VANCOUVER -- A group of Canadian teenagers that some figured would have had trouble defending the nation's gold medal will leave the West Coast with nothing less than a silver medal. But the medal with a golden hue at the 2006 world junior championship is what Canada wants.
"We're not thinking silver," forward Ryan O'Marra said, after Canada beat Finland 4-0 last night in a semi-final at GM Place to advance to the championship game for the fifth year in a row.
"Silver is not in my vocabulary. We are going in with the mindset to win."
Canada, which is shooting for its 12th gold at the world juniors, will play Russia tomorrow night. Russia defeated the U.S. 5-1 in the other semi-final last night.
Finland plays the Americans for the bronze medal.
There's something to be said about this country's ability to produce hockey players when it is considered no less than 12 Canadians can come back to the team next winter.
The youth factor is one reason why Canada was considered a tournament underdog a few weeks ago. But there is no better coach at the world junior than Brent Sutter, who has had his club completely prepared throughout most of the tournament.
And there is something to be said about the defensive play of this club. Maple Leafs goaltending prospect Justin Pogge had to make just 19 saves for his second shutout and Canada has allowed only six goals in five games. The Canadian record for fewest goals against is seven, set last winter in Grand Forks, N.D.
"I think it is the closest thing to playing in the NHL with this much talent in front of me," said Pogge, who assisted on a goal by Andrew Cogliano last night. "Such determination and heart, you can't beat playing for your country, and with this group of guys it is just a great feeling."
Canada's defence has no one with the star quality of Dion Phaneuf of a year ago, but as a group it couldn't be tighter.
"I am not going to get into comparing one team to the other," said Sutter, who also coached a year ago. "I said from Day 1 this team will form its own identity and it will be good within itself. I think the kids have stuck on the program."
Kris Russell, Blake Comeau and Kris Letang also scored for Canada in a building that was, surprisingly, not full.
Pogge's best save was on Petteri Wirtanen, who had a breakaway in the second period with Canada up 1-0. But Pogge calmly got his body in front of the shot, making the save look easy.
Another top Leafs goaltending prospect, Tuukka Rask, made 39 saves for the Finns. This after he stopped all 53 shots in a 1-0 overtime win in a quarter-final against Sweden on Monday. Rask turned aside the first 13 shots he saw last night until Russell scored the winner at 18:16 of the first period after a fine feed from Dustin Boyd.
"Now we can finally start thinking about that final game and we are really excited," captain Kyle Chipchura said.
"It's a huge game for us. We are proud of each other, but it's not over yet."