PENTICTON, B.C. – Madison Dias remembers the feeling.
He remembers the smiles on the faces of the American players as they were presented with their World Junior A Challenge gold medals one year ago in Summerside, P.E.I.
He remembers the disappointment of leaving the ice that day with a silver medal around his neck after a 2-1 loss.
“It’s tough,” Dias says. “You know you were that close, but it feels so far away.”
For the Penticton native and six of his Canada West teammates, the chance for redemption comes Saturday night, when Canada West and the United States face off, this time in the semifinals, with a spot in Sunday’s gold medal game on the line.
It’s the fourth year in a row the westerners will face off with the Americans; in 2007, the Canadian side earned a 5-1 semifinal win en route to its second-straight gold medal, but the U.S. had the upper hand in 20, winning 7-1 and 2-1, both times with gold on the line.
“For the guys from last year, we want to come out and play with no regrets,” said Ryan Marshall, another Canada West returnee. “We don’t want to feel that feeling again, so hopefully we can come out and get the best of them.”
This year’s meeting has an added wrinkle – the two teams met in exhibition action at the South Okanagan Events Centre on November 6, a 5-3 win for the Americans.
Both Dias and Marshall say that head-to-head experience should benefit the Canadians when the puck drops.
“We know how they play,” says Dias. “We know they’re a good team, and we know we need to battle.”
“We know what they’re made of, and what we need to do to shut them down,” adds Marshall.
Marshall, Canada West’s penalty killing specialist and resident grinder, believes the game could come down to a battle of special teams, and both teams have been excellent in that regard thus far.
The Americans enter the semifinals with the tournament’s best penalty-killing unit, allowing just one goal in 11 chances (90.9%), but will be in tough against a top-ranked Canada West power play that is operating at an impressive 31.6% (6-for-19).
“If our power play can pop in a few goals, I think we’ll be all right,” Marshall says. “We’ve been playing great on the PK, and that could be the difference in a game like this.”
Both players admit their silver medals from Summerside are not exactly prominently displayed – “It’s in my room, but it’s kind of underneath a few things,” Dias says – and that their trophy cases may need a little bit of rearranging with two more wins.
“The silver is on a rack in my room, but the gold? I’d probably frame it with my jersey,” Marshall says. “It would definitely get a special place of its own.”