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Back in the summer, during auditions at the Whistler resort, there was little doubt what head coach Brent Sutter desired from the anxious Canadian prospects at the under-20 development camp.

Sutter wanted an aggressive group, one capable of fore-checking so tenaciously that opposing teams would eventually become discouraged at the world junior championship.

Finishing checks and staying with the tactic, along with proper defensive positioning, would become the identity of the Canadians who now will play for the gold medal tonight against the Russians at GM Place.

Canada may not be as skilled as the other unbeaten team in the world tournament, which began on Dec. 26, but there's no question about the character in terms of true grit.

These Canadian teenagers have followed the Sutter script to perfection in that they excel in the trenches before payoff on the scoreboard.

Canada has given up only six goals in five games, a testament to buying into the concepts expounded by the coaches.

The Canadian team was carefully chosen for its ability to adapt to roles set by Sutter and his staff of Craig Hartsburg and Clement Jodoin,

Take centre Ryan O'Marra. He was an offensive stud for the Canadian under-18 team that lost in the world final to the United States last spring. Now, the hulking O'Marra throws thundering bodychecks with almost reckless abandon on an energy line with Tom Pyatt and Dan Bertram.

O'Marra has excelled in his designated role, an indication of just how completely Canadian players have endorsed the strategy.

There have been many huge bodychecks in this tournament, but probably none more meaningful that those thrown by Canadian right winger Michael Blunden in two games against Finland. He set the tone early and others followed as the boards were alive with the sounds of crushing hits.

Now, against the Russians, a team Canada beat 8-1 before the tournament began, the theme must be re-established because the talented Russians have shown they can score often when given time and space.

The defensive pairing of Marc Staal and Ryan Parent should draw the assignment of being matched against star Russian centre Evgeni Malkin and linemates Ilya Zubov and Nikolai Kulemin.

Staal and Parent are stay-at-home defenders in an era of would-be rushers. They take care of business in the defensive zone like no other Canadians, allowing netminder Justin Pogge to clearly see most shots.

Luc Bourdon is the other big hitter, paired with former Val d'Or junior teammate Kristopher Letang. Bourdon, Staal and Cam Barker will be the left-side defencemen called up to play against the quickness of right winger Kulemin.

There was much consternation in Vancouver last month when Sutter released local junior Mark Fistric, an imposing defender in the Western Hockey League. Now, there's not much question the Canadian coaches found the right combinations for success.

Staal and Parent are the matchup pairing, killing most penalties.

Bourdon and Letang are used on all special teams, while the duo of Barker and Kris Russell look for offensive opportunities on power plays.

The smaller Russell (5 foot 10, 166 pounds) has been a gem with his puck movement and mobility, an ideal partner for the slower Barker.

The depth, balance and aggressiveness of the Canadian team has been in sharp contrast to the rampaging firepower of last year's team that won the gold medal in North Dakota through sheer offensive brilliance.

This time, goals have been tougher to come by, yet the Canadians have bonded magnificently, staying with the program to the end.

Except for O'Marra, this is not a big Canadian team down the middle, leaving the banging and crashing mostly to the wingers.

Tenacious forward Steve Downie has been an inspiration with his determination. He wins faceoffs while killing penalties, works the corners enthusiastically and sets up power-play opportunities from the side boards.

Downie, Dustin Boyd and Blake Comeau have been the most productive forward unit, although this team has enough talent on other lines to provide matchup problems for the Russians.

Now, if the penalty-kill rotation continues to be effective, and the power play chips in, Canada has an opportunity to repeat as the world champion for the first time since 1997, when it finished off a five-year title run.

Not many observers would have given the Canadians much chance of playing for the championship back in August at training camp. But with nurturing and commitment, a gold medal is not out of the question.

Canadian roster

Forward lines

Benoît Pouliot-Jonathan Toews-Michael Blunden

Kyle Chipchura-Andrew Cogliano-David Bolland

Blake Comeau-Dustin Boyd-Steve Downie

Tom Pyatt-Ryan O'Marra-Dan Bertram

Guillaume Latendresse (spare)

Defensive pairings

Marc Staal-Ryan Parent

Luc Bourdon-Kristopher Letang

Cam Barker-Kris Russell

Sasha Pokulok (spare)


Justin Pogge

Devan Dubnyk (spare)

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