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PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 8:13 AM ET

It's Canada vs. the USA, a trip to the gold-medal game up for grabs, six time zones away.

Which makes today's semifinal at the World Junior Hockey Championship in Sweden a real challenge for the average working stiff in Winnipeg.

I mean, taking a 9 a.m. coffee break is one thing. But stretching it to three hours?

"The bad thing about it is we gotta run down to the cafeteria to watch," Team Canada fan David Sichewski was saying yesterday. "Most of our coffee breaks are centred around the games. We kind of scream out the score."

Sichewski works at the Maple Leaf Foods plant in St. Boniface, also known as the unofficial headquarters of the Darren Helm fan club.

Helm is the St. Andrews product who came out of nowhere to grab a Team Canada roster spot. His dad works at Maple Leaf, so the whole place is Canuck crazy.

Before Gary Helm went to Sweden to watch his son play, his co-workers presented him with a Team Canada jersey with his name on the back. If you're watching the game on TV and see a guy in the stands wearing No. 15, that's Helm.

"We told him he can't take it off until he gets back," Sichewski said. "We want some Helm DNA on that thing. We're expecting that jersey to come back to the plant with Darren's signature on it."

Of course, somebody's got to mind the store while dad's away, which brings us back to today's theme: how to get to a TV set while pretending to work.

Mrs. Helm plans to be at work in the kitchen of the Rivercrest Motor Hotel up in West St. Paul, which just so happens to be close to the bar, which just so happens to have a working television.

So anybody ordering room service at the Rivercrest today might want to wait until noon.

If Canada wins and her son winds up in Friday's gold medal game, all bets are off.

"I told them already, I'm not coming in," Coriene Helm said. "Uh-uh. This is more important than work."

The mother of Winnipegger Jonathan Toews thinks so, too.

Andree Gilbert is taking the morning to chew her fingernails off before reporting to her marketing job at the Caisse in St. Boniface.

And Friday?

"If I survive, I'll repeat the same thing," Gilbert said.

Today's semifinal matchup will be particularly trying for the Toews-Gilbert clan, since they're good friends with the families of a couple of U.S. players.

One, Kyle Okposo, is Jonathan's best friend from their days at Shattuck-St. Mary's, a high school/hockey factory in Minnesota.

Another, American captain Taylor Chorney, is roommates with Toews at the University of North Dakota.

Toews' dad, Brian, who's in Sweden, actually sat beside Chorney's dad during yesterday's U.S.-Finland quarter-final -- and made no bones about the fact he wanted the States to lose.

Friendship only goes so far, you see. The Yanks are considered a real threat to win the tournament. A sleeping giant that, after an 0-2 start, is wide awake.

"That's the last team I wanted to see again," Gilbert said. "I was hoping it would be Finland. I'll have to deal with that (today)."

She's also had to deal with the five-stitch cut her son picked up early in the tournament -- a souvenir she figures she'll remember every time she looks at her son's face.

Yesterday, Jonathan called home to ask his mom if there were any other souvenirs she'd like from Sweden.

Gilbert told him not to bother.

On second thought, maybe there was one, little thing ...

"Just bring the gold," Gilbert said, laughing.

Now that's a souvenir bound to make even the most demanding boss forget about a three-hour coffee break, don't you think?


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