In a game in which it looked as though all the bounces were fated to go against Canada, it was a late deflection off a Finnish stick that made the difference in the Canadians' 4-2 victory Wednesday in the quarterfinals of the World Junior Championship.
Not the least of these is who to start in net. It was just two days ago that Canadian coach
He wasn't brutal by any means. In fact, Mason was good enough for the win, moving his tournament record to 3-0, with a 1.00 GAA and .951 save percentage. Impressive numbers to be sure, but he opened the debate after an early first-period slapper from outside the blue line by
That one might be written off as an unlucky bounce, but neither goal inspires the confidence Canada has had in previous big-game goalies like
It certainly won't be their physical play. Previous Canadian entries hammered the will to compete out of opponents with an early barrage of hits, softening them up before allowing their skill to take over. Despite the presence of several purported bangers -- Marchand (Boston Bruins),
And while Canada outchanced the Finns by a wide margin -- 28-9 by Hartsburg's postgame reckoning -- its pop-gun offense managed to put just three past surprise starter
All that said, there are some positive marks on the ledger after this win. The Canadians dominated the flow against the Finns, and earned that edge by consistently going hard to the net, something they'd failed to do through much of the round robin. The defense is making fewer mistakes, and while the defensemen are still hard-pressed to hit the net from the point, they're making smarter decisions with the puck.
Most important, the team may finally have found its offensive catalysts in a trio of 17-year-olds. After wasting him as a power play specialist for the prelims, Hartsburg finally caved and gave
Their success -- and Mason's stumbles -- puts the onus for Friday's game directly on Hartsburg. If he plays it safe, the Americans should advance to face the winner of Sweden/Russia for the gold medal. But if he gives the ice to the players who've truly earned it -- and if he taps Bernier for the start -- this one could live up to the rematch hype.