Improving Canadian team comes together at last, right moment to reach semifinals

Damon Severson had a funny feeling he’d score in Canada’s quarter-final against Switzerland at the world hockey championship.

“[Thursday] morning, I woke up and I just thought ‘I feel like I’m going to score tonight. I hope I can just get one,”‘ said the 24-year-old from Melville, Sask.

“I didn’t think it was going to be like that, but luckily enough, I was able to get the tying goal.”

The New Jersey Devils defenceman’s blast from the point trickled through Swiss goaltender Leonardo Genoni with just 0.4 seconds left in the third period, pulling Canada into a 2-2 tie to force overtime.

Then, Mark Stone scored his second of the game and seventh of the tournament to win it in overtime, setting up a semifinal against the Czech Republic on Saturday.

WATCH | Canada stuns Switzerland for victory in quarter-final:

Canada tied the Swiss with 0.4 seconds remaining in the third before Mark Stone scored the winner in OT to give the Canadians a 3-2 win. 1:59

“He’s just super clutch for us,” said Severson of Stone, who also assisted on his game-tying marker. “He seems to be coming through in the moments we need him the most. He just does everything so well and he’s a fun guy to be around. It’s been great having him as a teammate so far and hopefully we can keep on winning with him.”

Lone returning semifinalists

Thursday’s heart-stopping win sent Canada (7-1) to the semifinals for a fifth straight year. It also exacts a measure of revenge for the semifinal loss to Switzerland in 2018 that led to the Canadians finishing out of the medals for the first time in four years.

Canada is now the only semifinalist to return to the final four this year after the 2018 medallists from Sweden, Switzerland and the United States were all eliminated in quarter-final action on Thursday.

The Canadian team has improved as the tournament has rolled along, finding its footing after starting off with a 3-1 loss to Finland on May 10.

“We came out and we were a little bit rusty,” said Severson. “A lot of guys hadn’t played in awhile. We sort of came together as a team and as a group and learned to trust and we believe in each other.”

Injuries on defence also threatened Canada, but despite losing Brandon Montour to an MCL sprain and seeing Dante Fabbro forced into a limited role after taking a puck to the mouth, the Canadians gave up just 11 goals in seven games to help secure first place in the Group A standings after the preliminary round.

“I think we have a really capable defence corps and we’ve done a good job so far,” said Severson, who has played top-pairing minutes alongside Darnell Nurse of the Edmonton Oilers.

“A lot of guys play a lot of minutes during the regular season for their own teams back in the NHL. We’re confident. We know we can handle it. It’s just a matter of getting the job done.”

Mantha set to return

Canada’s roster will get a boost in the semifinal when forward Anthony Mantha returns to the lineup after serving a one-game suspension. Mantha is tied with Stone for Canada’s scoring lead. Both players have seven goals and 12 points.

“[Mantha’s] a big body, he’s skilled, he can shoot the puck, he can make plays,” said Severson. “He’s a very well-rounded player and he plays to his strengths — protects the puck so well. He’s been lightning it up so far, so we’re excited to get him back for the next game.”

After Russia takes on Finland in the first semifinal on Saturday, the Canadians are relishing the opportunity to play in front of what’s expected to be a boisterous, pro-Czech crowd at Ondrej Nepela Arena.

“We played against the Slovaks in their home country in Kosice and we had a pretty wild crowd,” Severson said of Canada’s 6-5 win over the host team, which saw the visitors rally from a 4-2 deficit thanks to a last-second goal by Stone. “I think we’re used to the crazy crowds.

“It’s a lot more fun playing in front of a wild crowd rather than a quiet one, so we’re looking forward to having that in front of us for sure.”

Severson isn’t making predictions, though.

“Maybe I’ll come up with something tomorrow,” he said. “As long as Team Canada keeps on winning, that’s all I’m worried about.

“We’ve got a couple more games. We almost didn’t quite get there the other night but we were able to sneak out of that one with a win and now we got a chance at the gold medal. That was the biggest goal, and I’m super excited to get that opportunity.”

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