COLOGNE, Germany — Russia reached the podium at the last two world hockey championships but was forced to watch as the arch-rival Canadians took their perch on the top step.
The hockey powerhouses will meet again in Saturday’s semifinal at the Lanxess Arena with Russia looking to eliminate any chance of its longtime foe winning gold for a third straight year.
Russia has looked very strong at the tournament even though star forwards Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin are not with the team. Artemi Panarin has 14 points in seven games and Russia leads all teams with 38 goals scored and just nine against. Goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy has recorded three of Russia’s four shutouts.
Canada coach Jon Cooper said he’s not planning to make any major adjustments ahead of the showdown.
“I’m not a big believer in changing your game plan,” he said. “We’ve got a pretty good thing going right now. The guys are believing in what we’re doing. Some of the big keys will be special teams, who’s going to bend and who’s going to break.
“This is Canada versus Russia. May the best team win.”
Finland and Sweden will face off in Saturday’s other semifinal. The medal games are set for Sunday.
Canada hasn’t won three straight gold medals at this tournament since the early 1950s. The Czech Republic was the last team to three-peat (1999-2001).
Canada went 6-0-1-0 in the preliminary round to finish with a tournament-high 19 points, with the only loss coming in overtime to Switzerland. Canada edged Germany 2-1 in Thursday’s quarter-final.
The Russians, meanwhile, went undefeated in their first six games before dropping a 5-3 decision to the United States in their final game of the preliminary round. Russia bounced back by shutting out the Czechs 3-0 in the quarter-finals.
Russia won bronze as the host country in Moscow last year after dropping a 6-1 decision to Canada in the 2015 championship game. Russia last won gold in 2014.
“I’ve played against Russia a million times,” Canada forward Matt Duchene said. “They’re a high-octane offence. They like to make plays. If you play into their transition game, they’re going to crush you.”
Duchene is one of seven players on this year’s Canadian team who won gold two years ago in Prague.
“It was a big test for us,” Canada forward Nathan MacKinnon said of that game. “They had a really good team. They had Ovechkin, Malkin, a lot of good players, and we dominated, which was fun. That’s definitely the best memory.”
In their day jobs in the NHL, Vasilevskiy and forwards Nikita Kucherov and Vladislav Namestnikov play for Cooper as members of the Tampa Bay Lightning. That makes for some mixed emotions.
“You’re always pulling for your players,” Cooper said. “As this tournament has gone on, I’ve been pulling for Kuch (Kucherov) and Vladdy (Namestnikov) and I’ve been watching Vassy (Vasilevskiy) play goal and I’m really excited for the way he’s playing. But for one game, I’m not going to be pulling for him.
“I love those guys. We’ve had success in the NHL and they deserve to be on Team Russia but it’s not Jon Cooper versus Tampa Bay players. It’s Canada versus Russia and that should be a lot of fun.”