HEINOLA, Finland -- Canada will have to overcome a familiar rival to defend its world under-18 women's hockey title.
Brandon's Ashleigh Brykaliuk scored three times to power the Canadians into the tournament final with a convincing 7-2 semifinal win over Sweden on Friday.
Meanwhile, the archrival United States advanced to today's gold medal game with a 10-0 rout of the Czech Republic. The Canadians defeated the Americans 3-0 in last year's tournament championship game.
Even at the under-18 level, Brykaliuk said a healthy rivalry exists between Canada and the U.S.
"It's exciting," she said. "We're wearing the Maple Leaf and they're wearing the red, white and blue jerseys and it's intense.
"That rivalry is still there even though it's the U18."
Kristin Gilmour, Genevieve Bannon, Kristyn Capizzano and Catherine Dubois also scored for Canada, which cemented the win with three third-period goals after head coach Jim Fetter reassured his team it would be rewarded if it kept pressuring the Swedes.
Forward Cassidy Carels of Bruxelles and Neepawa blue-liner Halli Krzyzaniak are also key members of Team Canada.
"We played well, we did some good things but you have to give Sweden credit because they're a big, strong, physical team and they played well defensively," he said. "It's about sticking with the process.
"We may not wear teams down right away but come the third with our conditioning we will wear them down and I think that's what happened."
Predictably, Canada and the U.S. have dominated this tournament.
Canada finished atop Group A with a 3-0 record, outscoring opponents 15-1. The Americans won Group B with an identical record but scored 25 goals while allowing none during the preliminary round.
The U.S. is the first team in tournament history not to allow a goal during the preliminary round but that is of little significance to head coach Jeff Kampersal.
"We've been able to be explosive on offence, but (today) against Canada will be a different story," said Kampersal. "Both teams haven't spent much time in the defensive zone and it will come down to that.
"They're aggressive and like to grind it out, we just need to match their intensity with our speed and forecheck."
Brykaliuk, one of five returnees from last year's gold medal-winning Canadian squad, said her team will have to play a complete game against the Americans.
"We're definitely going to have to work hard and skate and use the little habits we've been working on all week," she said. "We have to come out and play with heart and pride and for the logo on the front of our jersey but also have fun while we're doing it."
Fetter said it's important for Canada to get off to a good start.
"Any time you're playing with the lead you play with a little more confidence," he said. "Goals are all about momentum so if we can get a goal or a couple of goals early and build off that momentum I think that will help."
Fetter, too, will be able to draw upon last year's experience, having served as an assistant coach with the 2012 Canadian squad. And he says the returnees to this year's squad could provide a valuable experience factor for those players appearing in their first world under-18 women's gold- medal game.
"I think the big thing is it just brings a little poise and relaxation and confidence in the locker-room for the rest of the team," he said. "You can't teach experience, it's just one of those things you need to be in those situations and play in those situations to gain experience."
-- The Canadian Press