BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Carter Ashton is looking to become the seventh Tri-City Americans player to return home with a goal medal from the World Junior Championships.
Ashton and Team Canada will play Russia today in the championship game at HSBC Arena in Buffalo, N.Y.
Canada defeated defending champion United States 4-1 in Monday's semifinals, while Russia advanced with a 4-3 shootout victory over Sweden.
"It was huge," Ashton said of the win against Team USA, which defeated Canada 6-5 in overtime in last year's final. "Everyone knew what was at stake. We had a lot to prove and we knew what we wanted to do."
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Canada has won 15 WJC gold medals since the current tournament format began in 1982, including a golden streak that ran five years from 2005-2009. Russia won gold in 1999 and 2002-03.
Team Canada had to take the long route to the finals, having to play a quarterfinal game against Switzerland (4-1 victory) on Sunday to advance to the semifinals. The United States, which won Group A, got a pass to the semifinals.
"I think in the long run playing in the quarterfinals helped us," Ashton said. "It helped prepare us for playing the United States."
Against Team USA, Ashton had three shots on goal and a minor penalty.
"I felt really good," Ashton said. "All of our lines played well and everyone was contributing."
A gold medal would put Ashton in the company of Stu Barnes (Canada, 1990), Shawn Belle (Canada, 2005) and Carey Price (Canada, 2007). Ashton said playing for a gold hasn't quite sunk in.
"I think it will start to set in when I step on the ice for the gold-medal game," Ashton said.
Ashton will be joining the Americans as soon as the tournament is over, and his future teammates have been keeping an eye on the star forward who soon will be wearing No. 7.
Most of the Tri-City players gathered together to watch the Canada-USA game Monday.
"Going into the tournament, the United States was the heavy favorite," Americans captain Kruise Reddick said. "Hockey Canada, the coaches and the players have done a good job. Ashton has played well. He's a big body, he skates well and moves the puck. He will be a good addition to our team."
Ashton was glad to know his future teammates have been keeping tabs.
"That's pretty cool they are following so closely," he said. "I'm looking forward to getting there and helping out."