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Canada rides sizzling power play, Batherson hat trick into World Juniors final

After last year's heartbreaking shootout loss in the final of the World Junior Hockey Championship, Canada's goal throughout this year's tournament has been to return to the biggest game of the event and give itself a chance at redemption.

From that perspective, the Canadians have reached mission accomplished status, but they know there still is much work to be done – especially if they want to avoid the same post-tournament feeling they experienced in Montreal.

Canada advanced to Friday night's gold-medal game by routing the Czech Republic, 7-2, in a semifinal clash Thursday night at KeyBank Center. Drake Batherson scored three times for a Canadian outfit that once again played a selfless, determined team game – receiving contributions from so many that they easily overwhelmed another opponent.

Except the Czechs weren't just another opponent like Switzerland or Denmark -- two teams the Canadians easily rolled earlier in the event. The Czech Republic came in having beaten always tough Russia and also playing a close game in defeat against tournament finalist Sweden during the preliminary round.

The Czechs came in with the second-best power play and one of the top goaltenders in terms of save percentage in the tournament.

None of that mattered Thursday as the Canadians scored seven straight goals after spotting the Czechs an early 1-0 lead to earn a shot at the title against the Swedes at 8 p.m. Friday at KeyBank Center.

"It's where we wanted to be so it's nice to have that opportunity," said Canadian captain Dillon Dube, one of seven returnees from last year's silver-medalist outfit. "We played a good game tonight. We're battling every game. … Hopefully it works out for us."

The Canadian fans among the 6,941 in attendance were already in a giddy mood prior to the opening faceoff in wake of the United States' semifinal loss to Sweden that ended the Americans' reign as world champion.

The red and white faithful only got happier as the night went on, although there was a slight cause for concern after the Czech Republic's Filip Zadina scored just 5 minutes, 55 seconds into the game to put Canada in an early hole.

The Canadians seized control by cashing in on their power-play chances, finishing 3 for 4.

On the first man advantage, Sam Steel's one-time blast off the attached net camera with 4:55 left in the period tied it. Three minutes later on another power play, Batherson redirected a point shot from Cale Makar past Czech goaltender Josef Korenar. Batherson's next goal, also on the power play, was nearly identical to his first, except Makar fired it from closer to the left wall to make it 3-1 with 12:12 left in the second period.

That strike was the first of four Canadian goals in a span of 9:10, a run Batherson capped with a close-in nifty finish, that ended any Czech hopes of beating Canada in this tournament for the first time since 2014.

Maxime Comtois and Jordan Kyrou also scored during the run. Boris Katchouk closed the scoring for Canada, while Cale Makar finished with two assists. Goalie Carter Hart made 18 saves.

By the third period, Canadian fans who happily sang along to the lyrics of the team's official goal song started chanting "we want the gold."

They're not the only ones, but the players know it'll be a tough challenge trying to win the country's 17th gold medal against a Swedish team that's won each of its tournament games.

Still ...

"We're good," Dube said. "They have a fast, skilled team and so do we. It's going to be a really good match up."

"I think we're all hungry to go get that gold," Batherson said. "We're going to give it everything we've got."

The Czechs will try to win a medal for the first time since 2005 when they face the U.S. at 4 p.m. Friday in the bronze-medal game.

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