SASKATOON – Team Canada earned their 18th victory in as many games against Switzerland to advance to the gold medal game after defeating the Swiss 6-1 (1-0, 2-1, 3-0) in the semi-finals.
Canada will go for a record-setting sixth straight World Junior gold in its ninth consecutive final appearance on Tuesday against the winner of the Sweden-USA game. The win also means that Canada will earn a World Junior medal for the 12th consecutive time.
"We came in with one purpose, and that was gold," said Canada's Nazem Kadri. "All of our players have played in big games. A gold medal on on home ice will be one of the bigger games for us. We've just got to keep our composure, and play with discipline and intensity."
"Both the USA and Sweden are good teams," said Canadian coach Willie Desjardins. "They have lots of speed and lots of skill. We must play smart against whoever we face."
Switzerland will play for the bronze in the earlier game. The only previous time the Swiss have won a medal was at the 1998 World Juniors in Finland, when they lost 2-1 to Finland in the semis, but beat the Czech Republic 4-3 in overtime in the bronze medal game.
"We had a big opponent, the favourite of the tournament," said Swiss coach Jakob Kölliker. "Our batteries were a bit low after the game against Russia, but we tried to keep the score close as long as possible."
“We played well at the beginning, but Canada became more determined and unfortunately they scored two goals against us in the middle period that decided the game," said Swiss goalie Benjamin Conz. "The score looks a bit bad, but we have to focus on the next game now. We have the chance to win the bronze medals, so we have to use it."
After Canada shut out Switzerland 6-0 in their preliminary round clash, the Swiss tried to play an error-free defensive game and keep the emotions low against the home team before 13,427 fans at Credit Union Centre.
The plan worked well for most of the game. After Switzerland had the first two shots, it was Canada’s Taylor Hall who had the first bigger scoring chance. At 3:48, Jordan Eberle scored on a power play after Switzerland’s Dominik Schlumpf had taken the first penalty of the game.
With his assist, Ryan Ellis surpassed Greg Hawgood and Carlo Colaiacovo as the all-time leading scorer among defencemen on the Canadian national junior team. He’s now at 14 points.
"It's pretty special, but I'm more excited personally about going for the gold medal for the second year in a row," said Ellis. "We want the gold, and that's all that matters."
Eberle tied Jason Allison for second place on Canada’s all-time World Juniors scoring list with 24 points.
The Swiss played within their capabilities, but couldn’t really scare the Canadians. During the first power play after seven minutes, they had just one shot.
On the other side, Canada had a couple of quality scoring chances. Brayden Schenn’s shot at 5:50 was deflected by a Swiss defenceman and missed the net by a few inches. One minute later Nazem Kadri tried to score on a rebound, but the puck landed on the cage.
Canada kept Switzerland netminder Benjamin Conz busy on a power play after 13 minutes, but Conz stood like a wall when Eberle and Hall got off good shots just in front of the net.
"We hadn't played in a couple of days, and we were a little slow at the start," said Canadian defenceman Alex Pietrangelo.
While Conz and the six non-injured defencemen (Luca Sbisa and Roman Josi were sidelined) did well in keeping the score low against the dominant Maple Leaf team, they had some miscues in the middle period.
During the second power play, defenceman Jannik Fischer lost the puck to Eberle, who missed the net on a breakaway.
During the same man-advantage, Lukas Stoop lost the puck to Brandon McMillan. Gabriel Bourque skated for the counter-attack along the right boards to feed Marco Scandella for the shorthanded 2-0 goal at 27:34.
Jeffrey Füglister’s high shot hit Canada goalie Jake Allen just 26 seconds later, but the Swiss remained scoreless. Hall hit the back of the net one minute later, at 29:11 with a shot between Conz’s pads, forcing Switzerland coach Jakob Kölliker to use his timeout.
The Swiss recovered and at 33:27 when Mauro Jörg cut the lead to 3-1 eight seconds into a power play.
The game play looked better-balanced in the third period, although it was Canada that had the better chances, including Schenn’s 4-1 goal at 42:56. Schenn shot after Ramon Untersander had missed the puck during Canada’s attack.
"We stuck to our game plan and wore them down as the game went on," said Pietrangelo. "Obviously they played last night [against Russia], and that's tough, emotionally, physically, and mentally."
The Canadians could have extended the lead when their head coach Willie Desjardins took a time-out at 53:00 for the first 5-on-3 advantage, but the goals came some minutes later.
Stefan Della-Rovere scored at 56:41 after a pass from behind the net and Hall scored his second of the night just 28 seconds later to round out the scoring at 6-1.
"At the end we collapsed, but I think we can still be proud about our performance in the tournament," said Switzerland's Mauro Jörg.
Controversy emerged in the dying moments when Switzerland's Jeffrey Füglister was ejected with a five-minute major for hitting Travis Hamonic from behind, but Canada's victory was secure.
Now the grand finale looms. How much better can Canada play?
"I think we need to work on our play," said Jordan Eberle. "That was such a key in beating the Swedes in our exhibition game. Even against the Americans, our power play struggled. We need to get that clicking."
"Depending on which team we face in the final, we're going to have to look at some good video," said Ellis, looking ahead to Tuesday. "Both teams are fast, both teams are good. We've got to chip pucks deep, play Canadian hockey, bang and crash, limit the turnovers, get more chances than they do, and capitalize."
(Nathan also is a writer for Maineiacs Post to Post and the Maine Hockey Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)