Canada did the work to top its pool at the world junior men’s hockey championship and earn an advantageous quarterfinal matchup with the Czech Republic.
However, Canada head coach Andre Tourigny said the Czechs finishing fourth in their pool doesn’t make them a pushover.
“We need to remain humble,” the coach said Friday.
Saturday’s other quarterfinal matchups will see Slovakia face the U.S., Russia take on Germany, and Sweden battle Finland.
The semifinals will take place Monday, with the top-seeded winning quarter-final team playing the lowest-seeded team. The second-seeded team will play against the third-seeded team.
The gold and bronze-medal games are Tuesday at Rogers Place.
Quarterfinals are tense affairs that propel a country towards a medal game, and dash medal hopes.
Canada was ousted from medal contention in a quarterfinal loss two years ago in Vancouver, where the host country fell 2-1 in overtime to eventual champion Finland.
Canada (4-0) is favoured against the Czech Republic (2-2), but Tourigny points to the Czechs’ 2-0 blanking of Russia in the preliminary round, and their strong five-on-five play in a tough pool.
“The Czechs did us a favour by beating the Russians and showing how good they can be,” Tourigny said. “There’s no way we’ll take them lightly.”
Canada may be down to a dozen forwards Saturday.
Alex Newhook suffered what looked like a shoulder injury in the first period of Thursday’s 4-1 win over Finland and didn’t skate Friday.
Tourigny called Newhook’s chances of playing Saturday “50-50.”
“If it was today, he would not play,” the coach said.
Connor Zary, who started the tournament as Canada’s 13th forward, will get more ice time if Newhook can’t dress.
The Calgary Flames prospect has talked with retired NHL veteran Shane Doan during the tournament.
Doan, who co-owns Zary’s Kamloops Blazers club team, played for Canada in a Winter Olympics and in five world championships.
“He said ‘no matter what you’ve got to do, you’ve got to keep telling yourself you’re going to be ready. You’ve got to write things down and remember those thing. Those things are little things you’re going to do when that opportunity arises,”’ Zary said.
“That’s something I kind of took to heart and knew that no matter what, I’m going to get a chance to prove myself.”
Canada’s speed up front — every forward is an NHL first-round draft pick — and a relentless forecheck has emerged as the host country’s strengths.
Pool A the easier of the two, Canada didn’t get a real measure of itself until facing Finland.
The Finns are capable of engaging Canada in all three zones, but the hosts didn’t let them by dominating puck possession.
Opposing teams haven’t had the puck enough yet to get 20 shots on Canadian starter Devon Levi in a game.
The 19-year-old’s challenge has been staying warm and maintaining concentration through quiet stretches to make saves when needed.
“It can be a be a tough situation when you don’t have a shot for an extended period of time and suddenly have a scoring chance against, or you get buzzed in your zone, or you’re penalty killing and you need to make the difference,” Tourigny said.
“He did a really good job at it so far.”
The Czechs haven’t finished in the medals since a bronze in 2005 and last won the tournament in 2001 in Moscow.
Nine Czechs returned from the squad that lost 5-0 to Sweden in last year’s quarterfinal in Ostrava, Czech Republic.
Big-minute defenceman Michael Krutil returns to the Czech lineup Saturday after serving a one-game suspension for slew-footing.
Krutil’s defensive partner Radek Kucerik spent last season with the Saskatoon Blades and was coached by Canadian assistant coach Mitch Love.
The Czechs split goaltending duties evenly in the preliminary round between Los Angeles Kings draft pick Lukas Parik and second-year netminder Nick Malik.
Parik posted a 30-save shutout against Russia.