Canada kiss Swiss good-bye

Canada forward Ryan Johansen falls over Switzerland goaltender Benjamin Conz during their...

Canada forward Ryan Johansen falls over Switzerland goaltender Benjamin Conz during their quarter-final game at the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships in Buffalo, New York on January 2, 2011. (MARK BLINCH/Reuters)

RYAN PYETTE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:51 AM ET

BUFFALO - Louis Leblanc watched John Carlson bury the infamous overtime goal that gave the United States the world junior gold medal last year in Saskatoon.

Right then, he committed himself to do whatever it takes so it wouldn't happen again.

The star scorer transformed himself into an expert cycler along the boards, endured constant line juggling and provided a decoy for Casey Cizikas' game-changing goal against the Swiss -- all for this opportunity.

It's time for Canada vs. USA.

"I don't think there's anyone in the (Canadian) dressing room who likes them," the Montreal first-rounder said, referring to the unbeaten and rested Yanks. "We knew we'd run into them at some point along the way. It doesn't matter it's not the gold (medal game).

"All the guys will be up for it. It's something we're excited about."

Engaging Swedish coach Roger Ronnberg, who questioned the Canadians' difficulty, got his wish. He dreamed of sitting in the stands watching the Canadians and Americans duke it out in Monday night's semifinal at HSBC Arena.

It's on after slow-starting Canada knocked off the Swiss 4-1 in Sunday afternoon's queasy quarterfinal.

The Swiss scored a stinker on their first shot against Mark Visentin, called on to come in and deliver better goaltending than Olivier Roy did against the Swedes.

But the frozen-looking Canadians eventually thawed themselves out.

Never a concern, according to Canadian captain Ryan Ellis, one of four guys seeking redemption after Carlson's firecracker ended five straight years of gold.

"I've been in tougher spots," said the Windsor Spitfires defender, now tied for third with Jason Allison on Canada's all-time world junior point list with 24. "The first Memorial Cup in Rimouski (four straight wins after losing the first two games). The game against Russia (in 2009 at Ottawa) when we were down with five seconds left.

"We wanted to play the U.S. and we want to play Sweden in the final, too, but we're not looking past the Americans. All this was is an extra game and who doesn't want to play one more game of hockey?

"We're hockey players and this is what we love to do."

They're going to have to do better against the Stars and Stripes. That much, we know.

So what needs a quick fix?

Better goaltending from Visentin, now with a meaningful tournament game under his belt? Establishing that cycle earlier than the dominant third period? A quicker, less knee-knocking start?

"I'll say 'D' for all of the above," Canadian head coach Dave Cameron said. "Our team knows how it has to play to be successful. There are things we have to do to win the game and if we do them, we'll have a chance to win."

There will be one thing exactly the same.

The Canadians must find a way to fill the net against another goalie who could go down as best in his country's world junior history.

First, it was Swiss stopper Benjamin Conz with his 46-save stunner.

"We got as many pucks as we could at him -- he was good," Canadian forward Marcus Foligno said. "But I don't think we got enough bodies in front. He's a big goalie. He fills the net. His chest protector is big and the size of his blocker -- I don't know if he has the right inches or what -- but I've never seen anything like it."

Next up: Lanky Jack Campbell, Ellis' roommate and Zack Kassian's teammate in Windsor, the Dallas first-rounder trying to become the first American goalie in the crease for back-to-back golds.

"With good goalies, you just have to get more pucks on net," said Ryan Johansen, who first solved Conz by swatting home a first-period power-play chance. "You expect to face good goaltending here every time you go out there.

"But with our team, we believe we can wear the other team down like we did in the third there."

They certainly gritted it out with the ultimate grinder Cizikas going top shelf with the patience of a 50-goal guy.

It was a play that finally put the pro-Canadian crowd in a good place. The way things have gone in ticket sales here, Canada will own the bulk of the support against the host U.S.

"We were a Cinderella team last year and we embraced that role playing in Canada with all the fans against us," U.S. veteran and Toronto Marlies forward Jerry D'Amigo said. "We're going to have more support, we have a little more pressure on us this time, but we still look at it much the same way as last year."

Foligno clearly feeds off the fans. Against the Swiss, he and his mates had a different look -- the building wasn't completely full for the first time.

"I thought physically, we were there, but for sure, we haven't seen empty seats here, and it can have a mental effect," he said.

A lot of Canadian fans weren't anticipating this extra game.

But they've been waiting for Canada-U.S. for a year now.

ryan.pyette@sunmedia.ca

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