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Kassian creates holes in Swiss D ; Big body on ice for three Canadian goals

Would Zack Kassian have made a difference for Team Canada against Sweden last Friday?

Maybe, maybe not -- but the Canadians would have had another big body on hand to make life difficult for the Swedes.

Switzerland found out just how much of a handful Kassian can be during Sunday's World Junior Hockey Championship quarterfinal at HSBC Arena.

The Sabres' prospect did the gritty work that didn't show up on the score sheet early but allowed his linemates to score. He then got to soak in the applause when his empty-netter late in the third period capped Canada's 4-1 comeback triumph over the Swiss.

Kassian was on the ice for three of the Canadians' goals and used his size to cause the Swiss problems whenever he got the chance.

No, Kassian did not run anyone through the glass. He was a force playing a smarter game and gave his team a chance to get revenge on the United States today. Canada has been waiting for this opportunity since John Carlson's OT goal gave the Americans the gold medal in Saskatoon last year.

"It was a 3-1 game. I wasn't running around trying to hit guys too much," said Kassian, who was a plus-2. "I was playing it safe. There's no need to run around when it's 3-1."

Kassian was suspended for the past two games because of his thunderous, open-ice hit that KO'd Czech Republic defenseman Petr Senkerik in Canada's 7-2 win last Tuesday. The five-minute penalty he received drew an automatic one-game suspension. The IIHF disciplinary judge tacked on an additional one, which meant Kassian was a spectator as Canada lost in a shootout Friday to Sweden.

"You definitely want to come back and do something for your team [after that]," he said. Obviously sitting up there [in the press box] against Sweden and then losing is not a good feeling. It was nice to contribute a bit but our next task is USA and they're a good team so we're going to have to play as a team and hopefully everything handles itself."

Kassian screened Swiss goalie Benjamin Conz and drew the attention of a defenseman to open up a passing lane and give Ryan Johansen space to knock in a loose puck for the game-tying goal late in the first period on the power play. Canada had been 1 for 6 on the power play in Kassian's absence after going 7 for 11 in its first two games. It went 1 for 5 Sunday.

"He's an impact player," said fellow Sabres prospect and linemate Marcus Foligno. "He has a big role on the power play and he's a big boy out there. Whenever we get a body like Zack Kassian out there it's going to help create space."

Kassian and linemates Johansen and Foligno did that Sunday and provided the spark a nervous-looking Canadians crew needed to calm down and seize control.

"It was huge," Canada captain Ryan Ellis said of Kassian's return. "He's tough to move down low. That whole line they were dynamite."

e-mail: mrodriguez@buffnews.com