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THN at the World Junior Championship: Big game players bring Canada to final

Jordan Eberle's goal with 5.4 seconds left against Russia tied the semifinal game. Eberle also scored in the shootout won by Canada. (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

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Jordan Eberle's goal with 5.4 seconds left against Russia tied the semifinal game. Eberle also scored in the shootout won by Canada. (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

OTTAWA – If the hockey grapevine is to be believed, John Tavares has already played his last game for the Oshawa Generals. In fact, one source with very close Ontario League ties said yesterday that a deal with the Windsor Spitfires has already been completed and will be announced Tuesday.

Whether Tavares ends up in a Memorial Cup run for Windsor or, perhaps, London, he will come to his new team with a resume chock full of outstanding performances in pressure situations. Another chapter was added Saturday night when Canada defeated Russia 6-5 in a shootout, thanks in part to a Tavares assist on Jordan Eberle’s tying goal with 5.4 seconds remaining and a spectacular goal in the shootout.

Truth be told, overall Tavares’ game against Russia might have been his worst of the tournament so far. But he proved one thing beyond a reasonable doubt, that when the game is on the line, he wants the puck and he knows exactly what to do with it. All of which adds another layer to the race for the No. 1 pick overall.

In the other semifinal, Victor Hedman had perhaps his best game of the tournament and which player ultimately goes No. 1 might depend on what the team picking first needs more – a defenseman who can play 30 minutes or a forward who can dazzle for 23.

There is little doubt Tavares loves being put in the kinds of situations he was placed in Saturday night. After a terrible clearing attempt by the Russians was batted down by Canadian defenseman Ryan Ellis, Tavares dug the puck out of the scrum along the boards and backhanded a pass that bounced off Russian defenseman Vyacheslav Voinov and right to Eberle, who made a nifty move before going high on the backhand.

“Yeah, it’s great,” Tavares said when asked if he loves playing in the big games. “That’s what you dream of as a kid – scoring that big goal, making that big play – especially on a stage like that, there’s no better story.”

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Sure, lots of kids dream about it, but so few can actually do it. It is indeed a rare quality in a player and one that sets players such as Tavares apart from others with similar skill sets. Tavares said he was tempted to tell Canadian coach Pat Quinn he has been just one-for-five in shootouts with the Generals this season, but thought better of it.

“I’m just a guy who loves to play hockey and loves to deliver in the big moment,” Tavares said. “This year being more of a leader, I want to make sure I show the guys the confidence in myself.”

Mission accomplished.

If you were looking for Canada’s best player, you need look no further than Eberle, the Edmonton Oilers first rounder who scored twice in regulation and once in the shootout. He’s another smallish, skilled forward for an Oilers organization that has a lot of them in its system.

“Leave it to Eberle, he’s the smallest player on the team and he scores the biggest goal of his life,” said Canadian defenseman and Canadiens prospect P.K. Subban.

So now onto the gold medal game, a rematch of last year’s affair between Canada and Sweden. Quinn remains a little skittish about his team in games that have mattered so far and knows the squad has to be much better if it wants to beat a team many think is the best in this tournament.

“We’re playing with our hearts, but sometimes not with our heads,” Quinn said. “That’s two games in a row we’ve gotten out with the skin of our teeth. And that’s hard to do if you’re Bobby Clarke.”

In addition to the Tavares trade rumors making the rounds in Ottawa, there is also an unconfirmed report that Maple Leafs draft pick Chris Didimenico has been dealt from his Quebec League Saint John Sea Dogs club to the Drummondville Voltigeurs with an official announcement coming after the tournament's completion.

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