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Canadian Juniors get settled in Calgary for medal round

The Canadian Press

1/1/2012 6:28:24 PM

CALGARY -- Naps, hot tubs, cold tubs, massages and maybe a bit of ping pong were on the Canadian junior hockey team's agenda Sunday.

Canada and Sweden, both unbeaten in four games, were the two countries out of six still in contention who earned a two-day break at the world junior hockey championships. Canada and Sweden won their respective pools to earn byes to Tuesday's semifinals.

Russia meets the Czech Republic and Finland faces Slovakia in Monday's quarter-finals.

Canada awaits the winner of the Russia-Czech game on Tuesday. Sweden gets the victor between the Finns and Slovaks in an earlier semifinal.

After a three-hour bus ride from Edmonton on Sunday morning, the Canadians inspected their dressing room at Calgary's Scotiabank Saddledome, which is the regular home of the NHL's Flames.

Then it was to the hotel to make the most of their down time. Canadian captain Jaden Schwartz wanted a massage, hot-cold tub treatment and a nap. Others planned variations on the same theme.

"Probably do a cold tub and get the legs back under me," goaltender Scott Wedgewood said. "We've got a ping-pong table back there. The guys will have a little bit of fun. You can't just lay around all day."

How much the extra rest and the bye factors into winning a gold medal is debatable. Three of the last four winners of the tournament came through a quarter-final: Canada, 2008; the United States, 2010; Russia, 2011.

Nevertheless, Canada welcomed a day off the ice after four games in six days. Defencemen Scott Harrington's "upper-body" injury and Nathan Beaulieu's wounded cheek are not expected to stop either player from practising Monday, according to Canadian head coach Don Hay.

"As it looks right now, everybody should be able to skate and be ready for the game the next day," he said.

Hay says he and his coaching staff planned some video analysis of both Russia and the Czechs. They'll scout the quarter-final game and prepare a video package to show the Canadian players at a team meeting Monday night.

That is also when the head coach will tell his goalies which one of them will start in the semifinal.

"We're going to have to beat a good hockey team to move on," Hay said. "Whoever comes out of the Czechs and the Russians is going to be a real tough foe to play."

Canada was the only country in the tournament with a perfect 4-0 record in the preliminary round, including a 5-0 win over the Czechs. Sweden won their pool with a 4-3 overtime win over the Russians and also beat the Swiss 4-3 in a shootout in the preliminary round.

Here's a look at the good and bad for Canada in the preliminary round. First, the good:

-- Canada outscored their opposition 26-5, including 9-0 in the first period."Our starts have been outstanding," Hay said. "We've been able to build on how we started."

-- Mark Stone of the Brandon Wheat Kings leads the tournament with seven goals and is tied for the lead in points with nine. Linemate Jonathan Huberdeau has a tournament-leading seven assists. Stone, Huberdeau and centre Ryan Strome consistently produce for Canada.

-- Canada's special teams rank second only to Russia in the tournament, with six power-play goals for and only one against. The host team also leads the tournament in short-handed goals.

-- The Canadians won the faceoff battle in every game. Boone Jenner of the Oshawa Generals is the tournament leader at almost 72 per cent.

Now, the bad:

-- Losing winger Devante Smith-Pelly to a broken foot in the tournament-opener was a blow to Canada's gold-medal aspirations. One of two NHL players on the squad, Smith-Pelly is a difference maker because of his punishing checks and offensive skills.

-- Canada is the third-most penalized country in the tournament. Killing penalties drains energy from what is already a short-staffed team. "There was a lot of talk about our discipline in the tournament and we obviously need to take smarter penalties," Stone said. "We need to stay a lot more disciplined going forward."

-- What looked like a deep defence on paper hasn't materialized. Brandon Gormley and 18-year-olds Dougie Hamilton, Scott Harrington and Ryan Murray log the majority of minutes, while Mark Pysyk, Nathan Beaulieu and Jamie Oleksiak get less. Beaulieu made the team as a power-play quarterback, but also filled in at forward for a game in the preliminary round.

-- Canada's limits weren't tested in the preliminary round. While Sweden fought back from a three-goal deficit to beat the Russians and win their pool, Canada has no tournament experience in those tense situations. The Canadians players will argue the last 10 minutes of their 3-2 win over the U.S. battle-tested them, but that game meant nothing in the standings.

"We've been tested enough, but the medal round is going to bump up to another level," Schwartz said.