Canada to face Russia in Junior final

Canada coach Dave Cameron can appreciate how a gold-medal showdown against Russia for hockey supremacy can still capture imaginations back home.

Just don't ask his fresh-faced players — all of them 20 years or younger — to start buying in.

"A lot of these guys can't go back five or six years," Cameron said Tuesday. "They don't know. So I'm not going to give them a history lesson now."

In the name of Vladislav Tretiak and Paul Henderson, the Canada-Russia rivalry isn't what it used to be as the two traditional hockey superpowers prepare to meet Wednesday in the World Junior Hockey Championship tournament's title game.

It's a familiar spot for the Canadians, who are appearing in the final for a 10th consecutive year and attempting to win their sixth gold medal in seven years.

The resurgent Russians, though, haven't won the tournament since 2003, and are making their first appearance in the final since 2007, when they lost 4-2 to Canada.

That's ancient history for Team Canada, who entered this tournament with a gold-or-bust objective after losing the title a year ago to the United States in a 6-5 overtime loss at Saskatchewan.

Canada already delivered its payback against the Americans, with a convincing 4-1 win in Monday's semifinal. They don't intend to stop there.

"Today's a new day," said forward Brayden Schenn, who's leading the tournament with seven goals and nine assists in six games. "We didn't come here to beat the U.S. We came here for the gold medal. And we still have that up for grabs."

The Americans are still in the hunt to secure their first medal in the five times they've hosted the tournament. The U.S. will face Sweden for the bronze medal on Wednesday.

"Yesterday's game is over with and there's nothing we can do about it now," U.S. forward Charlie Coyle said. "Everyone's getting excited. The bronze medal is still a big deal for us."

The marquee matchup, though, is still Canada-Russia, two nations that have won 27 gold medals (Canada 15, and Russia/Soviet Union 12) in the tournament's previous 34 years.

And this year, both teams reached the title game by having to overcome adversity.

The Canadians opened the tournament with a 6-3 win over Russia on Dec. 26. Their lone setback was a 6-5 shootout loss to Sweden on Friday. They bounced back, though, with a 4-1 win over Switzerland in the quarterfinal, before defeating Team USA.

Team Canada's done it with balance, and is getting solid goaltending from Mark Visentin, who has a 3-0 record and leads the tournament with a 1.00 goals against average and a 96.1 save percentage. Visentin opened as the backup before taking over for Olivier Roy, who struggled in the loss to Sweden.

"I really can't wait for the opportunity. It's definitely going to be the biggest game I've ever played in my life," Visentin said. "Obviously, it's go big or go home right now."

The Russians, meanwhile, have proven to possess a sudden flair for the dramatic. After losing their first two games, they've won four straight, including rallying from third-period deficits to win each their past two.

Russia trailed Finland 3-1 in the quarterfinal on Sunday. But Yevgeni Kuznetsov scored two of three rallying goals, including 6:44 into overtime, to seal a 4-3 win.

Then came their 4-3 shootout victory over Sweden on Monday. Sergei Kalinin tied the game with 1:27 left in the third, and then Denis Golubev scored the lone goal in the shootout round.

"Good luck and God was with us," Vladimir Tarasenko said, through a translator.

Then, when asked if the Russians were peaking, Tarasenko provided the answer himself in broken English by saying: "I think our peaking is next game."

The Russians have improved thanks to the goaltending of Dmitri Shikin, who took over after Igor Bobkov allowed six goals on 42 shots vs. Canada. Shikin is 4-1 and has allowed 13 goals over five games.

Russian coach Valeri Bragin wasn't pleased with the early losses, certainly. But, boy, has his team responded.

"I don't think there's any pressure right now because before any tournament, the main goal is to move to the finals," Bragin said. "And in the finals, the chance is equal for both teams: 50-50."

Canada, of course, will enjoy home-ice advantage given how its fans have packed HSBC Arena. Buffalo borders Ontario, and tournament organizers estimate Canadians purchased nearly two-thirds of the 300,000 tickets sold for the 11-day event.

The Canadian fans were so overwhelming during the semifinal against the U.S. that they began chanting "This is our house!"

On Wednesday, they'll see if Russia can do anything about that.