It’s not the final but it’s their final game of the world junior hockey championship, and Canada and Russia both have their reasons for wanting a win.
Canada meets host Russia for the bronze medal Saturday before the U.S. and defending champion Sweden clash for gold.
The Canadians and Russians were considered gold-medal favourites when the tournament began Dec. 26 in Ufa.
“It’s going to be tough because it’s a Russia-Canada game,” Russian forward Mikhail Grigorenko said Friday. “A lot of people thought it was going to be the final game, but it’s going to be our final. It’s going to be really interesting.”
Russia wants a medal because it’s the first time the country has hosted the tournament since 2001.
Canada doesn’t want to end the country’s streak of consecutive medals in the tournament at 14. Canada won bronze last year when the championship was held in Calgary and Edmonton. The last time Canada finished out of the medals was 1998.
“I said to our players this morning that we have an obligation to the fans of our country, to our families, to our friends to empty our tanks tomorrow and get on that plane with a medal,” Canadian head coach Steve Spott said.
Jordan Binnington of the Owen Sound Attack will get his first start of the tournament Saturday. He stopped 25 of 26 shots in relief of Malcolm Subban in the semi-final.
The U.S. scored four goals on 16 shots before Subban was replaced in the second period. Spott said following the semifinal the move was made to light a fire under his team and not because the American goals were soft.
The bronze-medal game is a rematch of the New Year’s Eve contest, which Canada won 4-1 to go undefeated in Pool B. Canada finished first at 4-0 to secure a bye to the semifinal, while Russia was second at 2-1-0-1.
Both countries must regain their emotional energy after devastating playoff losses Thursday.
Russia lost their semi-final 3-2 in a shootout to Sweden. It was their second shootout in a row after getting by Switzerland 4-3 in the quarter-final.
“We played 140 minutes in two days,” said Grigorenko, who plays for the QMJHL’s Quebec Remparts. “It was really hard for us, but I think we played well. Everybody was happy we finally played a good game.”
Canada fell 5-1 to the Americans in the other semi-final and didn’t play a good game. They were stuck in first gear for two periods while the U.S. was in overdrive.
“I think today we’re back to normal,” said assistant captain Scott Harrington. “Last night was a tough night. I don’t think guys slept too well. It wasn’t a good feeling, but today guys are having fun on the ice and today’s another day.”
The Canadians will play without defenceman Griffin Reinhart because of yet another suspension.
The Edmonton Oil Kings blue-liner was handed a four-game ban by the International Ice Hockey Federation on Friday after a hearing on his minor for high-sticking American Vince Trocheck in the semifinal.
Reinhart will have to serve the remainder of his suspension at his next IIHF tournament, unless Hockey Canada’s appeal is successful.
Spott was able to get his team to rally around suspensions to Boone Jenner and JC Lipon earlier in the tournament.
“It’s just another point of motivation along with several others,” the coach said, referencing Canada’s loss to Russia in last year’s semi-final as well as the 2011 final in Buffalo, N.Y.
“I think the chance to beat the Russians in their country is a great opportunity because they did it to us last year,” added forward Ryan Strome.
Mark McNeill did not skate Friday and played sparingly in the semifinal. Spott said the Prince Albert Raiders forward had the flu, but should be in the lineup Saturday.