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U.S. players staying positive, focused on finishing fifth

by Adam Kimelman
OTTAWA -- Getting ready for another game Sunday night wasn't what the U.S. team had in mind when they were getting ready for the 2009 World Junior Championship, but the players said they were determined to make the most of their last day on the ice together.

The last practice for the U.S. was a light-hearted affair, with little emphasis on drills or actual work.

"I probably thought it was the most fun and energy we've had the whole tournament," said coach Ron Rolston. It's funny how that works."

It's not so funny how the U.S. got to this point -- the players still seemed incredulous from their quarterfinal loss to Slovakia on Friday -- but there were as many smiles as pucks on the ice Sunday morning.

"Surprisingly we're in a pretty good mood even though it was a tough loss," said Jordan Schroeder. "We're all disappointed we weren't in the semis (Saturday) night. Today is about pride in our country and we're going to try to come out here and get a nice win."

Part of their preparation included a hockey version of the childhood game kill the man with the ball, with 12 guys piling into the corners to try and steal the puck.

"We were just playing a little keep-away and gradually it got more and more people," said defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, one of the players in the scrums.

Since a medal was out of the question, the players were left to play for pride and the best place in the standings they can get.

"I think we just want to take a lot of pride in the jersey we're wearing," said Shattenkirk. "We let one slip away from us (in the quarterfinals) and we don't want to let that happen again. We're playing for our country and we want to finish in the best possible place we can. That's our attitude coming into the game."

Records in reach -- Beside pride for the U.S. players, there was history on the line for two of them.
James van Riemsdyk's goal against Slovakia was his 11th in World Juniors play, leaving him tied with Brian Gionta for second on the all-time U.S. list. He finished his WJC career two behind Jeremy Roenick's 13 goals.

Van Riemsdyk also finished with 20 points, tying him with Mike Modano and Brian Rolston for second all-time. Roenick also tops that list, with 25 points.

Jordan Schroeder's assist against Slovakia was his 15th in World Juniors play, snapping a tie with Doug Weight for the all-time U.S. record.

Schroeder now has 19 points, tying him for fourth all-time. He will be eligible for the 2010 event.

Other records were set during the game. Czech Republic captain David Stitch set a single-game record with 50 penalty minutes for his part in the third-period melee. He received a roughing major, a game misconduct and a match penalty. Stitch also set the record for most penalty minutes in one period.

Lucky fan -- One little girl showed up to watch Friday's U.S.-Slovakia quarterfinal and left with more than she bargained for.

Moments after the horn sounded, Slovakia goalie Jaroslav Janus tossed his stick to a young fan in the Scotiabank Place crowd. Later, he returned to autograph it.

"I just give it to fans because the fans are awesome," Janus told "It's just a stick."

That was more than just any stick -- it's the one that helped him stop 44 of 47 shots in the victory against the U.S. You would think that stick would be earmarked for his personal trophy case.

Instead, Janus saw it as a way to say thanks for the fans who cheered so long and loud for him and his team.

"I love the fans," Janus said. "They were awesome. I just wanted to give them a present for cheering for me."

Decompressing -- A day after their remarkable comeback victory against Russia, the Canada players tried their best to put their magical night behind them and get down to the business of preparing for Sweden and Monday's gold-medal game.

"Right now we just have to put (Saturday's game) aside," said defenseman P.K. Subban. "It's over with. It was a great game, it's something that you'll remember forever, but right now we still have more hockey left to be played. We know they're focused on the game we have tomorrow, so I think we just have to prepare ourselves for tomorrow."

Jordan Eberle, Saturday's hero, said Sunday's practice was about improving things that caused his team to need his goal with 5.4 seconds left in regulation to force overtime.

"We were trying to get the fundamentals under us, try to have a good practice," said Eberle. "I don't think we had a great game (Saturday). We were trying to fix the mistakes we made yesterday today, and I think our passing and stuff like that was a lot better today."

John Tavares, who set up the tying goal and followed Eberle's shootout goal with one of his own, said he's still amazed by what happened, but was doing his best to move forward.

"I think a lot of us, it hasn't really sunk in what kind of game that was (Saturday) night," he said. "I think we're one step closer to our ultimate goal, that's the main focus. We put that one behind us for now until after the tournament and we can look back at a game like that."

"I love the fans. They were awesome. I just wanted to give them a present for cheering for me." -- Slovak goalie Jaroslav Janus
Swedish changes -- Building a team to reach this year's gold-medal game wasn't something that started the day after Christmas or even in August when the team held its selection camp. This year's efforts are the culmination of something that started Dec. 2, 2002.

That was when the hockey minds of Sweden met and basically threw away their plan for developing players and introduced a new model, based in part on Canada's Program of Excellence and the U.S. National Team Development Program.

"About 100 Swedish hockey experts, managers, scouts, some older players, they sat down in a meeting in Stockholm," said Goran Stubb, NHL Director of European Scouting. "They scrapped all the systems they had in producing talent and they rebuilt the whole thing."

Sweden's last two World Junior entries, both of which have reached the gold-medal game, are the fruits of those labors.

"We educate hockey players and you (Canada) produce winners," said Sweden coach Par Marts. "We have to learn from that. We can't copy that, because a copy becomes No. 2. We have to take our style and love to compete and love to win."

No battle -- Much of the talk before the WJC was the personal battle between John Tavares and Victor Hedman, with the perceived winner being the favorite to be taken first in June's NHL Entry Draft.

Tavares leads the tournament with 8 goals and 14 points; Hedman has 2 assists and is a plus-5 while helping Sweden lead the tournament in penalty killing (85.0 percent) and goals-against average (1.20).

When asked about Hedman on Sunday, Tavares tersely replied, "I'm just going to play to win the gold."

Hedman was unavailable to the media in the mixed zone.

Contact Adam Kimelman at

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