Canada was looking for payback.
The national team got it, and then some, in a dominant wire-to-wire performance Saturday at the world junior hockey championship.
The Canadians scored three times before their semifinal with Finland was four minutes old in cruising to a 5-0 victory that sets up a mouth-watering gold-medal showdown with Russia on Sunday.
Alexis Lafreniere scored twice, while Connor McMichael, with a goal and an assist, Jamie Drysdale and Ty Dellandrea provided the rest of the offence.
Joel Hofer picked up his fourth straight win and first international shutout. Barrett Hayton, who was hurt in the third period, and Aidan Dudas chipped in with two assists for Canada, which lost in last year’s quarterfinals to the Finns on home soil.
Justus Annunen, who entered with a tournament-best .936 save percentage after blanking the United States 1-0 in the quarters, took the loss for shell-shocked Finland.
Russia, which embarrassed Canada 6-0 in the preliminary round, beat Sweden 5-4 in overtime to take the other semifinal. Finland will meet its Scandinavian rival Sunday for bronze.
Canada beat Russia in the 2015 gold-medal game in Toronto.
The Finns crushed Canadian dreams at the 2019 world juniors on the way to winning their third gold in six years, tying their quarterfinal with under a minute to go on a ridiculous carom to silence the crowd in Vancouver.
Canada had a couple of glorious chances to secure the victory in overtime, but captain Max Comtois was stopped on a penalty shot before Noah Dobson’s stick broke as he stared at a yawning, empty cage.
Finland immediately broke the other way, and shutdown defenceman Toni Utunen took a drop pass and wired a shot upstairs on Michael DiPietro to shatter Canadian dreams.
There would be no repeat on this night at a jam-packed, boisterous, beer-chugging Ostravar Arena.
Canada, which hasn’t won gold when the event’s been played in Europe since the Czech Republic last hosted in 2008, got off to a flying start just 1:48 in when McMichael — a late injury addition to the team’s summer camp — wired his fourth goal of the under-20 tournament past Annunen’s glove.
The projected No. 1 pick at the 2020 NHL draft, Lafreniere made it 2-0 with his third at 3:05 when he took a nice feed from Nolan Foote, who returned to action after getting ejected 53 seconds into Thursday’s 6-1 quarterfinal victory over Slovakia, and roofed a backhand shortside with a flick of the wrists.
The vocal, well-lubricated Canadian fans who made the long trek to the eastern Czech Republic were on dream street, and the deluge continued just 50 seconds later when Drysdale, a 17-year-old draft-eligible defenceman pushed up the lineup with Bowen Byram out sick, moved into the slot before ripping his first to make it three goals in just over two minutes.
— #WorldJuniors (@HC_WJC) January 4, 2020
Hofer, who had never played internationally at any level before grabbing the reins from Nico Daws in the Russia loss, made a nice save later in the period to keep things at 3-0.
Black-clad Canada got its fourth with 5:11 left in the period when Dudas poked the puck away from Annunen and Dellandrea pounced for his third.
Saturday’s game included five players that suited up for Canada in last years quarters — Lafreniere, Hayton, Joe Veleno, Jared McIsaac and Ty Smith — while Finland had three returnees in Utunen, Ville Heinola and Anttoni Honka.
The calm, cool Hofer snagged Finnish captain Lassi Thomson’s shot on a 2-on-1 in the second period.
Moments after Veleno bit the post, Lafreniere scored his fourth on a bullet shot to make it 5-0 with 2:07 left in the period for the 17-time gold medallists.
The only downside on an otherwise perfect night for Canada came early in the third period when Hayton, who is tied for the tournament lead with 11 points, appeared to injure his left arm or shoulder after crashing into the end boards as he battled with Thomson.
Having punched above its weight on the international scene in recent years after winning just two of the first 37 world juniors, Finland wound up being no match for its opponent’s speed, structure and desire.
Canadian fans started chanting ”We Want Russia!” midway through the third.
They’re going to get their wish.
Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press