Nic Petan (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
Canada has moved on to the gold medal game and Russia awaits. For a team that saw its dream die in the semifinal last year, this year's edition didn't want to make any mistakes against Slovakia.
On paper, Canada should have run roughshod over Slovakia, a team they waxed 8-0 in the round robin. But as the Canucks learned in last year's semifinal, when they fell unceremoniously to Finland before losing the bronze to Russia, those cliches about taking things one game at a time are spoken for a reason.
“Maybe we looked a little too far into the future last year," said defenseman Josh Morrissey. "We've tried to just stay in the moment this year and it's gotten us close to where we want to be.”
Slovakia did not go quietly, even though Canada finished the night with a 5-1 victory. Goaltender Denis Godla had another great game and it was late in the second before Nic Petan gave Canada a 2-0 lead and what turned out to be the game-winner.
“The biggest thing was not to take them lightly," said Petan, who ended the night with a hat trick. "I thought we had a little bit of a slow start, but we learned from that. The first period was one of our worst periods.”
Canada has a decent-sized cohort of returning players from last year's fourth-place free-fall. Morrissey, Petan, Connor McDavid, Curtis Lazar, Sam Reinhart and Zach Fucale were all in Malmo and the fact they get to play Russia for gold is chop-licking. The Russians have beaten Canada four straight years in the final match-up of the two nations, costing Canada two bronzes in a row.
But the beginning of the end last year came against Finland, in a game the Canucks should have won, on paper. In reality, the team couldn't generate enough offense and ran afoul of the officials, spending too much time in the penalty box to mount an effective comeback.
“It was a tough pill to swallow last year, to get so close," Morrissey said. "You get into that semifinal and anything can happen. For me, it brought back some memories as I was preparing for the game. You realize that it's 60 minutes and anything can happen in that time. We wanted to just take care of business and leave nothing to chance.”
And if this year's squad needs any reminder of how fleeting glory can be, last year's returnees are there to give them a history lesson.
“I know there was some disappointment last year, with not even medalling," said defenseman Shea Theodore. "So I guess there's some added pressure even with the home crowd, but we're ready to go and we're excited about it.”
The stage couldn't be any bigger, nor the opponent anymore intimidating. But Canada is right where it wants to be...almost.