PARDUBICE, Czech Republic – It took all of, say, a nanosecond for Team Canada captain Karl Alzner to offer his reply to a question.
Alzner was asked whether the United States is Canada's biggest rival on the international hockey stage.
"For sure," Alzner said on Thursday on the eve of Canada and the United States renewing its historic rivalry in the semi-finals of the 2008 IIHF World Junior Championship.
Canada and the United States have squared off 34 times in the history of the World Juniors, and Canada holds a 26-5-3 record.
The 26th victory was one for the history books.
The Canadians and Americans were tied after regulation play and overtime at the '07 championship and were knotted again after a shootout, sending the game to a sudden-death shootout.
Under IIHF rules, a player can take as many penalty shots as his coach sees fit in sudden death, and Jonathan Toews booked his place in Canadian hockey lore with three shootout goals as Canada went on to win a third straight gold medal.
The last time the Canadians lost to the U.S. was the gold medal game of the 2004 tournament in Helsinki.
"The games we play are always so close and it is not like a game where one team will blow out the other one so it makes it so much more fun to play in and fun to watch," said Alzner, one of two Canadians who mined gold a year ago in Sweden.
"It goes back to all the rivalries we have with them in everything and not just sports and hockey. We want to prove to people that Canada is the leading supplier for hockey and is the best place for hockey and this is another opportunity to do that."
Whoever wins Friday's semi-final plays the winner of the Sweden-Russia semi in Saturday's gold medal game.
"They (the United States) are a team that always stands in our way and we have to beat the best if we want to be the best," said Alzner. "The further up the mountain we climb, the harder the wind blows so they are just another stepping stone on our path."
The Canadians held a light practice on Thursday, and head coach Craig Hartsburg announced that Steve Mason would start in goal. Mason was between the pipes on Wednesday in Canada's 4-2 quarterfinal victory over Finland.
Last year in Sweden, the Canadians beat the Americans 6-3 in the preliminary round before the North Americans met in the semi-final.
This time, the Americans were in Group B, which they won to earn a bye to the medal round.
"Last year we went into the game with a ton of confidence because we had already played the USA before and we knew everything about them," said Alzner. "This year we are going in not knowing exactly what to expect. So we will have to learn everything from video as quick as we can and go out and try to give them hell."
In his role as captain, Alzner will relay his experience from playing in last year’s pressure-packed semi-final game.
"I will be letting the guys know not to be over-excited and try not to do too much," he said.
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