It was during the quarter-final game against Russia on Thursday that P.E.I.'s Mike Kelly, assistant coach for the Canadian team at the world men's hockey championship, started to believe that this team could go all the way to the final.
The Canadians started out as underdogs at the tournament in Riga, Latvia but will play for the gold medal against Finland on Sunday at 2:15 p.m. AT.
"When we beat Russia in overtime … our guys showed a willingness to sort of turn a corner as a team and do what was necessary to win," said Kelly, who grew up near Kinkora and now lives in Charlottetown.
"When you see a group of people do that in our sport, it's pretty special and it's very rewarding."
Canada lost its first three games of the tournament, but has rallied for five wins. They have a shootout loss against Finland in the tournament.
The team earned its place in the final after winning 4-2 against the United States in the semifinals Saturday.
"We had three practices and no exhibition games, so it took a little bit of time for the guys to get to know each other on the ice, and get to know what it was that we wanted to do as a team, and sort of build an identity," said Kelly.
"We've been getting better every game … it's trending in the right direction."
The guys just haven't had enough time playing together to build a whole lot of chemistry. So the simpler we keep it, the better it is. - Mike Kelly, Hockey Canada assistant coach
Kelly said the key to winning against Finland will be patience.
"It's hard to generate a lot of chances against them, so you have to be smart and not force things," he said.
"We don't want to force stuff through the middle where that's how they sort of generate their offence, off of your mistakes. So the fewer mistakes we can make, the better it is."
Kelly is once again coaching alongside head coach Gerard Gallant, from Summerside. The team's two other assistant coaches are Michael Dyck and André Tourigny.
Appreciate support from back home
Kelly and Gallant have coached together for more than a decade, including with the Saint John Sea Dogs of the QMJHL, and the Florida Panthers and Vegas Golden Knights of the NHL.
"Once you work with someone long enough, you understand how they work," Kelly said of working with Gallant.
"I think I fill some of his holes and he certainly fills a lot of my holes. It works very well."
Kelly said it's been encouraging for him and Gallant to receive messages from Canadian fans throughout the tournament, especially from back home on the Island.
"We've heard a lot. He'll always get texts after games, and I'll get texts after games, and sort of compare notes a little bit," he said.
"The more success we have, the more the excitement grows, so hopefully tomorrow there will be another level again."
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