MONTREAL — For the United States, Russia or Sweden, winning the World Junior Hockey Championships would reflect well on the state of the sport in those countries and perhaps bolster support for the game.
But in Canada it’s different. Canada is expected to win, especially as the host country, and if you’re a 19- or 18-year-old wearing the maple leaf on your sweater, that’s nothing you take for granted.
In a quarterfinal Monday, Canada trailed the Czech Republic 1-0 after the first period, but regained the momentum with three goals in the second and remained alive for the gold medal by eliminating the Czechs 5-3 at the Bell Centre.
Canada faces Sweden on Wednesday in one semifinal and the U.S. will play Russia for the second time in seven days, having prevailed 3-2 on Thursday in Toronto.
There was a mixture of joy and relief on the faces of the Canadian youngsters. They know the drill and they’ve learned how to handle the pressure. When your teachers include Wayne Gretzky, Eric Lindros, Sidney Crosby, Carey Price, John Tavares and Connor McDavid, you pay attention.
“It’s something special and everyone wants to be on the team,” said defenseman Thomas Chabot, who scored Canada’s third goal. “Obviously pressure is something that comes with playing in this tournament. But it’s good pressure, fun pressure.”
Goaltender Connor Ingram said he’s not feeling any pressure.
“I think I’m a little naive wearing a Hockey Canada sweater for the first time but it’s been fun,” Ingram said. “It’s different because everyone knows who you are. But it’s exciting and I’m enjoying being part of it.”
Canada’s roster does not have a McDavid, but there are 10 NHL first-round draft picks, surely enough talent to win gold. Among them are Arizona’s Dylan Strome, taken No. 3 in the 2015 draft; Pierre-Luc Dubois, taken No. 3 by Columbus in 2016; and Tyler Jost, taken 10th by Colorado last June.
The lowest-ranking draft pick is Joseph Mathieu, who went in the fourth round to Tampa Bay. The only undrafted player is defenseman Philippe Myers, who signed with Philadelphia as a free agent.
To finish atop the podium Thursday, Canada will have to play smarter and stay out of the penalty box, get a lucky bounce or two, and not allow the opposition to hang around, as the Czech Republic was able Monday before finally exiting.
“I think we can play in a tight, low-scoring game,” Chabot said. “We’ve had one bump in the road, to the U.S., but everyone’s feeling good about where we are and we’ll get ready for Sweden.
They survived a scare Monday, but more danger awaits Wednesday in the win-or-go-home pressure cooker. But don’t look for the team to add any pressure to itself.
“We think about ourselves; we challenge ourselves,” Canada coach Dominique Ducharme said. “We don’t worry about what people think.
“We’ve played well in this tournament but I believe we can play better over 60 minutes.”
Contact Steve Carp at email@example.com or 702-387-2913. Follow @stevecarprj on Twitter.