Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Showdown in the U.S.-of-eh

Pro-Canada crowd expected in Buffalo for clash with Yanks

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BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The away team will be playing at home, at least if the crowd counts.

One of the Canadians will be playing in the American city where he was born. The American goaltender is a teammate of the Canadian captain.

A handful of Americans have Canadian parents.

Yes, it kinda gets confusing and a little blurred when Team Canada and Team USA cross sticks, but it never gets boring.

"It's huge," grinned big Canadian forward Quinton Howden, a son of Oakbank. "It's one of the biggest rivalries in all of hockey. So there's going to be a lot of people watching it, a lot of people ready for it. It's a game that we've wanted for a long time."

The scene is set: After a 4-1 victory over Switzerland on Sunday, Team Canada will "host" the Americans in the World Junior Hockey Championship semifinal tonight in Buffalo (6:30 p.m., TSN) where a full house of 18,000 will be primed for a rematch of last year's gold-medal final in Saskatoon.

Of course, it was a heartbreaker in Saskatchewan, where the Yanks ended Canada's five-year gold streak with a 6-5 victory in overtime. As they say in Saskatoon, it was a beauty.

No less drama awaits in Buffalo, where the favoured Americans -- with eight returning players from last year -- were touted to repeat. Sticking to the script, Team USA swept through the preliminary round undefeated to advance to the semifinal.

The Canadians, however, had a detour to the quarter-final with the Swiss courtesy of a 6-5 overtime shootout loss to Sweden on New Year's Eve. Mission accomplished.

All along, Canada-U.S. was the dream final in 2011. A semifinal will have to do.

But Team Canada captain Ryan Ellis, a teammate of U.S. goaltender Jack Campbell with the OHL's Windsor Spitfires, didn't seem put off with an earlier showdown.

"No, not at all," said Ellis, one of four returning Canadian players from Saskatoon. "We knew we were going to see them some time this tournament. Whether it's the finals, the semis, or even the round-robin we just want to play them. It's a good rivalry."

It's also becoming THE rivalry in Canadian hockey. The Olympics. The world championships. The world juniors.

The programs are too similar. The players are too familiar. The styles are almost identical.

Sure, it's always a treat to face the Russians, and dust off old memories of 1972. And a juicy rematch with the Swedes in Buffalo could still happen.

But the U.S of A? That's the gold-medal standard now.

"Oh, it's going to be an amazing game," said Team Canada's Marcus Foligno, who was born right here on the shores of Lake Erie, the son of former Sabre Mike Foligno. "The U.S. has a good team, we know that. But I think revenge is a little bit in our mind, too. It's going to be a pretty crazy game, that's for sure.

"It's going to feel like a gold-medal game. Every game is now. It's single knockout."

It's also a second chance for some Canadians more than others. Winnipeg's Cody Eakin was a final cut from Team Canada last year, watching the loss to the Yanks on television like millions of others. On Monday, Eakin will be donning the Maple Leaf in one of the biggest games of his young career.

"Obviously, I wanted to be there (last year)," Eakin confessed. "You're watching on TV going, 'Geez, I wish I could be there.' It was a bitter feeling in my stomach. But at the same time, it hurt to lose, especially in overtime. Hopefully, we can go out there and make the guys from last year proud. It's going to be a battle."

Asked what the atmosphere might be like at HSBC Arena, which will once again be crammed with lunatic Canucks decked in red and white, Eakin smiled and replied: "Pretty insane."

Well, Eakin got the insane part right. But pretty?

Beauty will be in the eye of the team that advances to Wednesday's gold-medal final. The best the loser can do is bronze.

Canada versus Team USA. The sooner the better.

"This is the one we marked down on our calendar," gushed Team Canada's Ryan Johansen, whose eyes lit up just at the thought. "You can tell the fans really want to see it because they were chanting, 'We want the USA!' (at the end of the Canada-Swiss game) To hear that is really exciting. I'm already fired up to play them. It's going to be a rough sleep tonight."

Canada 4 Switzerland 1

After surrendering another early goal -- an unsettling trend at this world juniors -- Team Canada eventually solved Swiss goaltender Benjamin Conz en route to a 4-1 victory in Sunday's quarter-final.

Just 69 seconds into the game, Switzerland took a 1-0 lead on a goal by Anti Pestoni, whose harmless shot eluded Canadian goaltender Mark Visentin. Visentin had started ahead of teammate Olivier Roy, who was wobbly in a 6-5 shootout loss to Sweden on Friday.

But Ryan Johansen, Casey Cizakas, Louis Leblanc and Zack Kassian, into a empty net, replied for the Canadians, who pelted Conz with 50 shots.

"They were relentless, and that's a tough team to play against when they don't stop," Team Canada captain Ryan Ellis said, of the Swiss. "There was no quit in them, but it was nice to get the win."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 3, 2011 C1

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About Randy Turner

While attending Boissevain High School in the late 1970’s, Randy Turner one day read an account of a Winnipeg Jets game in the Free Press when it dawned on him: "Really, you can get paid to watch sports?"

Turner later graduated with a spectacularly mediocre 2.3 GPA from Red River Community College’s Creative Communications program. 

After jobs at the Stonewall Argus and Selkirk Journal, he began working on the Rural page for the Free Press in 1987. Several years later, he realized his dream of watching sports for a living covering the Winnipeg Goldeyes and Bombers.

In 2001, Turner became a general sports columnist, where he watched Canada win its first Olympic gold medal in men’s hockey in 50 years at Salt Lake, then watched them win again in Vancouver in 2010.

He also watched everything from high school hockey and volleyball championship to several Grey Cups, NHL finals and World Junior hockey tournaments.

In the fall of 2011, Turner became a general features writer for the paper. But he still watches way too much sports.

Turner has been nominated for three National Newspaper Awards in sports writing.


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