Canadian juniors look to challenge unproven Swedes in world junior semifinal

Canadian juniors look to challenge unproven Swedes in world junior semifinal

Canada head coach Dominique Ducharme talks with reporters at the IIHF world junior championship Tuesday, January 3, 2017 in Montreal. Canada will face Sweden in the semifinals Wednesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson.

MONTREAL — Canadian coach Dominque Ducharme wants to see what Sweden is made of.

The Swedes didn’t see much adversity as they rolled off five straight wins to start the world junior hockey championship, and Canada will be their biggest test yet when they meet in a semifinal on Wednesday night at the Bell Centre.

“It’s one game and we’ll be ready for it,” Ducharme said Tuesday. “We can beat them.

“They’re a good team. They showed in the last 10 years that they’re really good in the first round but they have (found) ways to lose when things get tougher and we want to make it tough on them. We’ll see how they react to pressure.”

The winner advances to Thursday final against either Russia or the United States.

The Swedes have emerged as a favourite with a highly skilled team led by a top line with Alexander Nylander and Joel Erksson Ek, who both started the season in the NHL, along with gritty Carl Grundstrom.

But being good hasn’t always translated into gold for the blue and gold. This year, they extended their streak to 40 straight wins in group stage games at the world juniors _ ten perfect 4-0 records in a row. But they have only one gold medal in 2012 to show for it. They settled for four silvers over that span and finished out of the medals the last two years.

This year, Sweden found itself in a relatively weak group with Denmark, Switzerland, the Czech Republic and an underperforming Finland. Then they breezed past Slovakia 8-3 in their quarter-final.

Canada finished second in a tougher group after a 3-1 loss to the United States on Dec. 31. A 5-3 win over the Czechs on Monday night on a pair of third-period Julien Gauthier goals put them into the semifinals.

So while Sweden may have looked to be the better team, they have yet to face an opponent yet with Canada’s size, pace and skill.

“Every situation is different,” said Ducharme. “We went through our way.

“We had some bumps on the road and we learned about ourselves. I don’t know about them, how they feel. We feel we’ll have our best game. At this point of the tournament you need to be at the top of your game and that’s what we’ll do.”

The Swedes welcome the test that Canada represents.

“We will enjoy that,” said Grundstrom, a Toronto Maple Leafs prospect. “Everyone will be against us in the building.

“If we can use that to build energy that would be good.”

Canada has the advantage of playing on an NHL-size rink with a home crowd. Even though only 10,215 turned out for their quarter-final, the fans got loud when the home side scored.

“Every chance we have there’s a loud noise and, when we score, we’re such a better team,” said captain Dylan Strome.

“There’s pressure on both teams. You’re playing for Canada at the world juniors you want to get to the gold medal game. For Sweden, that’s a pretty crazy streak they’ve had in the round-robin. They’re a good team and they’ve been a good team every year. They want to win and we’ll have to play a good game to beat them.”

Canada brings the tournament’s best power play, which has scored at a 39.1 per cent clip. But Sweden’s three goals with the man advantage against Slovakia put it a close second at 38.4 per cent.

Sweden’s goaltending, mostly from starter Feix Sandstrom, is second to Russia for the tournament lead while Canada’s goaltending ranks ninth. But Canada has allowed by far the fewest shots (76), so goalies Connor Ingram and Carter Hart have had to deal with long moments of inactivity.

Ingram has started the last two games, surrendering three goals each to the Americans and Czechs. Ducharme had not yet decided which of the two will be in goal against Sweden.

Canada has also had its ups and downs in the knockout stages of the tournament. A gold medal on home ice two years ago was followed by a loss to Finland in the quarter-finals last year Helsinki.

Five players are back from last year’s squad, including Strome, Gauthier, Ryan Barzal, Mitchell Stephens and defenceman Thomas Chabot, who were key figures in winning their quarter-final this time.

It’s pretty exciting,” said Barzal, a New York Islanders first round draft pick. “It’s probably the biggest game I’ve ever played in.

“It was disappointing last year losing in the quarter-finals. To be here now is satisfying, but it’s not what we want. The gold medal is what we want.”

Mitchell returned after missing two games with an undisclosed injury, which prompted some line shuffling. Mitchell had a goal and two assists.

Bill Beacon, The Canadian Press

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