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Canadian Press
Dec 27, 2006, 8:34 PM EST

MORA, Sweden (CP) - The Canadian players aren't about to admit it, but they're successfully through the hardest part of the preliminary round at the world junior hockey championship.

The defending champions defeated the U.S. 6-3 on Wednesday following a 2-0 victory over the host Swedes a day earlier. Those two countries were considered Canada's toughest rivals in Pool A, even though lightly regarded Germany upset the Americans in overtime on Tuesday.

Canada concludes the round robin against Germany on Friday and Slovakia on Sunday and is in a strong position to win the pool and gain the important bye to the semifinal.

The Canadians are guarding against overconfidence, however.

"Germany upset the U.S. so anything could happen," forward Tom Pyatt said. "It's nice to get those first two wins out of the way. Those are two talented teams and we feel a lot better right now."

University of North Dakota forward Jonathan Toews scored twice, including once on a penalty shot that was pivotal in giving his team some breathing room in the third period.

Darren Helm of the Medicine Hat Tigers also scored a pair, including an empty-netter.

Carey Price of the Tri-City Americans stopped 32 shots for his second win and head coach Craig Hartsburg plans to go with him again Friday against the Germans (1 p.m. ET).

Pyatt of the Saginaw Spirit and Steve Downie of the Peterborough Petes also contributed goals in the victory, which put Canada atop Pool A with six points.

Germany beat Slovakia 4-2 to sit second with five points. Switzerland beat Belarus 4-1 in the only Pool B matchup Wednesday.

University of Minnesota defenceman Erik Johnson, the No. 1 pick in this year's NHL draft by St. Louis, Mike Carman and Bill Sweatt replied for the U.S., which has only one point and still has to face the Swedes.

American goaltender Jeff Zatkoff made 21 saves.

Canada's special teams and the play of Price continued to be the difference, but the offence found another gear over the day before against the Swedes with crisper and more confident passes.

While Toews was pleased to convert the penalty shot, there was relief on his face when he scored his first goal of the tournament in the second period.

"It's kind of a monkey off my back because I didn't score all tournament last year," he said. "I was hoping I wouldn't be cursed again."

The Chicago Blackhawks' draft pick was awarded the penalty shot at 9:13 of the third period. He forced a turnover at the U.S. blue-line and went in on Zatkoff alone when Johnson was called for throwing his stick.

Toews beat Zatkoff upstairs glove side on the ensuing penalty shot and it turned out to be pivotal as Sweatt pulled the U.S. within a goal for the second time in the game at 13:50.

"It was an unbelievable shot," Hartsburg said. "That's a tough shot for a left-handed shooter to put it there."

Canada's penalty killers have yet to give up a power-play goal after playing almost 25 minutes a man short in the tournament.

"It starts with goaltending and our defence does a really good job of pressuring and our forwards now are getting good pressure up the ice and are making it tough (for the opposition) to set up," Hartsburg said.

Johnson's goal at 2:24 of the second period ended Canada's shutout streak at 234 minutes 14 seconds, a run stretching back to the 2006 tournament.

The Canadians and Americans know each other well as some are teammates on club and college teams.

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