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Kerry Collins, Published April 19 2009

U.S., Russia set for showdown

The Americans were happy just to be playing for the gold medal at this year’s IIHF World U18 hockey championships.

Getting a chance to avenge their only loss of the tournament makes things that much better.

The United States will take on Russia at 7 p.m. today for the gold medal.

The Russians beat the United States 6-5 to finish pool play on Tuesday.

“Any time you get to the gold medal game, you don’t care who it’s against,” United States defenseman Cam Fowler said. “But to get another crack at Russia adds a little bit to it for us.”

The United States advanced with a thrilling 2-1 win over rival Canada in Friday’s semifinals.

The Russians’ semifinal wasn’t so close, as they blasted Finland

4-0 to avenge their only loss in the tournament.

A big reason why the Russians are playing for a gold medal is goaltender Igor Bobkov.

The netminder’s 216 saves in the tournament are 56 more than the next closest player – Germany’s Lukas Steinhauer.

Bobkov has made a staggering 145 stops in his last three games alone, and takes a save percentage of 93.51 into the gold-medal game.

“He has done a good job and he’s kept the whole team in the game – that’s why he’s here,” said Russian coach Vladimir Plyuschev through a translator. “The main goal for this group was to get back to the gold medal game.

“It doesn’t matter to us who we play.”

The Americans have found their own stalwart between the pipes in goaltender Jack Campbell.

Campbell didn’t start until the Americans’ third game of pool play, but he’s sparkled in the medal round – helping the U.S. beat the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals and Canada in the semis.

His .960 save percentage and 0.99 goals-against average are both tops in the tournament.

“Jack has been outstanding,” U.S. coach Ron Rolston said. “He’s inexperienced, but one of the best things he’s done is handle the puck and manage the puck.

“He’s making a lot of good decisions.”

Russia has been the thorn in side of the United States for a few years in this tournament.

The Russians downed the Americans 3-1 in the semifinals of last year’s tournament and finished with a silver medal while the U.S. settled for bronze.

In 2007, the Russians beat the United States 6-5 in the gold medal game.

The Americans have not won the gold medal in this tournament since 2006.

“We just want to bring the gold back here, and to do it on our home soil,” Fowler said. “That’s why we’re here.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Kerry Collins at (701) 241-5548.

Collins’ blogs can be found

at www.areavoices.com