Sports

2017 WORLD JUNIORS

Canada 'anxious' for showdown with Russia at world juniors

By Terry Koshan, Toronto Sun

Canada's National Junior Team goalie Carter Hart during a 2017 World Junior Championship practice at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ont.  on Sunday Dec. 25, 2016.  (Ernest Doroszuk/Toronto Sun/Postmedia Network)

Canada's National Junior Team goalie Carter Hart during a 2017 World Junior Championship practice at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ont. on Sunday Dec. 25, 2016. (Ernest Doroszuk/Toronto Sun/Postmedia Network)

Sergei Zborovski doesn’t need to be told what kind of support Canadian fans will provide for the home team in the 2017 world junior hockey championship.

The Russian defenceman, in his third season with the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League, has had an unobstructed view of what the sport means to people across this country.

“Hockey is like a religion,” Zborovski said on Monday following Russia’s morning skate at the Air Canada Centre.

“That’s it. I know Canada is a great country and everybody loves hockey here.”

Several weeks of buildup for the Canadian side will come to head on Monday night when the two hockey rivals meet at the ACC on the opening day of the ’17 world junior.

As expected, Carter Hart, a Philadelphia Flyers prospect who plays for Everett of the WHL, will start in net for Canada. For Russia, Ilya Samsonov, a Washington Capitals first-round pick in 2015, will get the start.

Canada relatively breezed through a couple of exhibition games last week, beating Finland and the Czech Republic handily, before requiring overtime on Friday night to get past Switzerland.

It’s a group of Canadians that is in search of the country’s second gold medal in eight years.

“We are anxious to start,” coach Dominique Ducharme said. “We want to drop the puck and get going.

“Our players know what to expect. We have been preparing for today since Day 1. We know we have a good challenge and I feel our guys we are ready for it.”

Since winning gold in 2009 in Ottawa, Canada also has taken home two silver and a bronze, but the gold in 2015 represents the only medal for the country in the past four years.

The Russians have not won gold since 2011, when a third-period comeback against Canada in Buffalo gave them a 5-3 victory. Russia has won a medal in each of the five years since, taking three silver and two bronze.

Canada has a record of 12-10-1 against Russia in the history of the world junior, outscoring it 94-70.

Monday night will mark the first game between the countries since the gold-medal game at the ACC in 2015, when Canada prevailed with a 5-4 win.

“We have to be ready for the first 10 minutes, because … all the crowd will be cheering for them,” said Zborovski, a New York Rangers prospect. “We have to play fast, play hard, take the big hits.

“(The rivalry) means a lot. It’s the two best hockey countries in the world. The first game should be a great game.”

The Canadians were in agreement.

“The nerves are probably going to catch up to me later today,” defenceman Philippe Myers said with a smile.

“It’s all about maturity. Russia is a good team and we can’t afford to have a bad start against them.”

tkoshan@postmedia.com

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