Team Canada's quest for gold started in earnest on Sunday with a 4-1 quarter-final win over Switzerland at the World Junior Hockey Championship in Buffalo, NY. The Swiss scored on their first shot, but goals by Ryan Johansen, Casey Cizikas, Louis Leblanc and Zack Kassian sent Canada to the semi-finals where they will face the United States in a re-match of last year's gold medal classic (live on TSN, TSN.ca and TSN Mobile Apps Monday at 7pm et/4pm pt).
Canada was looking to rebound from a heartbreaking shootout loss to Sweden on Friday, but they fell behind early. Mark Visentin, who got the start in the Canadian net after Olivier Roy struggled in Friday's loss, let in a soft goal just 1:09 into the game when Inti Pestoni scored on a wrap-around that appeared to deflect off the skate of defenceman Ryan Ellis.
"That goal today, if you shot it 1,000 times how many time would Mark stop it, 999?" said Canadian coach Dave Cameron after the game. "The thing you can't factor into your game plan is nerves."
With that in mind, Cameron also announced that Visentin was going to get the start against the U.S. on Monday in the semi-finals.
Benjamin Conz, who has a history of hot games in this tournament, started for the Swiss and kept them in the game with another fine performance. He looked good early, making a couple of strong saves to keep Canada off the scoresheet during a 5-on-3 powerplay. Conz would frustrate the Canadians all day, stopping 46 shots.
Canada finally broke the spell on a late first period powerplay, with Ryan Johansen smacking home the tying goal through a crowd in front of Conz.
Johansen, who was named Canada's Player of the Game, was lauded by TSN Hockey Pierre McGuire for his effort.
"He's everything right now," said McGuire, who was impressed by Johansen's dominance in all facets of the game Sunday. "The fourth overall pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets has it going on. He's a great Portland Winterhawk, and right now he's establishing himself as a great World Junior player."
The game stayed tied until Casey Cizikas scored for Canada on a two-on-one break late in the second period. Cizikas held the puck, opted to shoot, and picked the top corner to put Canada in front for the first time.
"We didn't get down on ourselves," Cizikas said of the early deficit. "We kept doing what we had to do out there and it paid off in the end."
Leblanc gave Canada some breathing room early in the third period, snapping a one-timer past Conz after some excellent forechecking forced a Swiss turnover.
Kassian clinched it with an empty-netter in his return to the lineup after serving a two-game suspension for a match penalty he picked up against the Czech Republic in the round-robin.
Canada is now 19-0-0 all-time against Switzerland, including two wins at last year's tournament, and Cameron gave them credit for another tough match.
"They come at you with a lot of speed," he said of the Swiss. "They force you to make plays quick. They got that early lead and we had to rebound and we did."
After losing to the U.S. in overtime last year, top scorer Brayden Schenn said Team Canada is looking forward to facing the Americans again.
"That's what we wanted," Schenn said of the semi-final showdown. "They're a good team, so that's two good teams going at it and we're excited about the match-up tomorrow night and I'm sure they are, too."
Cameron said his squad would be ready for the challenge.
"It's the U.S.," said Cameron. "There will be a lot of emotion but at this stage of the tournament it comes down to how we play, regardless of the opponent."
In other action Russia rallied to beat Finland in overtime 4-3. The Russians will now face Sweden in Monday's first semifinal contest. Meanwhile Slovakia pounded Norway 5-0 and the Czech Republic outlasted Germany 3-2 in relegation round action.