Canada has moved into the big rink and goalie Zach Fucale expects big pressure will come with it at the world junior hockey championship.
The Canadian squad, which has been based at the smaller, 5,800-seat Isstadion facility since the start of the tournament, held its first practice Friday at the 11,618-seat Malmo Arena.
The snazzy, modern venue will be where Canada faces Finland in semifinal action Saturday. The winner will face either Sweden or Russia in the tournament finale there Sunday.
“The stakes are getting higher and higher and guys will be battling harder,” said Fucale. “At this level, every detail counts.
“Everyone will be killing themselves for the win.”
Canada will be looking to erase the memory of last year’s semifinal loss to the United States in Ufa, Russia. That resulted in the Canadians not winning a medal in this event for the first time since 1998.
Canada faces a Finnish side that hasn’t won a medal in eight years, although the squad reached the tournament semifinals two years ago.
The Finns, who overcame a 3-1 deficit to beat the Czech Republic 5-3 in the quarter-finals, are a dangerous team. They not only have a top goalie in Juuse Saros but also some dandy snipers led by Chicago Blackhawks prospect Teuvo Teravainen, who has nine assists and is plus-7 in five games.
Finland also boasts defenceman Rasmus Ristolainen, on loan from the Buffalo Sabres.
Canadian coach Brent Sutter isn’t taking the Finns lightly.
“I see a hard-working team, a team that’s very structured, a team that’s going to play some North American hockey,” said Sutter. “They’re a gritty group.
“They’ve been getting decent goaltending. They’ve got three forwards on their team that are as good as any forwards in this tournament. They’re going to come hard and we have to be ready for it.”
Canada beat Finland twice in exhibition games this year, once in the summer at Lake Placid, N.Y., and again Dec. 20 in Sweden, where they dominated the final two periods after Fucale gave up two questionable goals in the first.
The Finns are confident they can pull off an upset.
“We have a good team and we have a good chance to win,” said Saros. “We’re going to do a prevent style to get that game.
“We’re going to have good team spirit and our power play’s pretty good. I think those things will be important.”
And he expects a physical game, especially around his net.
“They like to play in the corners and they come to the goal — three, four players come to the goal — so I have to be awake,” he said.
Actually, the Finnish power play has registered just four goals in 22 chances (18.1 per cent). But two key players — Ristolainen (flu) and Artturi Lehkonen (leg injury) — each missed two games before returning to face the Czechs.
Finland’s penalty kill has been impressive, allowing only one goal on 21 chances (95.2 per cent).
Canada’s power play has clicked on 7-of-24 chances (29.1 per cent).
Sutter has stressed discipline, which got away from his team when it took three minor penalties in the third period of a 4-1 win over Switzerland in the quarter-finals.
Canada earned the “easier” route to the final when it beat the Americans in the preliminary round to take first place in its group. But the team can’t afford to waste that with an upset loss against the Finns.
Sutter has underlined concentrating on one game at a time, which defenceman Griffin Reinhart said may have been a problem in last year’s semifinal.
“Our focus is on this game,” he said. “Maybe last year we got a little bit ahead of ourselves.
“It’s tough. You’ve got to treat every game like a Game 7. I don’t think it’s anybody’s intention, but nobody really stressed taking it one day at a time (last year) and that’s what you really need to do at this tournament. You can’t get caught looking ahead.”
All teams have players hurting, including Canada.
Reinhart’s defence partner, Mattew Dumba, and forward Charles Hudon sat out practice Friday. Dumba came up limping after a collision late in the second against the Swiss while Hudon has been playing through a shoulder injury suffered a week ago against Slovakia.
Sutter expects both will play against Finland.
“Maintenance day for both those guys,” he said.
Sutter doesn’t see the venue change making a big difference either.
“It’s irrelevant where you’re playing the game,” said Sutter. “It’s played on the same size of ice.
“We just have to do what we need to do to give ourselves the best chance.”
It will also be a move for the few thousand red-and-white clad Canadian fans who jammed the Isstadion, giving it a home-game feel for Canada’s team. They will likely make up the majority of the crowd against Finland although they may get drowned out if Canada advances to the final against Sweden.
The Swedes, who played at Malmo Arena in the round robin, have averaged 11,278 spectators per game.
“It was crazy at the other rink,” said Fucale. “It was almost a home game.
“I felt as if I was in Canada. It’s really cool that this happens. You can feel their support. They’ll certainly help us over the next couple of games.”