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Canada in the underdog role at world juniors

Jack Campbell of the United States plays in goal against Slovakia during the 2011 IIHF World U20 Championship game between the United States and Slovakia on December 28, 2010 at the HSBC Arena in Buffalo.

Rick Stewart/2010 Getty Images

Now that the big showdown with the United States is at hand, it is clear the forecasts of Canada as the underdog are all too accurate.

The United States rolled through the preliminary round and into Monday night's world junior hockey championship semi-final undefeated. The Americans sport the best goaltender in the tournament in Jack Campbell and his .957 save percentage in four games.

All you can say about Canada in that department is there are two goaltenders on the team, even if Monday's starter, Mark Visentin of the Ontario Hockey League's Niagara IceDogs, has a .963 save percentage. However, that is from two games against mighty Norway and Switzerland and it includes what could be the worst goal of the tournament, one that gave the Swiss the early lead in the quarter-final and gave Canada a big scare.

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"It doesn't matter what it's sliced or diced on paper," Canadian head coach Dave Cameron said Monday morning. "We've got to win the game."

One thing in Canada's favour is the Americans might be undefeated but they would not be in the semi-finals without Campbell. The Americans scored a mere 15 goals so far and their top scorer, forward Charlie Coyle, sits 14th in the tournament scoring race with six points in four games. Canadian centre Brayden Schenn is the leader with 16 points in five games.

However, the Americans do have lots of speed and Canada's defence is not impressing anyone so far. The defencemen looked slow and tentative against the speedy Swedes in the loss that cost Canada the Group B bye into the semi-finals.

But Campbell, who plays for the Windsor Spitfires of the OHL, will be the key to the game. If the Canadian forwards can rattle him, they have a chance to make Wednesday's gold-medal game.

"The challenge we have is not the number of shots, it's the quality of shots," Cameron said. "We have to get traffic, tips in front of him."

Something else the Canadians have going for them is the crowd. The vast majority of ticket sales for the tournament were to Canadians and this crowd is expected to reflect that.

Cameron, who relishes conversation the way Brian Burke relishes discussion of the Phil Kessel trade, was asked what he expects from the crowd: "I expect noise."

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About the Author
Hockey columnist

A native of Wainfleet, Ont., David Shoalts joined The Globe in 1984 after working at the Calgary Herald, Calgary Sun and Toronto Sun. He graduated in 1978 from Conestoga College and also attended the University of Waterloo. More

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