OTTAWA – Canada aims for less bravado and more discipline in Saturday’s semifinal game at the world junior hockey championship.
The defending champs insist they’ve learned their lesson from their last game, which was a 7-4 win over the U.S. to conclude the preliminary round.
The Canadians were overhyped to start the game because of a raucous crowd of over 20,000 people, their first tough opponent of the tournament and first place in their pool at stake.
It cost them three goals against in the first 13 minutes. Various Canadian players responded to trailing for the first time in the tournament by making poor decisions, getting caught out of position or thinking trash-talking would remedy the situation.
The Canadians pulled themselves together for the victory, but their semifinal opponent Saturday may not leave the door open for another comeback.
Canada faces the winner of Friday’s quarter-final between Russia and the Czech Republic on Saturday (TSN, 7:30 p.m. ET).
Sweden meets Slovakia, a shocking 5-3 quarter-final winner Friday over the U.S., in Saturday’s earlier semifinal (TSN, 3:30 p.m. ET).
The Canadians think they know now what the right emotional balance is for the opening faceoff Saturday.
“We’ll probably keep our mouths shut a little bit more,” said leading irritant Stefan Della Rovere of the Barrie Colts. “I’m going to try and stay more disciplined than I have because I took some dumb penalties lately especially against the U.S.”
Head coach Pat Quinn knew coming into the tournament the biggest challenge would be for his players to control their emotions while the crowd pumped adrenaline through their veins. Trying to win a fifth straight gold medal in this tournament at home adds to the hype.
“You saw the other night bone-head plays, gambles, risking stuff, letting men go and all the things that if you talked to those individuals you’d say ‘I don’t do that and you can count on me,”’ Quinn said.’“But throw in another team that’s pretty good and the crowd and the pressure of the game and people make decisions that aren’t anywhere close to what they should be.
“Like any athlete that wants to have success, they have to do it when it counts and when it’s there and when that pressure is on.”
Dustin Tokarski of the Spokane Chiefs will start again in Canada’s net. Quinn liked the way Tokarski, signed to a contract earlier this week by the Tampa Bay Lightning, recovered from a shaky start against the Americans with major-league stops.
“It’s just another game _ obviously a big game, but nothing changes from a goalie’s standpoint,” said the 19-year-old from Watson Lake, Sask.
Lethbridge Hurricanes forward Zach Boychuk was on the ice for half of Friday’s practice and says a sprained ankle won’t prevent him from playing Saturday.
“Once the ankle got warm, it felt great,” the Carolina Hurricanes draft pick said. “I should be able to go for a full practice tomorrow and play tomorrow night.”
Canada led the preliminary round in scoring with 35 goals, thanks to a power play that is running at an amazing 60 per cent. John Tavares of the Oshawa Generals and Cody Hodgson of the Brampton Battalion have combined for six goals and seven assists when Canada’s been a man up.
Tavares leads the tournament in goals with eight and Vancouver Canucks prospect Hodgson leads in assists with nine.
Hodgson credits assistant coach Guy Boucher, whose club team Drummondville has a 30-per-cent success rate on the power play in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
“I’ve been with Guy Boucher now for the last two under-18 tournaments and he’s a genius,” Hodgson said. “He’s got an unbelievable mind for the power play that nobody else would be able to pick up on in such a short amount of time.
The Canadians intend to tighten up their defence because giving up four goals in a game doesn’t usually meet the gold standard.
“In our early games we weren’t tested because we had the puck most of the time,” Quinn said. “We all expected, as a coaching staff, once we started to play other teams that weren’t going to just let us have the puck, they were going to attack as well, that we’d find out about our defence.
“It’s been a priority for us because we believe you win championships out of your defence and you get your scoring out of your defence.”
While the Canadian players feel the home ice and the home crowd will go a long way in helping them win another gold and matching the record of five straight set between 1993 and 1997, they don’t want emotion of the moment to overwhelm them when they step back on the Scotiabank Place ice Saturday.
“The biggest thing is not let the crowd overhype us because it’s incredible out there,” Hodgson said. “You don’t want to be too hyped and lose all your energy before the game. We want to be relaxed.”
The Canadians had a dry-run of the charged atmosphere a big game produces at Scotiabank Place, so they feel prepared for it now.
“I think it was a lesson to stay relaxed and don’t worry about the fans or anything else,” said Wisconsin defencemen Cody Goloubef. “We’ve gone through it once before, so I think we’re ready now.”
NOTES: There were still tickets available Friday for Canada’s semifinal with prices ranging from $60 to $150 on capitaltickets.ca. … Bidding on tickets to the gold-medal game on ebay ranged from $250 for a standing-room pair of tickets to $610 for two front-row seats Friday. … Canadian teams have played in the last seven finals at the world junior hockey championship with a 4-3 record.