VANCOUVER -- Tuukka Rask knows which country he is putting his money on tomorrow night in the gold-medal game.
"Canada is my favourite of the three teams that are left," Rask said last night before the U.S. and Russia hooked up in a semi-final. "I just like those guys and the way they play."
Nice words coming from a guy who had just been pelted with 43 shots by the Canadians. But Rask, the 21st pick overall by the Maple Leafs in 2005, has demonstrated he's not only a classy kid but a heck of a goaltender.
Whether Rask, 18, signs with the Leafs soon and makes his way to North America next season remains to be seen.
But Leafs general manager John Ferguson, who arrived at the tournament yesterday morning, said last night he has had some conversations with Bill Zito, Rask's agent.
It's not whether the Leafs sign Rask, but rather a matter of when.
Ferguson, naturally, is rather pleased with Rask's performances at the world junior.
"I don't think you ever expect someone to get a 53-save shutout," Ferguson said of Rask's outing in a quarter-final versus Sweden on Monday night. "Last year he had some ridiculous numbers in Finland, too."
The Leafs' other outstanding netminding prospect in the world junior, Canada's Justin Pogge, signed with Toronto last month. Barring a catastrophe, Pogge will be in Toronto next season, likely wearing the sweater of the AHL's Marlies.
What about Rask?
"We have to make the decision in the best interest of his career, and see what makes the most sense," Ferguson said.
Rask thinks he will be in Toronto for a couple of weeks in the summer, and it's safe to assume he will visit the school of Leafs goaltending coach Steve McKichan in Strathroy.
That Rask thinks Canada will win the gold medal isn't overly surprising, given what Canada has thrown at him in two games.
Canada, which beat Finland 5-1 in the round-robin, kept coming at Finland last night, and once Michael Blunden knocked the helmet off Erkka Leppanen with a thundering check in the opening minute, the rest did not have to be spelled out.
Even so, Rask and the Finns held out hope before the match started.
"Well, of course in the beginning, we had some belief, but when the score was 1-0 and 2-0, maybe our belief was not so big anymore," Rask said. "I am disappointed, but Canada was the favourite in this game and we are happy that we can now play for the bronze."