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Canada quietly confident heading into medal round at world juniors

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Canadian Press
Dec 31, 2006, 3:34 PM EST

LEKSAND, Sweden (CP) - Winning isn't enough for the Canadian junior men's hockey team at this point.

Canada concluded the preliminary round with a 3-0 win over Slovakia on Sunday to go undefeated in four games and the Canadians accomplished that on the strength of excellent special teams and goaltending.

But there was no swagger in the team on Sunday.

"We haven't won anything yet so for sure we have a lot left to do," defenceman Luc Bourdon said.

The defending champions have outscored their opposition 14-4 so far.

"We've done some good things," was as much praise as head coach Craig Hartsburg would give.

Medicine Hat Tigers defenceman Kris Russell scored a pair of goals for the second game in a row and Steve Downie of the Peterborough Petes collected his third goal of the tournament in the win over Slovakia.

Goaltender Carey Price of the Tri-City Americans earned his second shutout by stopping 32 shots.

Canada's opponent in Wednesday's semifinal will be the winner of a quarter-final match between Finland and the U.S. on Tuesday.

Russia also went 4-0 to top Pool B and awaits the quarter-final winner between Sweden and the Czech Republic.

If Sweden advances, the host country meets Russia in the later semifinal Wednesday and Canada will play in the earlier game.

If Sweden gets knocked out, Canada will play the late semifinal.

The Americans pulled out a 3-2 win in overtime over Sweden on Sunday. A loss would have dropped the U.S. to the relegation round.

Russia hammered Finland 5-0 to secure the bye and the Czech Republic got into the medal round with a 4-2 win over Switzerland.

As expected, Canada's defencemen have been the key to the team's success so far.

They've kept shots where Price can see them, which has helped him to a 1.00 goals-against average.

"It's easy to play with a team like that," Price said. "They really helped me out."

The back end has been positionally sound and supported their defence partners with smart backchecking in the rare instances there's been a breach on the blue-line.

Their savvy passing has generated scoring chances for the forwards and the defencemen also account for over a third of Canada's goals.

Russell leads the team with four, which is the most by any Canadian defenceman at a world junior tournament.

"Everyone is contributing and doing what they can and not playing out of their boundaries and really playing a team game," Russell said.

Val-d'Or Foreurs defenceman Kris Letang, also Canada's captain, has five assists and Bourdon of the Moncton Wildcats has a goal and two assists.

Price may get a lot of help from his defencemen, but he has faced over 30 shots in three of the four preliminary-round games.

He's a major reason why Canada's penalty kill is the best in the tournament as he has made game-saving stops when his team has had a player or two in the penalty box, as it did often against Slovakia.

Half of Canada's goals have been scored with a man advantage, but Russia and Finland have better power-play percentages than Canada.

Canada needs to get more goal production at even strength.

The trio of centre Andrew Cogliano and wingers Steve Downie and Brad Marchand has stayed intact since selection camp. Downie, of the Peterborough Petes, leads all forwards with three goals and two assists.

But head coach Craig Hartsburg has been mixing and matching his other three lines looking for sparks.

Jonathan Toews and Ryan O'Marra had their third different left-winger Sunday as Tom Pyatt was moved up from third-line centre.

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