Canucks in tough for golden encore

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 1:25 PM ET

Canada finds itself in a position it has not had at the world junior hockey championship since 1998 -- defending gold-medallists.

And though few think Canada will repeat with another gold in B.C., it's highly doubtful it will finish eighth, as it did eight years ago.

Canada takes on Finland tonight in Vancouver, and it's likely there will be a matchup of Maple Leafs prospects in goal with Justin Pogge for Canada and Tuukka Rask for Finland.

"I don't have a problem with pressure because I feel it makes me play better," Pogge said. "This is what we have all been waiting for."

Finland coach Hannu Aravirta said he would wait to decide whether to go with Rask or Karri Ramo in goal tonight. Rask was Finland's starter at the world junior a year ago and observers expect he will be again.

Pogge said Canada wanted to use its two exhibition games as momentum-builders going into tonight -- a sentiment shared by coach Brent Sutter -- and that's what it did. After getting past the Czech Republic 2-1 last Tuesday, Canada hammered Russia -- which was without Evgeni Malkin -- on Thursday by a score of 8-1.

Forward David Bolland of the London Knights, a Mimico native, missed that game, as well, with an upper-body injury.

"Any time you go through two games as we have and against two very good opponents, and we get goaltending like we did, it's huge," Sutter said. "It's always a confidence builder, and even more so when you have a young team."

Pogge, taken 90th overall in 2004 by the Leafs and the first pick in John Ferguson's tenure as general manager, made 27 saves against Russia and probably could not be in a better zone. He is 21-5 with five shutouts for the Calgary Hitmen of the Western Hockey League and signed with Toronto last week.

Though Canada typically likes to include players who can take on any role, watch for Andrew Cogliano, Guillaume Latendresse, Benoit Pouliot and Jonathan Toews to score. On the flipside, captain Kyle Chipchura, Steve Downie and Dustin Boyd will do their best to check opponents into the ice.

The U.S. and Russia are seen as the tournament favourites, but Canada, though young, certainly has the talent to earn a medal.

The Canadians and the Finns are in Group A with the U.S., Switzerland and Norway, while Group B contains Russia, the Czechs, Sweden, Slovakia and Latvia.

Meanwhile, Germany and Belarus have been promoted to play in the 2007 event in Sweden. Expect Norway and Latvia to be relegated following the tournament.


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