BERN, Switzerland – There were enough former champions in the Canadian lineup to recognize that this IIHF World Hockey Championship seemed headed in the wrong direction.
That’s why players like Shane Doan and Dany Heatley decided to stand before their teammates on Friday afternoon and talk about what it means to win this tournament. Hours later, Canada delivered its best effort yet in a 3-1 victory over Sweden that set up a gold-medal rematch with Russia.
It might never have happened without the players-only meeting.
“It was important,” said coach Lindy Ruff. “You get this far and you don’t want to miss a step and not make it. There’s some strong leadership there. You look at Doaner and Heater, they’re two voices that have been here and they’ve seen it and done it.
“And I think they realize you don’t get many chances at it.”
Ruff did his part as well with a couple bold decisions. He decided to start Dwayne Roloson in net over quarter-final winner Chris Mason and tinkered with his top two lines and a couple defence pairings.
The moves seemed to pay off as Roloson made 25 saves and Derek Roy scored two goals while skating with Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis for the first time during this tournament. They’re now just one win away from reclaiming the gold Canada last won in 2007.
Even though Russia won last year’s world championship by defeating Canada in the final, the players insist that they don’t have any payback on their minds.
“We came here to win the gold medal, we didn’t come here to beat Russia and get revenge on them,” said Roy, one of six returnees from 2008. “But they’re in our way right now.”
The two teams have been on a collision course since the event began two weeks ago and will play for the championship on Sunday. Russia went through its first eight games without losing while Canada only dropped a shootout game to Finland during the round robin.
Most importantly, the Canadian team finally played the type of game it was looking for in its semifinal win over Sweden.
“They found a whole a new gear,” said GM Doug Armstrong.
Shawn Horcoff had the other goal for Canada while Loui Eriksson replied for Sweden.
In the early semifinal, Konstantin Gorovikov scored with 1:47 remaining to give Russia a 3-2 victory over the surprising Americans. The U.S. will be looking for just its third medal at this event in 47 years when it plays Sweden for the bronze on Sunday.
Ruff’s decision to shake up the lines paid off almost immediately when Roy got Canada on the board at 6:51 of the first period.
The goal would never have been possible without St. Louis, the little dynamo sending a backhand pass off the back of the net before Roy lifted the puck over a stunned Jonas Gustavsson.
“You’re just trying to make the right play at the right time,” said St. Louis. “Those kind of plays just kind of happen.”
It was the early goal the Canadian team badly needed after slow starts in its past two games.
Roloson started rewarding Ruff’s faith in him early in the middle frame. That’s when the Swedes grabbed some momentum and generated a few quality chances, the best being a hard one-timer from Rickard Wallin that Roloson nabbed with his glove.
“Dwayne was strong,” said Ruff. “Didn’t make any mistakes and gave us the big save when we needed it.”
Less than a minute later, Horcoff got his first goal of the world championship. He’s been excellent in a defensive role here, but looked pretty relieved after Mike Fisher made a nice move to beat a Swedish player and fed him in front.
Suddenly, the Swedes were reeling and Anton Stralman only made matters worse when he was called for tripping. The penalty lasted just 15 seconds before Roy cruised in front and scored his second of the night on a rebound at 10:38.
Gustavsson – dubbed “The Monster” after a sensational run through playoffs with his Swedish club team – couldn’t really be faulted for any of the goals he allowed. However, he didn’t make any game-saving stops either.
The 3-0 lead was more than enough for Roloson.
Eriksson made a nice play to outwait the Canadian goalie before firing the puck over him at 6:14 of the third period, but Roloson wouldn’t anything else.
Sweden is now off to another bronze medal game after losing in the semifinals to Canada for the third straight year. The Canadians, meanwhile, will go for the country’s 25th world championship gold.
“We won’t be satisfied with silver,” said Ruff. “And I don’t think the Russian team will either. One team is going to leave unsatisfied.”
If Canada wins this one, the meeting that was held before the semifinal will likely be considered a turning point. The players who are going through this for the first time couldn’t help but feel motivated after it.
“We’ve got lots of gold medals in that room,” said Horcoff.
And they’d obviously like a few more.