UFA, Russia — Canadian junior hockey team coach Steve Spott asked his players at a team meeting if anyone had something they wanted to say. Dougie Hamilton put up his hand.
The Niagara IceDogs defenceman is one of six players on the Canadian team who were stunned to fall behind 6-1 to Russia in the semifinal of last year’s world junior hockey championship.
Canada mounted a third-period comeback in Calgary, but lost their chance at a gold medal in a 6-5 loss. It was the first time in 11 years Canada hadn’t played for gold.
As in 2012, this year’s team earned a bye to the semifinal by finishing first in their pool in Ufa, Russia.
That gave the Canadians a day off from the ice on New Year’s Day, plus a day of preparation while their semifinal opponent — the United States — beat the Czech Republic 7-0 in Wednesday’s quarter-final.
Defending champion Sweden will take on Russia in the other semifinal. The Russians edged Switzerland 4-3 in a shootout in their quarter-final.
After the players had their day off Tuesday, Hamilton felt it necessary to drive home the message that the bye is not necessarily an advantage in this tournament.
“I just said last year with the time off we had, I don’t think we were prepared for the semis,” the Boston Bruins prospect explained. “You’re 4-0 and have a little bit of expectation that you’re going to just keep winning and think maybe things are going to be easy.
“Russia played the night before and it went into overtime I think. They were ready the next day and hungry and we were just kind of sitting there watching.
“We’ve got to come out tomorrow and come ready to play.”
Defenceman Scott Harrington and forwards Jonathan Huberdeau, Ryan Strome, Mark Scheifele and Boone Jenner are the other veterans from that crushing loss to Russia last year. It’s not a happy memory for them, but one that those players can use Thursday.
“It was in my head for a long time, but after, you can’t do anything about it. This year we don’t want to have that,” Huberdeau said. “What we want to do the most is have a good first period.”
The United States didn’t have to drain their tanks against the Czech Republic. Canada edged the Americans 2-1 in a Pool B game Sunday.
“When we have opportunities to score, we better score,” said U.S. coach Phil Housley. “They haven’t allowed a lot of goals. We’ve got our hands full with Canada.”
Spott turned up the volume in Canada’s practice Wednesday morning with the occasional bark at his players.
“It was important for us to manufacture what the Czechs and the Americans are going to have to go through (today),” he explained. “We had to get back to the level we’d been at.”
Canada was down two forwards to 11 because of suspensions in their round-robin game against the U.S. The Canadians will have the full complement of 13 for the rematch, which in theory should boost Canada’s scoring chances.
Spott intends to leave 17-year-old Jonathan Drouin on Canada’s top line with captain Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Scheifele when Canada is at even strength. It was a move he’d made Monday against Russia and Drouin scored an important goal in the second period.
The semifinal could be another goaltending duel between Canadian netminder Malcolm Subban and U.S. counterpart John Gibson, who were both outstanding in their preliminary-round game. Gibson is Spott’s goaltender with the Ontario Hockey League’s Kitchener Rangers.
The U.S. lineup features eight players out of the Canadian Hockey League, including Portland Winterhawks defenceman Seth Jones — a teammate of Canada’s Ty Rattie — and Tyler Biggs, who along with Jenner plays for the Oshawa Generals.
Jenner was one of the two players suspended for Sunday’s game against the Americans.
“We know how good the Americans are,” Spott said. “We know them, primarily a lot of them from the Canadian Hockey League and John Gibson is a player who plays for me.
“We’ve got a good book on them, but they’re very good and we’re going to have to be a lot more disciplined than the Czechs were today.”
Left-wingers John Gaudreau and Alex Galyenchuk inject speed into the U.S. forward lines. Defenceman Jacob Trouba has four goals and three assists in four games.
The U.S. finished seventh in 2012, so this team is motivated to return to the elite level in this tournament.
“The team that wins the tournament is the team that gets better every game,” captain Jake McCabe said. “We haven’t seen our best hockey yet in this tournament.”
Since the world junior tournament switched to pool play from a round-robin format in 1996, a semifinal bye was awarded to pool winners with the exception of 1999 and three tournaments from 2000 to 2002. All playoff teams participated in a quarter-final those years.
Three of the last five gold medallists have come through a quarter-final, including Russia (2011), the U.S. (2010) and Canada (2008).