Canada hones in on gold

Jim Cressman -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 10:19 AM ET

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- Jeff Carter has been counting the months and days. Now it's down to hours and minutes. The Londoner, who turned 20 on New Year's Day, is one of a dozen young Canadian hockey players back at the world junior championship who stood on the blue-line in Helsinki 363 days ago and listened to the Star Spangled Banner.

Canada had lost 4-3 to the U.S. in the gold-medal game, blowing a 3-1 third-period lead.

Those 12 Canadians -- and 10 newcomers -- are determined not to leave this year's championship without those gold medals around their necks.

They took a giant step yesterday, beating the Czech Republic 3-1 in a semifinal with an incredible defensive display, limiting the Czechs to just 11 shots on goal before a crowd of 10,266.

Canada plays Russia tomorrow (TSN, 8 p.m. EST). The Russians defeated the U.S. 7-2 in last night's other semifinal.

"This is a long-time coming," said Carter, who has enjoyed a marvelous tournament with five goals and five assists. "There's a lot of confidence in there and -- obviously, the way we've been playing and the way we've been winning games, everyone is on a high right now."

He said no one had to say anything in the dressing room before the game. "Twelve guys coming back helped the other guys get prepared. They know what's at stake, you don't have to say much. It's been a year coming and it's great getting a second chance."

Carter scored the game's first goal at 18:38 of the opening period, jamming home his own rebound. Defenceman Danny Syvret of the London Knights drew an assist.

That gives Carter 11 career goals for Canada, tying him for second with Mike Cammalleri (2001, '02) and Martin Gendron (1993, '94).

Eric Lindros scored 12 goals (1990, '91 and '92).

Carter became only the third Canadian junior to record a natural hat trick, scoring three consecutive goals in the second period of Thursday's 8-1 win over Finland.

He joined former Knight Jim Sandlak, who now lives in London (1985, against Switzerland) and Adam Graves (1988, versus Germany).

"I'm happy with the way I'm playing, but there's always better," said Carter, a member of the OHL Soo Greyhounds.

Nigel Dawes of the WHL Kootenay Ice made it 2-0 Canada at 10:02 of the second period and Patrice Bergeron, on loan from the Boston Bruins organization, made it 3-0 at 12:34 of the second.

It came after Corey Perry of the Knights and Sidney Crosby played their own little game of keep-away behind the Czech net before Crosby fed Bergeron in front.

"It's unbelievable what he can do with the puck," Perry said of Crosby.

"He's so strong and so skilled and so fast. It's unbelievable just to watch a kid 17-years-old doing what he can do out there -- and he's playing like a man."

Perry has two goals and four assists, Crosby six goals and two assists, Bergeron four goals and seven assists.

But coach Brent Sutter took time to praise the defensive effort of that line.

"We've actually been playing that line against the other teams' top lines. Bergeron and Crosby have done an outstanding job -- and, for the most part, Perry has, too," said Sutter.

"As far as being aware of their defensive responsibilities, there's no one better than Bergeron and the other two guys have have been very responsible, too.

"There again, they're a puck possession line and whenever you control the puck, that's your best defence."

Rostislav Olesz scored the Czech goal 3:36 into the third period but the Canadians didn't lose their focus.

CANADA 3 CZECH REP. 1

GOLD-MEDAL GAME

- Canada vs. Russia, tomorrow TSN, 8 p.m. EST


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