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Canada's snipers compensate for defence at world junior hockey championship

The Canadian Press
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The Hockey News
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Canada's snipers compensate for defence at world junior hockey championship

The Canadian Press
By:

OTTAWA - Canada's chances of winning a fifth gold medal at the world junior hockey championship Monday are less if the team continues its trend of giving up four or five goals each game.

The country's last four championship teams gave up no more than two goals in each gold-medal game.

It's a measure of how talented offensively the 2009 edition is that they've reached the championship after allowing nine goals in their last two games. Canada has scored 40 times in five games.

``Championships aren't easy. They never are,'' Canadian head coach Pat Quinn said Sunday.

``We are where we wanted to be and while you can't say it was dominant in any way, we have been terrific scoring and not so terrific on the other side.''

Canada and Sweden meet for gold for a second straight year Monday (TSN, 7:30 ET).

It's a rematch of last year's final, which Canada won 3-2 in overtime in Pardubice, Czech Republic. The final is expected to be a sellout at Scotiabank Place, which has a capacity of just over 22,200.

Quinn will stick with Dustin Tokarski in net, even though the Spokane Chiefs netminder has been inconsistent. He's allowed questionable goals and also made big-league saves in this tournament.

``We're in a spot where we think he's had the harder tests at this point,'' Quinn said. ``The other young man (Chet Pickard) probably hasn't been in in a week, so it might be unfair to throw him in.

``Defensively we need to be better and Tokarski is the key to the defence, no question. There's no argument I think about a couple of goals that have gone in, but we found a way to be a team. We're not finger-pointing anywhere.''

Zach Boychuk did not practise Sunday and played sparingly in Saturday's semifinal because of a sprained ankle. Quinn says the Lethbridge Hurricanes forward will play in the final.

So far, the Canadians have defied the adage that defence wins championships, particularly after a 7-4 win over the U.S. to conclude the preliminary round and a 6-5 shootout win over Russia in the semifinal.

The semifinal felt like a runaway freight train that Canada managed to jump off of with the win. The Swedes have a speedy attack too, so can Canada really afford to get into a run-and-gun with them and still come out on top?

``You know, I really don't know what to expect from games anymore,'' Canadian captain Thomas Hickey said. ``Our chances are going to be a lot better if we don't.''

Canada also needs to revive a power play that was once 60 per cent successful in this tournament, but scored once on nine chances against Russia

Sweden's lone title in this tournament came in 1981. The Swedes have five returning players from the squad that came from behind to beat Canada in the preliminary round last year, and also came back from a two-goal deficit in the final to force overtime.

A subplot to Monday's final will be the performances of Swedish defenceman Victor Hedman and Canadian forward John Tavares as they are both candidates to go first overall in the NHL draft in June.

Oscar Moller, a former Chilliwack Bruin, joined the Swedish juniors from the NHL's Los Angeles Kings. Michael Backlund, a first-round pick of the Calgary Flames, scored spectacular goals in this tournament and 17-year-old Magnus Svensson Paajarvi has been a revelation with his speed and moxie.

``It would be good to beat Canada in Canada,'' Backlund said. ``Last year, it was so close, but this year is going to be our year.''

Hickey, who played in that game, expects a motivated Swedish team bent on revenge.

``I think they'll be extremely motivated. You hear them talk,'' he said. ``They want another shot at us and that's fair. We'd want the same thing if we fell short last year.''

Turnovers and Canada's third man pressing too deep into the offensive zone have been part of the problem on defence.

``When you're on the ice, sometimes your emotions get too high and you go for a goal and all of a sudden you sacrifice something defensively,'' forward Cody Hodgson said. ``Just get in that frame of mind to look after the defence first and the rest will come.''

Quinn doesn't mind his team giving the puck up when it's safe and smart to do so.

``There's a certain time you give the puck up and it's with the intention of getting it back,'' he said. ``I love possession hockey, but if you're playing a good defensive team they're going to put you in spots where you give the puck up and you give it up to a place and we haven't been doing that as well as we should.''

Notes: Canada will play in the world junior final for the eighth straight year and is 4-3 in the previous seven. . . Canada will win its 11th straight medal in this tournament Monday. The last time Canada didn't was in 1998, when they finished a worst-ever eighth. . . While officially there were no more tickets available for the final, bidding for pairs of upper-level seats at Scotiabank were selling on EBay for between $340 and $990 on Sunday.

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Canada's snipers compensate for defence at world junior hockey championship