All tournament long, Canadian Head Coach Brent Sutter has talked about how the next game at hand would be like a Game Seven for his players, emphasizing that they had to take it day by day and not get ahead of themselves.
Now it’s indisputably come down to the final Game Seven for his squad, and the Canadians are excited and confident about Thursday’s gold medal clash with the Russians (4 pm PAC, TSN/RDS), a rematch of the 2005 IIHF World Junior Championship final. In fact, the Canadians have played the Russians for gold four times since 1999 and finally picked up the title last year, their first since 1997.
“It’s always big whenever you have Canada and Russia,” Sutter said after Wednesday’s practice. “It’s certainly a big rivalry, and it goes all the way back to 1972. People talk about Canada and USA and how that is now, but Canada and Russia is always still there.”
Much of the talk on Wednesday afternoon was about how the Canadians plan to shut down Russian superstar Evgeni Malkin.
“We have to play the way we’re capable of playing,” said Sutter, who became the winningest coach in Canadian World Junior history with his 11th victory versus Finland. “Hey, we all know [Malkin] is a great hockey player, but we think we have 22 very good hockey players.
“We certainly respect our opponents, we certainly respect the players on their team, but we’ve gotten this far by playing a certain way, by being a certain team, so you won’t see a sudden change because of one player.”
Defencemen Marc Staal and Ryan Parent have shouldered the responsibility of playing against the other team’s top players so far this tournament, and are looking forward to the challenge Malkin represents.
“It’s a big challenge for everyone on the team,” said Parent, a first-round pick of the Nashville Predators. “Playing against one of the top players who’s not in the NHL, it’s going to be a big challenge, and I’m excited.
“We just have to keep him to the wall and out of the middle. He’s a bigger guy and might be tougher along the walls, but we just have to get the pucks past him as much as we can."
Between the pipes, Justin Pogge has carried the load for Canada and has been a big part of his team’s success. After five games, the Calgary Hitmen netminder boasts a 1.20 GAA and a .933 save percentage. His size, stance, puckhandling, and calm demeanor are reminiscent of a young Martin Brodeur.
“You have to be ready for anything,” said Pogge. “The Russians are really skilled and talented, so it’s going to be exciting. If we’re playing our game, they’re not going to get too many shots, and that’s about it.”
Heading into Thursday’s showdown, the players truly believe that if they stick to Coach Sutter’s game plan, Canada will have its second gold medal in as many years.
“We’re big and we’re fast, and I think we have a little bit more balanced attack,” said forward Ryan O’Marra. “I think they may rely heavily on one player, namely Evgeni Malkin, and I think our tandem of Marc Staal and Ryan Parent can and should be able to shut him down.”
Sutter won’t waver in his demands until the final buzzer sounds.
“There shouldn’t be any surprises in tomorrow night’s game from our standpoint,” said Sutter. “We have to know they’re going to compete and play hard, but there are certain things that we need to do to be effective, and we’re going to try to accomplish that.”