're up against, we know there will be a hostile crowd. But that doesn't matter. We'll still play with pride and energy."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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