GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- Nigel Dawes was in the seats at the Winnipeg Arena when Canada and Russia met in the gold-medal final of the 1999 World Junior Hockey Championship. He went through the emotional wringer, screaming with the multitudes who hoped to will the hosts over Russia. He was crushed when Canada lost in overtime.
"Such a great game," said the Team Canada forward, who plays for the Kootenay Ice. "It was a lot of fun to watch and the atmosphere was great.
"I grew up watching the world juniors and always wanted to represent my country."
Tonight, Dawes and the rest of Team Canada will do one better.
Not only will they represent a nation and fight for its pride in the quest for the first juniors gold medal since 1997, they'll do it while writing the latest chapter in the game's biggest rivalry.
It's the Maple Leaf against the Big Red Machine for the big prize when they face off for the gold medal (6:08 p.m., TSN).
Canada's 21 fuzzy-faced teens will feel a little extra charge when they hit the ice at the Ralph Engelstad Arena. The atlas may say it's Grand Forks, N.D., but the rink may as well be on Canadian soil when all the red-and-white clad lunatics fill the building, wave their flags and scream their brains out.
"You get so many things that happens in a game of this magnitude and that's what's so great about it," said Team Canada head coach Brent Sutter. "You don't know what to expect and there's excitement always when you have a Canada/Russia series.
"It doesn't matter what level, there's just that rivalry between both countries.
"These kids, they know. There's been enough talk and they've heard enough things about the past."
That's a fact.
"It's always a great rivalry," said Calgary-born Canadian goaltender Jeff Glass.
"We played them in the CHL challenge and I know it wasn't their best players but it was still quite the rivalry.
"We know Canada will be watching us and wanting us to win, so we'll be very prepared."
They'll have to be because history isn't on Canada's side.
Tonight's clash will mark the fourth gold-medal meeting between the countries since they switched formats in 1998.
Russia claimed the previous three.
Canada's all-time record against the Russians/Soviet Union is a less- than-stellar 10-17-2 (5-6-1 against the Russians since the Soviet Union collapsed).
Of course, those numbers don't include the most heated meeting -- the famed 1987 brawl.
The last time a Canadian victory over Russia meant gold was in 1991, when the tournament was still a round-robin affair.
"I didn't know that," Dawes said.
"We're not thinking about that. We're just going to play our game like we've been playing all tournament."
That would be a mighty impressive feat, seeing as the Canadians have outscored their opponents by a 35-6 count in five games and regularly held them to fewer then 20 shots.
Seeing as the Russian squad boasts two offensive talents in Alexander Ovechkin and Andrei Malkin, such a one-sided affair hardly seems plausible.
Rivalries aside, there's probably an even bigger motivator for Team Canada. They all know gold is the only medal that counts to our nation.
It's even more important to those who were part of last year's squad that blew a 3-1 third-period lead to the U.S. in last year's final. Like Ryan Getzlaf of the Calgary Hitmen,
"It's that second chance and a lot of guys don't have that," he said.
"There's 12 guys in this dressing room who get that second chance. We don't want to let it slip away."
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GOLD MEDAL GAME
CANADA vs RUSSIA
6:08 P.M. , TSN
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BRONZE MEDAL GAME
U.S. vs CZECHS
2:08 P.M., TSN