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Canada finds its spark, outlasts Russia

Canada advanced to Sunday’s gold-medal game with a hard-fought, 3-2 victory over Russia in the first semifinal Friday evening at the IPC Ice Sledge Hockey World Championships at HarborCenter.

Rematch: Canada is defending champion of the event, having defeated the United States, 1-0, in the 2013 World final in South Korea. They’ll meet again Sunday afternoon after the U.S. ousted Norway, 6-0, in the second semifinal .

Streak snapped: Canada had not allowed a goal in its first three games, but Russia snapped 133-minute Canadian shutout streak when Ilia Volkov scored with 1:36 left in the first period. It was set up by a pretty cross-ice pass from Ivan Kuznetsov.

Pumped up: Canadian players credited coach Ken Babey with jump-starting the team during a fiery locker-room speech after the first period.

“We showed up to the rink with a literal metric ton of energy, and then the game time came and no one lit the fuse,” said Canada’s Billy Bridges. “Our coach came in in the first intermission, and that was one of the coolest talks I’ve ever been a part of. He lit the fuse without even trying. He got us screaming in the room. He came in screaming but also with an extreme sense of positivity.”

“We talked about the importance of this opportunity and don’t let it slip by because you’re not giving everything you have,” Babey said. “There’s no tomorrow.”

Olympic couple: Canada’s first two goals were scored by Bridges. He has represented Canada in four Paralympic Games. He’s married to Sami Jo Small, who played on three Canadian Olympic women’s ice hockey teams.

The goals by Bridges gave Canada a 2-1 lead after two periods. The first goal was all hustle. He skated the length of the ice to chase down a Canadian clearing pass and knocked it past Russian goalie Evgenii Plotnikov just as the puck reached the crease. Bridges then scored on a power play with 46 seconds left in the period. Bridges has nine goals in four games.

“I’m the slowest player on the ice,” Bridges said. “I think I blocked out a little bit and got ahead of them. I knew we needed to do something. The goalie was making the outside saves. I thought why not just drive the net and see what we can make happen. I’m not sure how it went in but we got the right bounce.”

Costly penalties: Russia’s Nikolay Terentyev was in the penalty box for Canada’s second and third goals. The latter score was by Adam Dixon, who picked up a puck along the boards and skated in all alone to beat the goalie with a wrist shot.

“If the game was like that all the time, I’d score a ton of goals,” Dixon said.

Saturday games: Japan plays the Czech Republic in the seventh-place game at 4:30 p.m. The Czech Republic went 1-2 in group play but had a goal differential of only minus-3. The Czechs were upset by previously winless Germany, 1-0, in a quarterfinal game on Thursday. Japan went 0-3 and lost, 5-1, to Italy in its quarterfinal. That was the lone goal of the event for Japan. Italy faces Germany in the fifth-place game at 8 p.m. Italy beat Germany, 1-0, during the group stage of play.

Medal games: The bronze medal game is at 11 a.m. Sunday. The gold-medal game is at 2:30 p.m., both at HarborCenter. Tickets are $20 and are available at the First Niagara Center box office and at tickets.com.

Television: The gold-medal game airs live on NBC Sports Network.

email: mgaughan@buffnews.com