Anthony Mantha has Canada a win away from reaching the final at the world junior hockey championship.
Mantha got the game-winner on a penalty shot while defenceman Griffin Reinhart added a goal and an assist as Canada beat Switzerland 4-1 on Thursday to reach the semifinal round.
The Canadians will face Finland, which rallied for a 5-3 quarter-final win over the Czech Republic, on Saturday at Malmo Arena.
“They’re a good team — we saw that in the exhibition game,” said Reinhart, whose team dominated the final two periods of a pre-tournament game against the Finns on Dec. 20. “Every team now is going to be a hard game.
“It’ll take a lot of discipline and you’ve got to stick to your systems.”
Forward Curtis Lazar and defenceman Derrick Pouliot also scored for Canada, which had only one Mattew Dumba goal from its back end in four previous tournament games.
The Finns promise to give Canada a similar test to the Swiss, with the accent on team play and defence. But Finland has some dangerous shooters led by ace playmaker Teuvo Teravainen.
“It’s going to be an intense game and there’s nothing more to it,” said Lazar, who has scored in three straight games. “We’re both trying to get into the final but we have to take it a step at a time and keep playing our Canadian brand of hockey.
“We played them in pre-competition, so we’ll have to go over video and see if they’ve changed something up but the main thing is to focus on our own game. There’s not much room for error so we have to bring our A-game.”
Reinhart was in his second game since returning from a suspension he picked up at last year’s world event. But the big defenceman made his presence felt even more than in Canada’s rousing win over the United States on Tuesday that gave the squad first in its preliminary round group.
He rushed to the front of the net after Scott Laughton took the puck to the crease and whacked away at it until it got behind goalie Melvin Nyffeler at 18:08 of the first period.
It marked the first time this tournament that Canada had scored first.
“I’m starting to get my hands back,” the New York Islanders’ first-round pick said. “I’m more comfortable on the ice.
“It’s always different practising because the situations are different than in games. But it’s only getting better. It’s always a bonus to have defencemen chip in like that. It’s something defencemen take pride in.”
Eyebrows were raised when Reinhart was named to the team because it was known he’d miss the first three games. But it seems he arrived just in time to strengthen Canada’s back end for its toughest games.
Beating the defending champion Americans was a huge bonus as it gave Canada the easier route — Switzerland and Finland — to the final. The U.S. lost its quarter-final 5-3 to Russia, which now faces host Sweden in the semifinals.
Sweden beat Slovakia 6-0 in its quarter-final contest.
“After assessing things across the country on the back end, it became very clear to myself we had to take that chance of him not playing in the first three games and maybe having him for the last four,” said Canadian coach Brent Sutter. “He’s been rock solid for us.”
What turned out to be the winning goal came at 9:04 of the second when the Swiss were caught on a line change. That forced captain Lukas Balmelli to take Mantha down from behind on a breakaway.
Sutter sent Mantha’s linemate, Jonathan Drouin, to take the shot but the rules say the player who is fouled must take it.
Mantha was nervous. He said later he’s not usually good in shootouts but he deked to the backhand and beat Nyffeler for a 2-0 lead.
“I wasn’t really ready but when they got me, I prepared,” said Mantha of his team-leading fifth goal and 11th point of the tournament. “The goalie moved his right pad first so I knew I could go on the right side and that’s how I did it.
“I am confident in my all-around game but in the past, I’m maybe 27 per cent in shootouts, so that’s not that good. Maybe I’m not the most confident player on a penalty shot, but today it resulted in a goal so I was pretty happy about that.
Canada’s nerves were tested with one second left in the period.
Mirco Muller lifted a shot from the point that may have gone off the knee of Griffin’s younger brother, Sam, into the air for Nico Dunner to tip past Canadian goalie Zachary Fucale. The goal stood up to review for a high stick.
But Canada was on top of the Swiss from the start of the third.
The teams were each short a man at 4:11 when Griffin Reinhart was stopped on a breakaway, only to have Lazar follow and stuff the puck in for the goal.
A Swiss power play had just ended when Pouliot skated into the zone and beat Nyffeler with a high wrist shot at 13:49 to seal the win.
It was not as easy as previous meetings against the hard-working Swiss, despite the boost from a pro-Canadian crowd of 2,580 at the Isstadion. The boisterous fans spent much of the game chanting Fucale’s name.
“We knew it wasn’t going to be an easy game,” said Sutter. “All the pressure was on us.
“They had nothing to lose. We knew they’d play hard and we had to make sure we stuck to our gameplan. Other than taking too many penalties in the third period, I thought we responded well.”
Canada killed all five Swiss power-plays chances and held a 23-20 advantage in shots on goal.
Sutter said his team has improved each game but stopped short of calling this win Canada’s biggest of the event. The victory over the U.S. was a tournament-changer.
“It made a big difference going into the quarter-finals on who we’re going to play,” he said.
Canada improved to 20-0-0 all-time against the Swiss and has outscored them by a whopping 130-34 margin.
Canada is assured of a top-four tournament finish for a 16th straight year but lost its semifinal contest last year and finished out of the medals in Ufa, Russia.
NOTES: Charles Hudon played regular shifts after skipping practice Wednesday with a sore shoulder . . . Switzerland was without forward Flavio Schmutz.
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