MORA, Sweden -- For Taylor Chorney and his fellow Americans, there's no better opponent than the one the United States junior team will get this morning.
It's Canada in a one-game showdown with the winner advancing to the gold medal game at the 2007 world junior championship on Friday.
"Everybody in our locker room wanted another crack at them," the U.S. captain and Edmonton Oilers prospect said after the Americans beat Finland 6-3 yesterday in a quarter-final. "We should give them a big run. They have been the best team in the tournament for a few years now and somebody is looking to take them down."
Will that team be the U.S.?
"Are we going to win?" coach Ron Rolston said. "We're going to try like hell, that's for sure."
The pieces are falling into place in the manner most thought they would at the tournament. As the U.S. was beating Finland at FM Mattsson Arena here, host Sweden beat the Czech Republic 5-1 in Leksand.
The feeling was Canada, Sweden and the U.S. had the best shot at winning medals; Sweden will play Russia in the other semi-final today, getting the later start to be in prime time on local television.
Though no one would say it, the Canadian players probably preferred that Finland, whose captain is a Maple Leafs pick Leo Komarov, had won. Canada's most recent loss at the world junior was in the gold-medal game in 2004 in Helsinki, when it lost to the U.S. Canada handled the U.S. fairly well last week but that was before the Americans realized the tournament had started. They're much more organized now.
In fact, Canada forward Steve Downie said it would be pointless for him and his mates to use that win against the U.S. as a reference point.
"Not at all," Downie said. "That was a round-robin game. Good teams get better as they go on, and they could be a lot better than last time."
The Americans certainly mean business. Rolston refused to make any player other than Chorney available, citing the 4 p.m. local time start in Leksand as the reason.
Whatever, there is little doubt the Americans should be a tougher opponent for Canada today. Canada, most notably goalie Carey Price, has solidified since the championship began eight days ago, but the Americans have as well.
"More than anything everyone has just bought in," Chorney said, using an apt cliche. "Those first two games everyone was doing their own thing. Now we're all playing together. We are starting to do what the coaches are telling us and it is showing."
One area of concern for Canada is the lack of finish among the forwards. That group accounted for only nine of the team's 14 goals in the four round-robin matches. One who has promised more is Andrew Cogliano, who has two assists.
"The coaches expect my line to play better and I'll rise to the occasion," Cogliano said. "Now the tournament starts, basically. This is what we play for."