SASKATOON -- After six years, on the shoulders of a lineage of future NHL superstars, just 60 minutes stands between Team Canada and history.
Never before has any country won six straight World Junior Hockey Championships since the tournament became official in 1977. And it could well be argued that never before has the Canadian's road to the gold- medal game been as well paved.
On Sunday, after a sloppy and undisciplined two periods, the Canadians regrouped to dispatch a plucky Swiss outfit 6-1, setting the stage Tuesday for a gold-medal final against the United States.
So the stakes have been set. Indeed, the spoils were defined long ago -- dating as far back as 2005 in Grand Forks, when Canada's streak of five championships began with perhaps the most dominating team the World Junior Hockey Championship has seen, before or since.
"Any time you get the opportunity to set your name in stone, with the group of guys that we have, it's special," said Canada's leading scorer, Jordan Eberle, a huge part of last year's gold in Ottawa. "Obviously, last year was very special and to do it twice in a row, personally, it would be something to look back on and be proud of."
Of course, there's also the flip-side, isn't there? After all, who would want to be associated with the team that ends the streak?
"Absolutely not," Eberle said, flashing a nervous grin. "You don't want to lose that game, especially for the history and the legacy we are carrying. We want to be that championship team and we'll do everything to make that happen."
Already, Canada has set a new tournament standard, as the looming showdown with the U.S. will mark this nation's ninth consecutive trip to the gold-medal game. But that distinction would be of little solace without hearing O Canada ring throughout the Credit Union Centre sometime Tuesday evening.
As Team Canada's captain Patrice Cormier said, "For sure we feel good about ourselves, but we haven't accomplished anything yet. Our goal at the start was to win a gold medal. And until we accomplish that goal I think nobody will be satisfied."
Such is the burden of the home team. That's a given, handed out with the Maple Leaf on the jersey.
Still, it's worth noting that rarely has the journey to the final seemed so, well, uneventful. Sure, the Americans pushed Canada to the limit on New Year's Eve, when the Canucks had to rally from a two-goal deficit in the third period to eke out a 5-4 victory in a shootout. But in every other game, including Sunday's semifinal against the Swiss, Team Canada has outscored their opponents a combined 36-3.
Not exactly the drama of, say, a last-second goal to tie the Russians in last year's semifinal. Or the thriller in Leksand, Sweden, a couple years back, when Jonathan Toews' heroics in a semifinal shootout against the Americans vaulted Canada towards a then-third straight gold.
On Sunday, the Swiss, who shocked Russia 3-2 in overtime, couldn't find the magic to slay the Canadians, too. Truth be known, the Canadians weren't even that sharp, much to the chagrin of head coach Willie Desjardins, who scolded his troops after taking a 3-1 lead into the second intermission.
Sloppy attention to detail, a Swiss power-play goal and a couple of brain-dead penalties triggered a stern lecture from Desjardins after 40 minutes.
"We got off our game a little bit," the head coach said. "We know our emotion has to be at the right level to be successful in this tournament. We took a couple of uncharacteristic penalties in that second period but I think the key is how you respond to them. We turned around... and played a disciplined third."
Fair enough. But remember that the Swiss were playing without their top two defencemen in Luca Sbisa (who has played 47 NHL games) and Nashville Predators prospect Roman Josi -- both members of the Swiss Olympic team headed to Vancouver.
Said Desjardins: "I think the Swiss team just had something inside them that made them tougher no matter who's in their lineup."
Now we're about to see what the Canucks are made of, too. And that might not include Manitoba's own Travis Hamonic, the defenceman from St. Malo who was driven into the boards by Switzerland's Jeffrey Fuglister with just a minute left in the game.
Hamonic crumpled to the ice and left nursing a separated left shoulder. His status for the gold-medal game was uncertain at press time.
Regardless, there's work to be done. And perhaps it was Eberle who put it best for a team 5-0 in Saskatoon.
"For me right now the only record I'm worried about is six (wins) in a row," he concluded. "That's the only thing I have on my mind."
After six long and prosperous years, we're guessing Eberle isn't the only one.
U.S. 5 SWEDEN 2 C3
Switzerland 1 vs. Canada 6
1. Canada, Eberle 6 (Ellis, Pietrangelo) 3:48 (pp)
Penalties -- Schlumpf Sui (tripping) 3:11, Bourque Cda (triping) 7:25, Schappi Sui (holding) 11:14.
2. Canada, Scandella 1 (Bourque, McMillan) 7:26 (sh)
3. Canada, Hall 4 (Della Rovere, Kadri) 9:11
4. Switzerland, Jorg 3 (Geering, Niederreiter) 12:27 (pp)
Penalties -- Cormier Cda (boarding) 3:50, Ellis Cda (holding) 6:23, Kadri Cda (boarding) 12:19, Eberle Cda (tripping) 13:49, Scherwey Sui (interference) 15:32, Stoop Sui (holding) 18:22.
5. Canada, Schenn 2 (McMillan, Pietrangelo) 2:56
6. Canada, Della Rovere 3 (Caron, Adam) 16:41
7. Canada, Hall 5 (Scandella, Teubert) 17:09
Penalties -- Untersander Sui (holding) 6:26, Stoop Sui (charging) 12:25, Scherwey Sui (tripping) 12:55, Fuglister Sui (checking from behind major, game misconduct; served by Marolf) 19:01.
Shots on goal by
Switz. 6 7 8 -- 21
Canada 19 11 14 -- 44
Goal -- Switzerland: Conz (L,3-3-0); Canada: Allen (W,4-0-0).
Power plays (goals-chances) -- Switzerland: 1-5; Canada: 1-8.
Referees -- Keith Kaval, Christer Larking. Linesmen -- Paul Carnathan, Christian Tillerkvist-Jonsson.
Attendance -- 13,427.