Canada-Russia rivalry rebooted

TERRY KOSHAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:27 PM ET

BUFFALO -- Louis Leblanc recalled the jitters he felt five months ago when he got off the plane in St. John's, Nfld., for Canada's summer development camp.

In a sense, the Canada forward will have the same butterflies on Wednesday, only it will be different.

"I still don't believe it," Leblanc, a Montreal Canadiens prospect who comes from the Montreal suburb of Kirkland and plays for the Montreal Juniors.

"I can remember being at the summer camp in Newfoundland and worrying about making the team, and now here we are playing for a gold medal. It's a great feeling, a great honour, and we are one game away."

There might not be anything on the level of the Canada/U.S. rivalry in hockey, but it does not come close to the history the Canadians and Russians have shared at the world junior championship. Seven times Canada has beaten Russia, or the Soviet Union, for gold.

Five times, the Canadians have had to stand on their blue line and listen to the Russian anthem as it boomed out of arena speakers.

Silver simply won't cut it for either side Wednesday night at HSBC Arena, when Canada and Russia hook up one more time, the coveted gold medal the only piece of hockey jewellery anyone cares about in the 2011 world junior final.

History says that if Canada plays physically against Russia, they will win. Who can forget Sidney Crosby's body-check on Alexander Ovechkin in the 2005 final, won 6-1 by Canada? Evgeni Malkin, a year later, was rendered ineffective.

The Russians don't have a player as talented as Ovechkin or Malkin, but they have skill.

"(St. Louis Blues first-rounder Vladimir) Tarasenko is a pretty lethal weapon," Canada forward Marcus Foligno said. "They have a lot of guys who can skate and put the puck in the net."

Tarasenko and defenceman Dmitri Orlov, a Washington Capitals pick, are tied for the team lead in scoring with nine points. Forwards Maxim Kitsyn and Yevgeni Kuznetsov have eight points each, and Danil Sobchenko has seven.

The goal for Canada was to peak for the gold-medal game. It was no different for Russia, which is a better team than the one that was beaten 6-3 by Canada on Boxing Day.

Canada has watched the Russians come back to win their past two games. So it's clear that this group won't pack it in, like the Americans did in the quarterfinal, if Canada opens an early lead.

"First, they have pretty good goaltending," Canada coach Dave Cameron said of Dmitri Shikin. "But once (determination) gets into your core and you have that belief, sometimes when you are a little bit tired, it plays to your advantage a bit because you lose that edginess. You can't really tighten up because you don't have the energy to.

"I think they just kept coming, (throwing) caution to the wind."

And the Canadians might have to deal with a Russian trap, a ploy the Russians don't often use. But they have at times during this tournament.

"We're going to prepare like they are going to come at us," Cameron said. "Traps work when you try to skate the puck through it, and we don't do that, I hope."

One obvious advantage that the Canadians will have will be the fan support at HSBC Arena. The Sabres' home rink has become Canada's house, and there is little the Russians can do about the wild atmosphere, outside of scoring an early goal on Mark Visentin.

"With the Canadian fans, it is like they are at home, but we can't think of that," Kuznetsov said. "The Russian people are expecting gold for us."

For the Canadians, crushing the will of the Americans Monday night already is a fading memory. Foligno, a Sabres prospect who undoubtedly will keep hearing the cheers at HSBC once he get to the NHL, wants to take one more mental snapshot from the 2011 world junior.

"Everything has fallen into place," Foligno said, "and we find ourselves in the gold-medal game. It would be amazing, so exciting, to win."

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Looking back at the rivalry

On Wednesday night at HSBC Arena, Canada and Russia will meet for the sixth time in 10 years in the world junior gold-medal final, adding another chapter to an intense hockey rivalry. A glance at the previous five championship games between the proud hockey nations:

2007 -- Canada 4, Russia 2 (Leksand, Sweden)

Jonathan Toews, the hero of the semifinal against the U.S., scores the winning goal late in the first period after Andrew Cogliano and Bryan Little had given Canada a 2-0 lead. Brad Marchand made it 4-0 before the Russians scored twice in the second period.

2006 -- Canada 5, Russia 0 (Vancouver)

Steve Downie gets the eventual winner late in the first, and Justin Pogge makes 35 saves for the shutout. Michael Blunden scores two goals, while Russian star Evgeni Malkin registers a team-worst minus-2.

2005 -- Canada 6, Russia 1 (Grand Forks, N.D.)

Possibly the best team in Canadian junior history (thanks, NHL lockout). Sidney Crosby's check on Alex Ovechkin was part of the domination. Ryan Getzlaf and Jeff Carter lead the way with one goal and two assists each.

2003 -- Russia 3, Canada 2 (Halifax)

This victory marks the most recent time the Russians have won gold. They got their hands on the medal by scoring twice in the third period after Canada had a 2-1 lead. Ovechkin had six goals in the tournament, but did not score in the final.

2002 -- Russia 5, Canada 4 (Pardubice, Czech Republic)

Chuck Kobasew had two goals for Canada and Jason Spezza had two assists, but it was not enough. Russian captain Anton Volchenkov scored the winner on Canada's Pascal Leclaire with just under seven minutes gone in the third period.

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