Canada soars past Slovakia to WJC final

Canada advanced to the final of the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship with a 5-1 victory over Slovakia on Sunday at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto./p>

The win, aided by a Nic Petan hat-trick, sets up a mouth-watering Canada-Russia final, a classic match-up at any level with deep emotional ties in Canadian hockey for the last four decades.

In a closely contested first period, Slovakia looked nothing like the timid squad that was destroyed 8-0 by Hockey Canada‘s juniors in the teams’ tournament opening encounter.

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Petan’s power play goal to the glove side of Slovakia goalie Denis Godla at 4:27 of the first separated the sides with six shots each. Equally important to Petan’s goal was a stellar stop by Canadian netminder Zach Fucale on a Pavol Skalicky breakaway to preserve the 1-0 first period advantage.

Zach Fucale stops Pavol Skalicky on a first period breakaway.

Canada began to assert itself offensively – and physically – in the second period. A Max Domi hit at centre ice had the ACC crowd chanting his last name, much as they did when his father Tie put on the local blue and white colours of the Maple Leafs.

With momentum firmly on Canada’s side, Petan got his second of the night at 18:06 of the second period, shelving one over a sprawling Godla just as the goalscorer himself was sliding away from the action and it was 2-0 Canada.

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Less than 90 seconds later, a Canadian rush produced a 3-0 Canadian lead when Shea Theodore neatly finished off a pass from Anthony Duclair.

Slovakia clawed one back with just three seconds left in the second, David Soltes frustrating the Canadians after a rare moment of lapse in the tournament and the teams entered the third period at 3-1 for Canada.

Surely head coach Benoit Groulx expressed his dismay at allowing Slovakia a slight opening back into the game, and Canada came out in the third period looking to right that wrong.

Duclair restored Canada’s three-goal lead at 2:47 of the third before Petan completed his hat-trick at 11:59 making it 5-1. Curtis Lazar and Connor McDavid assisted on all three Petan goals.

In the earlier semifinal, Russia beat Sweden 4-1 to set up the first part of the Monday final in Toronto. Alexander Sharov scored twice for Russia in the victory. It was Sweden’s first loss of the tournament.

The Canada-Russia game, which always jogs Canadian minds back to the 1972 Summit Series, will be at 8 p.m. ET on Monday at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre (live on TSN).

More to come.

Scott Harrigan
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