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WORLD JUNIOR

This isn't last year's Canadian world junior team

By Terry Koshan, Toronto Sun

Canada's Zachary Fucale will start during Friday's quarterfinal vs. Denmark. (QMI Agency)

Canada's Zachary Fucale will start during Friday's quarterfinal vs. Denmark. (QMI Agency)

TORONTO  - 

Scott Salmond saw it Wednesday night after another win by Canada.

The Canadian junior team that closed out 2014 with a victory against the United States isn’t overly comparable to the one that participated in the World Junior Hockey Championship a year ago.

For Salmond, the vice-president of hockey operations for Hockey Canada, there is a contrast between the two teams, and it’s crucial.

“It’s easy to get ahead of yourself and I think that happened last year,” Salmond said. “This team is different. They just roll and keep going. They take it day by day, but they are having fun with it.

“When we talked to them (after beating the U.S.), to be honest, I don’t even think they knew who the next guys were. Just bring out the next team and let’s play. That’s what I love about them.”

The next opponent is Denmark, a team that will meet Canada in the quarterfinal Friday night at the Air Canada Centre after finishing fourth in Group B, managing to win one game. That was against Switzerland in a shootout.

Canada cruised through the preliminary round, allowing just four goals in four wins to win Group A in Montreal. The 2015 world junior marks Denmark’s third participation in the event, and though it has become a nice story, there won’t be a fairy-tale ending.

We appreciate the skills that forwards Nikolaj Ehlers, Mads Eller and Oliver Bjorkstrand possess. They’re good players.

It’s not just Salmond, though, who sees something different in the Canadian junior team. The players themselves, especially those among the seven who were on the team that was fourth last year, can feel it too.

On depth alone, Canada — which will turn to Zach Fucale in goal after Eric Comrie helped beat the Americans — should handle Denmark with ease. However, there is more.

“I don’t know why it is that way, but this year we are a little tighter group overall,” defenceman Josh Morrissey said. “Last year, we came out of the round-robin maybe a bit too high on ourselves. No matter what you do (in the preliminary round), you have to be able to put it behind you.”

Canada’s veteran players, from Morrissey to captain Curtis Lazar to Sam Reinhart to Nic Petan to Fucale, as well as coach Benoit Groulx, were serving up Danish compliments Thursday after the Canadians practised at the ACC.

If the Canadians are peeking past Denmark to a semifinal against the winner of the Slovakia/Czech Republic quarterfinal, they are hiding it awfully well.

“Every team has a different challenge,” Lazar said. “Denmark has earned their spot here. They are a pesky bunch. They are going to come at us and are very tenacious on the puck. We have to be ready for that.”

Prior to the tournament, Salmond made the comment that Canada recently has been flat in medal-round games, and the evidence demonstrates as much. There was a victory in the quarterfinals versus Switzerland last year, but then a 5-1 loss against the Finns in the semis; in each of the previous two years to that, Canada lost in the semis after getting a bye past the quarterfinal.

This year’s Canadian team gives no hint that it will hit a dull spot. It has built properly through the first four games, and was glad to get lesser opponents such as Slovakia and Germany out of the way early. Games against Finland and the U.S. provided harder competition, and the Canadians didn’t falter.

A year ago, there was inconsistency and it hurt in the long run. There’s no such element with this team.

Salmond, not surprisingly, has a similar attitude to that of the players.

“The thing I have learned about this tournament is there are always ups and downs, there are challenges, you have to beat good teams to win,” Salmond said. “People have to give Denmark credit. They are a good team and we have to respect that and we will, and then we can’t look and see what is ahead for the next game.”

HAPPY NEW YEAR ... NOW HIT THE ICE

Not often does a team have to go and get an emotional win out of its system.

That was part of the purpose for Canada when it hit the ice at the Air Canada Centre for practice Thursday afternoon. The Canadians arrived in Toronto from Montreal as the last minutes of 2014 ticked away on Wednesday night, a quick flight made happy thanks to a victory against the United States.

The players had a quick bite at their downtown hotel, wished each other a happy new year and were off to bed.

So began the preparation to face Denmark in a quarterfinal Friday.

“We had to go on the ice and get a sweat,” coach Benoit Groulx said. “We are going to face a team that has nothing to lose. Every time they play in this tournament, they give a hard-fought battle. We have to be ready.”

terry.koshan@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/koshtorontosun


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