Unlike past years, heading into the 2011 IIHF tournament, the Canadian team was not the prohibitive favourite. Instead, it was the U.S., with eight returnees from last year’s championship team which scored a stunning OT triumph over Canada in Saskatoon, who were the pre-tournament favourite.

Sweden was also highly touted. And both teams did, in fact, win their respective pools in the preliminary round. But in the semi-finals on Monday, the Russians eeked out a 4-3 victory in a game marred by a blown icing call in the second period that contributed to a gift Russian goal that put them up 2-0. Sweden did recover from the deficit, and led 3-2 with less than two minutes to play when Russia netted the equalizer and then won in a shootout.

Canada’s shootout loss to Sweden on New Year’s Eve made a reprise of last year’s stirring final impossible. Instead, after dispatching a stubborn Swiss team 4-1 in the quarter-final, Canada and the U.S. clashed in the other semi-final. Since the game was being played in Buffalo, home ice advantage should have belonged to the Americans. But the crowd was strongly pro-Canadian, and led by Ryan Johansen (pictured), who has had an outstanding tournament, the Canadian Juniors emerged with a 4-1 victory.

That sets up tonight’s gold medal matchup between Russia and Canada. On the opening day of the tournament, Canada defeated the Russians handily 6-3. With another boisterous pro-Canada crowd expected for tonight’s game, Russia has to be considered a major underdog. Assuming the Canadians don’t experience a total meltdown in goal (and goal-tending has been a weak spot so far in the tournament) Canada should claim its sixth World Junior title in the last seven years.

Game time on TSN is 6:30 p.m.