A hat trick from Drake Batherson helped lift Canada over the Czech Republic and into the gold medal game against Sweden at the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship.
Batherson (New Minas, N.S./Cape Breton, QMJHL) had four points in the 7-2 semi-final win and is now tied for the goal scoring leader of the tournament with six goals in seven games.
“Not getting the invite this summer, I think I saw a few guys last year who had a good start; got an invite to came and ended up making the team so maybe I thought I could be like that and it’s worked out. I just worked on my game all summer, just progressing as a player and getting better every day,” said Batherson about his impact in his first international experience representing Canada.
Canada, which includes B.C. players Dillon Dubé (Cochrane, Alta/Kelowna Rockets, WHL), Cal Foote (Kelowna/Kelowna Rockets, WHL) and former Penticton Vees player Dante Fabbro (Coquitlam/Boston University, HE), heads to the gold medal game for the second straight year. They are one win away from extending their world juniors record to 17 gold medals in 24 tournaments.
Sweden is seeking their 16th gold medal, but first they will have to figure out how to solve Canada’s power play, the best in the tournament with a 56.5 per cent effectiveness rate. Canada has out scored opponents 36-10.
“It’s going to be a different game, it’s a tournament and it’s a different group. I think our guys have learned a lot this year. We went through a lot in the first round and tonight with the way we played the game, trailing 1-0 early, guys didn’t panic and we established our game. All those things we need to take and play our best game (Friday). They (Sweden) have a lot of skill and they’re playing well, there’s a reason why they’re in the final. It will be a great game,” said Canadian head coach Dom Ducharme.
Friday marks 10 years to the day that Matt Halischuk scored in overtime to give Canada a 3-2 win over Sweden and their fourth consecutive gold.
In the other semi-final, the host U.S. were downed by Sweden 4-2. Sweden opened scoring in that game with 6:30 remaining in the first period. They then scored three goals in a two-minute span near the midway mark of the middle frame to give them a 4-0 lead.
“This was a tough night for us but I thought we fought to the very end,” said Bob Motzko, head coach of the 2018 U.S. National Junior Team. “Fortunately, this tournament isn’t over. There’s still a medal at stake and I know our guys are going to be ready to make our country proud.”
The gold medal game takes place at 5 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 5. The U.S. will face the Czech Republic in the bronze medal final at 1 p.m.