OSTRAVA, Czech Republic — 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.
“We wanted to come out strong,” Dellandrea said. “It was fun to hop on them right away and get the momentum.”
Joel Hofer picked up his fourth straight win and first international shutout with a 32-save performance. Barrett Hayton, who was hurt in the third period, and Aidan Dudas chipped in with two assists each for Canada, which lost in last year’s quarterfinals to the Finns on home soil.
Head coach Dale Hunter didn’t have an update on his captain and No. 1 centre, but it didn’t look good as the Arizona Coyotes rookie, who leads the tournament scoring race with 11 points, skated off in pain after crashing into the boards.
“He’s a huge factor,” said Joe Veleno, the obvious choice to take Hayton’s spot if he can’t go. “We’ve got a really deep team, so even if he’s not in the lineup guys will step up.”
Justus Annunen, who entered with a .936 save percentage after blanking the United States 1-0 in the quarters, allowed five goals on 39 shots for shell-shocked Finland.
“Canada was better,” said forward Matias Maccelli, whose team was missing its top-2 centres because of injury. “They deserve what they have.”
Russia, which embarrassed Canada 6-0 in the preliminary round for the country’s worst-ever loss at the world juniors, beat Sweden 5-4 in overtime to take the other semifinal. Finland will meet its Scandinavian neighbour Sunday for bronze.
The Canadians, who topped Russia in the 2015 gold-medal game in Toronto and will be facing their rival for the ninth time in the final, are eager to get another crack at the group that spanked them on Dec. 28.
“We’re a better team than we were,” Dellandrea said. “We’ve come a long way and gone through a lot of adversity to shape the team we are now.”
“It was a teaching point,” Hunter said of how that loss impacted his roster going forward. “We’ve been playing better defence.”
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.
There would be no repeat on this night at a jam-packed, boisterous, beer-chugging Ostravar Arena.
Canada, which hasn’t stood on the podium in Europe since winning gold the last time the event was played in the Czech Republic 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.
Lafreniere, the projected No. 1 pick at the 2020 NHL draft, 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.
The vocal, well-lubricated Canadian fans that made the long trek 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.
“The opportunity I got was really exciting. I tried to make the most of it,” said Drysdale, who only got the tap on the shoulder shortly before puck drop and finished second on his team with 20:28 of ice time. “The nerves were there, but our team’s really supportive and behind each other.”
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.
“He’s a very composed guy, very calm,” said Drysdale, who rooms with Hofer. “He does his thing in net, and we’re very grateful for it.”
“He’s stepped it up,” Hunter added of the goalie now sporting a .946 save percentage. “That’s what’s great about hockey. You never know.”
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, Veleno, Jared McIsaac and Ty Smith — while Finland had three returnees in Utunen, Ville Heinola and Anttoni Honka.
“They definitely wanted these guys back,” Foote said. “It was a sour taste for them.”
Moments after Veleno hit the post, Lafreniere scored his fourth on a bullet shot to make it 5-0 with 2:07 left in the second for the 17-time gold medallists.
“I’ve dreamed of this as a kid and I’ve watched this all on TV,” Veleno said of Sunday’s final. “It’s going to be real special.”
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 Canada’s speed, skill, structure and desire.
Fans started chanting “We Want Russia!” midway through the third.
They’re going to get their wish.