As I write this blog post on Sunday afternoon, Russia is up 3-0 on Sweden midway through the third period of the first WJHC semi-final in Toronto, and Canada is approximately one hour away from taking the ice against upstart Slovakia in the other semi-final.
Barring upsets of gargantuan proportions, then, it looks like Canada and Russia will be battling for gold in the WJHC title game which goes tonight from Toronto with puck drop at 7 p.m. Regina time on TSN. It also seems that Sweden and Slovakia are destined to meet in the bronze medal game which goes at 3 p.m. Regina time.
If Russia and Canada do end up meeting, it will be their first gold medal match-up since the 2011 tournament in Buffalo when Canada gassed a 3-0 lead, giving up five goals to the Russians in the third period to fall 5-3. That was a traumatic loss for the juniors, who prior to then had looked pretty much invincible in the tournament, reeling off five straight championships from 2005-09 before having their streak snapped with a 6-5 OT loss to the United States in Saskatoon in 2010.
Since the loss to Russia, in fact, which relegated Canada to silver, the Canadian juniors have only picked up one medal in the tournament (bronze in 2012). Playing in front of home town crowds, first in Montreal, and now Toronto for the playoff round, the team has looked pretty solid — outscoring their opposition 21-4 in the qualifying round, and squashing Denmark 8-0 in the quarter final to run their record to 5W-0L.
Russia, meanwhile, had a so-so qualifying round — finishing third in its pool with a 1W-1OT/W-2L record, before beating the U.S. in the quarter-final 3-2 and then upending Sweden in the semi-final (it looks like, anyway).
On paper, this is a game Canada should win (again, assuming they beat Slovakia in the semi-final). Offensively and defensively the team has enjoyed pretty much a flawless tournament under coach Benoit Groulx while Russia has struggled at times. But the game isn’t played on paper, it’s played on ice. So I guess we’ll see later tonight who prevails.