WORLD JUNIOR ICE HOCKEY CHAMPS: Canada clinch semis spot with victory over USA
CANADA youngster John Tavares left NHL scouts licking their lips and sent Canada through to the semi-finals with a stunning hat-trick as the reigning champions disposed of the USA 7-4 in the Group A decider.
RISING STAR: Tavares (left), pictured against Russia, leads the way against the USA (Getty Images)
The 18-year-old, whose date of birth ensured he missed the 2008 draft by just five days, is certain to be among the first picks in 2009 and the centre underlined his potential as he dragged his side back from a three-goal deficit.
Canada were not home and dry until the dying stages and required two goals in the final minute to seal the win.
Kevin Shattenkirk, Jimmy Hayes and Jim O'Brien got the USA off to a flying start after 12 minutes but two in two minutes from Tavares reduced the deficit to one after the first period.
Jordan Eberle and Zach Boychuk then fired Canada ahead before Jonathon Blum levelled the scores only for Cody Hodgson to restore Canada's advantage with his fourth of the tournament.
And Taveres completed his treble at the death as the USA pushed for an equaliser before Tyler Ennis made the game safe to ensure Canada march on to the last four where they'll face either Russia or the Czech Republic.
"Johnny was unbelievable for us today," said team-mate Hodgson. "Those two back-to-back goals were what got us back in that game and turned the momentum for us."
The USA will now face Slovakia in the quarter final with Sweden - who dispatched Russia 5-0 to claim top spot in Group B - awaiting the victors in the semi-final.
And American forward Colin Wilson insists his side will bounce back from defeat to claim the title despite the fact that the competition has been won by group winners five times in the past seven years.
"We'll easily come back from this," he said. "It's a little disappointing, but we've got Slovakia in the quarterfinals. We're definitely going to bounce back for that one."
Andre Petersson was on the scoresheet twice for Sweden as they cruised to victory over Russia while Slovakia crept through to the next round with a shootout win over Finland.