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Canada's Erik Gudbranson celebrates after scoring during the first period of their game against Norway at the IIHF World Junior Championships in Buffalo, New York December 29, 2010. (MARK BLINCH)
Canada's Erik Gudbranson celebrates after scoring during the first period of their game against Norway at the IIHF World Junior Championships in Buffalo, New York December 29, 2010. (MARK BLINCH)

David Shoalts

Canada thrives in home away from home Add to ...

It is a tale of two invasions, one a complete victory, the other one game away from success.

The common thread, or threads, is the red-and-white sweater of Hockey Canada, worn by the players who will meet Russia on Wednesday night to decide this year's world junior hockey championship, and by seemingly every one of the thousands of Canadian fans who have made HSBC Arena their own since the tournament started.

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When the Canadians knocked off their newest fierce rival, Team USA, on Monday night in order to meet their old fierce rival there was scarcely any sign of the American red, white and blue in HSBC's 18,690 seats. Tournament officials say Canadians bought 63 per cent of the ticket packages for the tournament and the 3,000 or so ducats that became available for the semi-final game against the U.S were obviously snapped up by fans from the only country where this tournament really matters.

As Buffalo News columnist Bucky Gleason lamented the morning after: "They didn't simply take over HSBC Arena. They parked themselves on the sofa, threw their feet on the coffee table, grabbed the remote control and emptied the beer fridge."

When the puck drops to start the championship game Wednesday night, the Russians will be fortunate if they have more than a couple of dozens fans in the seats.

But as loud as their fans are in their patriotism, the Canadian players are reserved. They left their junior teams across the country to gather for a mission with a familiar motto: One for all and all for one.

"When you put a Canadian jersey on, you accept any role that's given to you and do it to the best of your abilities," defenceman Erik Gudbranson said. "You devote yourself to your teammates and that's what we've been doing."

Unlike the Swedes, who lined up along the blueline and loudly sang their own national anthem after they beat the Canadians in the preliminary round, or the Russians, who staged a joyful celebration of their own when they upset the Swedes in the quarter-finals, the Canadian players remained relatively sedate, even after that enormous win over the Americans, who went into the tournament and the semi-final game as the favourite.

To a man, on the eve of the gold-medal game, the Canadian players said this does not mean their patriotism is lacking. It just means they realize there is unfinished business. Their love of country will be shown if they are the team that gets to sing its national anthem at the end of the game.

"It's almost a Canadian thing," Gudbranson said of the post-game ceremonies. "We've been letting it build up. We are all mumbling [ O Canada]under our breath. We're staring at the crowd, staring at the flag. Nobody's talking in the lineups. We're letting it all build up for the gold-medal game.

"It's tough … I mean, you look back at Sweden, when they beat us they were all going nuts at the blueline. I think we have a very humble team and we knew we had another game to play before we can do any celebrating. It's very important to keep our eye on the prize."

Those eyes are kept there by Canadian head coach Dave Cameron, an intense, tight-lipped fellow with the permanent expression of a man who just had a barium enema. The only thing about his game plan Cameron was willing to reveal on Tuesday was his never-ending message to the players: They have not won anything yet.

"Oh, you've got to remind them," he said. "They're teenagers."

Message received, say the players.

"They didn't hand out any medals [Monday]" defenceman Tyson Barrie said.

"We realized we haven't done anything," added captain Ryan Ellis. "We beat the Americans, that's it. That's not our gold-medal game."

The game plan comes in equally simple terms. The Canadians have to do the same thing they did against the Americans: Come out fore-checking hard to keep the speed and skill players like Evgeny Kuznetsov and Maxim Kitsyn from leading the Russian attack. At the other end of the ice, the Canadian defencemen have to repeat their outstanding performance on Monday to keep the Russians from creating any traffic in front of the net in order to keep the pressure off goaltender Mark Visentin.

 

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