TSN Hockey Reporter Mark Masters reports from the World Junior Hockey Championship in Edmonton. Team Canada held an off-ice meeting and media availability on Tuesday ahead of the gold-medal final against Team USA.
This is the longest a Team Canada has ever been together and tonight they have a chance to go down in history as one of the greatest World Junior teams ever.
"You obviously look at the skill the team has but, beyond that, over the past 51 days we've been together we've developed a bond within the group and that's special," said defenceman Jamie Drysdale. "I can honestly say that all these guys are my brothers now."
Team Canada has not trailed for a second at the tournament and has yet to allow a five-on-five goal while outscoring the opposition 41-4.
"A big part of it is the time we've spent together," said forward Cole Perfetti. "We've been together since mid-November. Even through the [18 days in] quarantine we were doing a lot of stuff together, a lot of team bonding. At a normal World Juniors you see guys come in in mid-December and have two weeks to get ready and we had a month and a half to get ready for this and we used that to our advantage. We've come together nicely and we're a real tight group now and I think that's real big for our chemistry and success so far."
Canada smothered the Russians right from puck drop on Monday. If they replicate that performance tonight, can they be beaten?
"That's a good question," said centre Quinton Byfield with a smile. "No, I don't think so. We had an unbelievable game and we need to keep building off each game."
The job is not done and head coach Andre Tourigny was channeling his inner Phil Jackson this morning reminding everyone that despite all the hard work so far "it doesn't mean a thing without the ring."
"I like their feeling this morning," Tourigny said of his players. "We're composed. Nobody's overexcited or whatever. We're in the right place mentally right now."
Tourigny served as an assistant coach at four previous World Juniors, suffering heartache in Saskatoon in 2010 when the United States beat Canada in overtime of the gold-medal game. He was there one year later when Canada blew a third-period lead in Buffalo against the Russians. He was in Ufa, Russia, during the NHL lockout in 2013 when the last Canadian "Dream Team" failed to reach the podium.
And Tourigny was also on the bench last year in Ostrava, Czech Republic, when Canada stormed back from being down 3-1 in the third period to beat Russia in the final.
"A big reason why we had success is we stayed with it and never changed anything whatever the adversity," Tourigny recalled. "If we start to want to enjoy the moment now, we're in trouble. We're in big, big trouble. For us, it's to stay in the present. We have a lifetime to enjoy that game and a lifetime to remember that game."
Standing in the way of Team Canada tonight is Team USA.
"What else can you ask for," said Byfield. "You're playing the U.S. in the gold-medal game. It's probably the deepest rivalry in hockey ... It was pretty tough falling asleep last night just thinking about the game and all the situations and just dreaming about everything that could happen."
Team Canada has six players back from last year, including Byfield although the Newmarket, Ont., native didn't get a shift in the gold-medal game. He's been waiting a year for this chance.
"I'm definitely excited to get my first shift and get involved right away, get a hit and make a play or something and then a quick change," he said. "Want to get that first shift under my belt and I think the rest of the game will come to me after that."
Byfield didn't play in the final last year, but he was taking notes.
"I had the best seat in the house," he said. "It was unbelievable to watch the comeback and how much effort we put in and all the sacrifices we made in that game. The drive that we had to come back was unbelievable to watch."
The fashionable Byfield didn't have any special outfit in mind for tonight.
"Honestly, I feel like people are expecting me to bring something out, but I only brought three suits and I've shown them all off," he said. "I'll wear the one I wore last game and I'll go with that."
His good friend Connor McMichael was the one making a statement with his attire on Tuesday morning, sporting red and white socks with Maple Leafs on them. On the bottom of each sock it says, "Good Luck Sock."
The London Knights sniper said the socks were a gift from his girlfriend and he also wore them on Monday when he scored in the semifinal win.
McMichael has now scored in all five knockout-stage games he's played at the World Juniors.
It's going to be a late night on the Rock.
"I'm sure the whole island will be up and rolling," said Bay Roberts, N.L., native Dawson Mercer. "It's an exciting time with the support back home. It’s a late start time for them at 11 p.m., but the next morning I'm sure they'll be happy with the outcome (smile)."
Last year, Mercer played a fourth-line role and was roommates with Akil Thomas, who also filled a depth role before emerging as the hero in the gold-medal game. In an interview with TSN last month, Thomas predicted big things for Mercer in Edmonton.
"I think he's got an important goal this year," Thomas said. "I'm calling it now."
Told about that prediction this morning, Mercer made it clear he's comfortable in the big moment.
"I love playing in big games like this," the Chicoutimi Sagueneens forward said. "Every player wants to be put in this situation. When I get my opportunity, I'll do my job every time I step on the ice. I want to make sure I have a positive impact."
Boston College teammates Alex Newhook and Spencer Knight will be facing off tonight. Does Newhook have an idea for moves that will work on the Team USA goalie?
"I've got a little bit of a playbook, being with him for two years, so we'll see how it goes," the St. John's native said with a smile.
Knight laughed that off saying he wasn't sure what Newhook had in mind. The pair have been in touch during the World Juniors via the Boston College group chat.
"He's an awesome guy," Knight said. "Everyone loves him and he brings a lot of energy to the lineup at BC and so that's what I know he's probably bringing to their lineup."
Team USA may have a source of information on Team Canada goalie Devon Levi. The Northeastern University freshman leads the tournament with a .975 save percentage.
"I know one of our guys here, Sam Colangelo, is roommates with him [at school] and says he's a really good goalie," Knight noted.
Nobody has been able to solve Levi at this year's tournament.
"Every game feels the same," Levi said. "I try to play every game the same way whether it's a Junior A game, a midget game or one of these games and I've been able to be consistent, because I've been able to feel consistent going into the games."
Levi, a seventh round pick of the Florida Panthers, listens to music quite a bit on game days, including during intermissions. What's on his playlist?
"I listen to songs that I've been listening to throughout my hockey career," he said. "Just some good music to get me pumped and get my mind off things. Some of the songs I've been listening to since my midget days and they sort of bring me back to times when I played well and I guess it sort of gets me into a zone and fired up."
The rest of the team steers clear of Levi on game days, including Tourigny.
"I stay as far away as I can from this guy," the coach told TSN's Ryan Rishaug. "He's focused. He's in his bubble."
It's been mostly radio silence between Wisconsin Badgers teammates Cole Caufield and Dylan Holloway during the World Juniors with one exception. The Team Canada forward sent birthday wishes to the Team USA sniper when he turned 20 a couple days ago.
"Going back to Wisconsin one of us isn't going to be too happy," Holloway said.
Does he have any trash talk in mind when he's on the ice with Caufield today?
"I got some stuff that I could throw out there, yeah," he said with a smile. "Probably nothing I could say on camera though."
The championship game will pit the top scorers at the World Juniors – Canada’s Dylan Cozens and Trevor Zegras of the United States – against each other. They are tied with 16 points apiece entering the final day of the event.
"Dylan's an unbelievable player," said Zegras, "Kind of been going at it with him and that group for a long time now so it'd be nice to stick it to him and win this thing."
What's the key for Team USA tonight?
"A lot of energy," Zegras said. "Get the puck low, grind'em and put the puck in the back of the net."
Cozens, who scored Canada's first goal in the gold-medal game last year, wasn't available to the media this morning.
Team Canada winger Jakob Pelletier was at it again last night. After setting up Cozens for an empty-net goal, the Val d'Or Foreurs winger leaned over to kiss his linemate's helmet at the bench. Pelletier did the same thing to Holloway after he assisted on his goal against the Finns on New Year's Eve.
Tourigny was asked who, other than the always chatty Bowen Byram, had stepped up as a vocal leader.
"It's Pelletier hands down," Tourigny said. "He's the only one who can challenge Bo in terms of being vocal. He talks a lot, brings a lot of energy and is positive and really focused. He brings a lot in the room."