They meet again

Lat­est in­stal­ment of Canada-Rus­sia hockey ri­valry on tap at world cham­pi­onship

Cape Breton Post - - Sports - BY CAROL SCHRAM

Rus­sia reached the podium at the last two world hockey cham­pi­onships but was forced to watch as the archri­val Cana­di­ans took their perch on the top step.

The hockey pow­er­houses will meet again in Satur­day’s semi­fi­nal at the Lanxess Arena with Rus­sia look­ing to elim­i­nate any chance of its long­time foe win­ning gold for a third straight year.

Rus­sia has looked very strong at the tour­na­ment even though star for­wards Alex Ovechkin and Ev­geni Malkin are not with the team. Artemi Pa­narin has 14 points in seven games and Rus­sia leads all teams with 38 goals scored and just nine against. Goal­tender An­drei Vasilevskiy has recorded three of Rus­sia’s four shutouts.

Canada coach Jon Cooper said he’s not plan­ning to make any ma­jor ad­just­ments ahead of the show­down.

“I’m not a big be­liever in chang­ing your game­plan,’’ he said. “We’ve got a pretty good thing go­ing right now. The guys are be­liev­ing in what we’re do­ing. Some of the big keys will be spe­cial teams, who’s go­ing to bend and who’s go­ing to break.

“This is Canada ver­sus Rus­sia. May the best team win.’’

Fin­land and Swe­den will face off in Satur­day’s other semi­fi­nal. The medal games are set for Sun­day.

Canada hasn’t won three straight gold medals at this tour­na­ment since the early 1950s. The Czech Repub­lic was the last team to three-peat (1999-2001).

Canada went 6-0-1-0 in the pre­lim­i­nary round to fin­ish with a tour­na­ment-high 19 points, with the only loss com­ing in over­time to Switzer­land. Canada edged Ger­many 2-1 in Thurs­day’s quar­ter-fi­nal.

The Rus­sians, mean­while, went un­de­feated in their first six games be­fore drop­ping a 5-3 de­ci­sion to the United States in their fi­nal game of the pre­lim­i­nary round. Rus­sia bounced back by shut­ting out the Czechs 3-0 in the quar­ter­fi­nals.

Rus­sia won bronze as the host coun­try in Moscow last year af­ter drop­ping a 6-1 de­ci­sion to Canada in the 2015 cham­pi­onship game. Rus­sia last won gold in 2014.

“I’ve played against Rus­sia a mil­lion times,’’ said Canada for­ward Matt Duch­ene. “They’re a high-oc­tane of­fence. They like to make plays. If you play into their tran­si­tion game, they’re go­ing to crush you.’’

Duch­ene is one of seven play­ers on this year’s Cana­dian team who won gold two years ago in Prague.

“It was a big test for us,’’ Canada for­ward Nathan MacKin­non said of that game. “They had a re­ally good team. They had Ovechkin, Malkin, a lot of good play­ers, and we dom­i­nated, which was fun. That’s def­i­nitely the best mem­ory.’’

In their day jobs in the NHL, Vasilevskiy and for­wards Nikita Kucherov and Vladislav Namest­nikov play for Cooper as mem­bers of the Tampa Bay Light­ning. That makes for some mixed emo­tions.

“You’re al­ways pulling for your play­ers,’’ said Cooper. “As this tour­na­ment has gone on, I’ve been pulling for Kuch (Kucherov) and Vladdy (Namest­nikov) and I’ve been watch­ing Vassy (Vasilevskiy) play goal and I’m re­ally ex­cited for the way he’s play­ing. But for one game, I’m not go­ing to be pulling for him.

“I love those guys. We’ve had suc­cess in the NHL and they de­serve to be on Team Rus­sia but it’s not Jon Cooper ver­sus Tampa Bay play­ers. It’s Canada ver­sus Rus­sia and that should be a lot of fun.’’

CP PHOTO

Canada’s for­ward Matt Duch­ene, left, and Ger­many’s de­fender Moritz Mueller chal­lenge for the puck at the Ice Hockey World Cham­pi­onships quar­ter­fi­nal match be­tween Canada and Ger­many in the Lanxess Arena in Cologne, Ger­many, Thurs­day. Duch­ene will be one of the young vet­er­ans who will be called upon to lead Team Canada against Rus­sia in semi­fi­nal ac­tion to­day.

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