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Canadian Press
Jan 4, 2007, 4:34 PM EST


LEKSAND, Sweden (CP) - It will be Canada's defence against Russia's offence in the gold medal game at the world junior hockey championship.

It was the same story in last year's final in Vancouver, won 5-0 by Canada. Russia leads the tournament in goals with 24, compared to Canada's 15 heading into Friday's finale (1:30 ET). Both teams have given up just five goals in five games, but the Russians have had more breathing space thanks to their firepower up front.

The Canadians' defence, special teams and goaltender Carey Price have brought them this far.

Canada is chasing a third straight gold medal after victories in Vancouver and Grand Forks, N.D., in 2005, but the team hasn't won the title in Europe since 1997.

Jonathan Toews, one of 11 players on the Canadian team who won gold in 2006, is hoping to experience victory again.

"It's almost like you are your country's hero just for a night and to get that feeling again would be unbelievable," said the North Dakota forward. "That's what I'm playing for - for everyone back home and the guys on our team."

Canada's inability to generate much offence at even-strength prompted head coach Craig Hartsburg to move Toews up to first-line centre between Brad Marchand and Steve Downie in Thursday's practice.

Andrew Cogliano, who had centred Marchand and Downie since selection camp, was put between Tom Pyatt and Ryan O'Marra.

"We think we need a little bit more five-on-five," Hartsburg said. "Hopefully it will spark us.

"It doesn't matter where the goals come from. It's a matter of everyone playing their best. We'll find the goals somewhere in the lineup."

Canada has one player in the top 10 in scoring in the tournament and that is defenceman Kris Russell with four goals and two assists.

Canada was a tense team in a 2-1 shootout win over the U.S. in the semifinal. Their nervousness nearly cost them the game, but they were bailed out by the play of Price.

Hartsburg planned to get the players out of their hotel for a walk around Leksand on Thursday in an effort to get their minds off the gold-medal game.

"I think we need to get excited about playing well rather than worrying about playing well," Hartsburg said.

He played a short bench against the U.S. in search of goals and says he'll do it again if needed.

"We just had to find something that worked," Hartsburg said. "We're prepared to do whatever we have to do.

"If some guys start out the game and play very well, then they'll obviously get more ice time. If guys don't play well early, we have to make sure we're playing the guys who are going to help us win."

This is the third straight year Canada and Russia have met in the final of this tournament.

The Russians don't have a superstar forward in their lineup as they did in Grand Forks with Alexander Ovechkin and in Vancouver with Evgeni Malkin.

Alexei Cherepanov, 17, is tied for the tournament lead in scoring with five goals and five assists. His stock is rising for the 2007 NHL draft.

"Last year we had Malkin and all the attention was to him," Russian forward Ilya Zubov said through a translator. "This year, we don't have a star, but we are playing as a team.

"In Russia, nobody believes in us for this world championship. We want to show them what we can do."

Semen Varlamov, a first-round draft pick of the Washington Capitals this year, has shored up Russia's goaltending, which was a weakness in the gold-medal losses to Canada the last two years.

"We believe in him," Zubov said. "He's been playing great for us."

The Russians' trademark speed will be an advantage on the wider international ice as they'll have more than four extra metres to work with east-west than they had in Vancouver or Grand Forks.

"They want to play in the middle of the ice," Canadian defenceman Ryan Parent said. "We have to keep the puck along the walls because that's where they don't want to play."

Added Hartsburg: "We can't chase this team, but we're going to have to be very physical on them."

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