Canada gets by to semifinal at world juniors with 4-1 win over Russia
Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press
Published Monday, December 31, 2012 11:31AM EST
Last Updated Monday, December 31, 2012 4:57PM EST
UFA, Russia -- Ryan Nugent-Hopkins assisted on three Canadian goals in a 4-1 win over Russia at the world junior hockey championship Monday.
Canada finished the preliminary round 4-0 to sew up first place in Pool B.
The Canadians earn a bye to Thursday's semifinal when they'll play the winner of the quarter-final between the United States and Czech Republic.
Defending champion Sweden finished first in Pool A and awaits the winner of the quarter-final between Russia and Switzerland.
The extra day of rest is welcome for a Canadian team that has been far from home since Dec. 15, when they flew out of Calgary to pre-competition camp in Finland.
"It's been a long haul to this point," Canadian head coach Steve Spott said. "We haven't had a day off, so with a lot of travel and a lot of time zones, we'll enjoy tomorrow as a team and then we'll move forward from there."
Nugent-Hopkins assisted on goals by Dougie Hamilton, Mark Scheifele and Jonathan Drouin. Jonathan Huberdeau added an empty-net goal.
Malcolm Subban picked up his fourth win of the tournament in Canada's net with 21 saves.
Nikita Kucherov scored for Russia and goaltender Andrei Makarov of the Western Hockey League's Saskatoon Blades made 44 saves.
The New Year's Eve game in Ufa was highly anticipated. The host country and Canada are tournament favourites and the 8,250-seat Ufa Arena was full for the game that would determine first place in the pool.
"Tonight we were nervous," Spott said. "You could tell before the game and that's a good sign of preparation in our minds."
The game also featured Nugent-Hopkins and Russian forward Nail Yakupov, who were the first overall selections of the last two NHL entry drafts by the Edmonton Oilers.
A five-minute major and game misconduct in the first period to Russian Valeri Nichushkin for checking Canadian defenceman Tyler Wotherspoon from behind was the key for Canada. Hamilton and Scheifele both scored power-play goals during the major to give the visitors a 2-0 lead.
"That was a critical moment," Spott said. "Obviously the opportunity to silence a crowd that was so incredibly loud in building . . . to get the early power play and to capitalize on it, it was definitely the turning point in the game."
Spott moved 17-year-old Drouin onto the top line of Nugent-Hopkins and Scheifele for the first time. The Halifax Mooseheads forward scored a pretty goal in the second period, tucking the puck between Makarov's pad and the post.
Canada played 13 forwards for the first time in the tournament.
Faceoff and penalty-killing specialist Boone Jenner returned to the lineup after a three-game suspension assessed on the eve of the tournament for a hit in a pre-tournament game. JC Lipon served a one-game suspension Sunday versus the United States.
A full complement of forwards made Canada more effective on the backcheck and provided more support for their defencemen.
"Tonight, having those extra forwards, it allowed our defence to hold our gaps and we had great legs," Spott said. "We had really, really good legs. We got to loose pucks first."