TURIN, Italy -- With Wayne Gretzky looking on from a box high above the ice, Team Canada opened defence of its 2002 Olympic championship with a 7-2 victory over Italy today at the Palasport Olimpico arena.
Though Canada looked sluggish in the first period, likely a result of a hectic travel schedule that saw them practice in Toronto on Monday then a flight overnight to Turin and practice here Tuesday night, a five-goal second buried the valiant but over-matched Italians.
That his team was finally playing likely proved a relief for Gretzky, the executive director who faced a media storm when it was revealed his wife Janet was making sports wagers through a gambling ring allegedly run by Rick Tocchet, Gretzky's assistant coach with the NHL's Phoenix Coyotes.
Jarome Iginla led Team Canada with two goals, while the line of Vincent Lecavalier between Tampa Bay teammate Martin St. Louis and Ottawa's Dany Heatley combined for six points.
Heatley and St. Louis each had a goal, while Shane Doan, Brad Richards and Joe Thornton scored the others.
Canada outshot Italy 50-20.
"It was an okay game," Canada's goaltender Martin Brodeur said. "I know in (this round) people expect us to walk through everybody, and I guess we did to a certain extent in the second period, but we had a pretty good vibe, did well on the power-play."
Canada now plays Germany tomorrow and Switzerland on Saturday before their first real test Sunday against Finland.
Though they only arrived yesterday, Iginla said the 1 p.m. local start time was a blessing.
"I liked that it was an afternoon game and that we didn't have to think about it all day," said Iginla, and paid tribute to Italy, whose roster includes nine Canadians of Italian descent. "Italy skated well. They were very fired up and they're a talented quick-skating team.
"I don't know how it looked but it felt like a pretty quick period."
The pro-Italian crowd certainly appreciated their team's effort. The country hasn't played in the Olympic tournament since 1992 in Albertville and when Toronto's Jason Cirone beat Brodeur just 43 seconds into the second period with Heatley in the penalty box for charging, the crowd exploded in cheers. Giulio Scandella, who was born in Montreal, picked up the assist.
"He's from Montreal?" Montreal native Brodeur said with a smile when informed of Scandella's birth place. "Good."
The goal seemed to wake up the Canadians as they then scored three goals in five minutes and 21 seconds. Heatley made amends for his penalty by finishing off a pretty passing play from Lecavalier and St. Louis at the 1:55 mark. Shane Doan made it 3-1 three minutes and 43 seconds later and Iginla scored his second of the game on the power-play just 26 seconds after that.
Richards made it 6-1 before Sault Ste. Marie-born John Parco beat Brodeur with a one-timer at 18:08 of the second.
Italian goaltender Jason Muzzatti, a Toronto native who was a first-round pick of the Calgary Flames in 1988 who played 53 games with the Hartford Whalers in the mid-1990s, was proud of his team's performance.
"We were defeated but not humiliated and that's very important," said the 36-year-old who plays for HC Bolzano. "We were able to score a couple of goals and that was great."
While Muzzatto might find the NHLers old hat, others on the team appreciated the opportunity to play against the best.
"I didn't get a chance to play in the NHL. This is my Stanley Cup -- the Olympics," said Cirone, a 35-year-old who was a third-round draft pick of the Winnipeg Jets in 1989.
Brodeur said he appreciates their sentiment, but said the attention from opponents can sometimes make him feel embarrassed.
"It's flattering to an extent," he said. "I remember playing in a world championship against a team and one of the goalies, he was all in awe and I said 'You just played against me. Don't worry about it.'"
Earlier this morning, Sweden dispatched Kazakhstan, 7-2. Other games scheduled today see Switzerland play Finland, Germany against the Czech Republic, Russia vs. Slovakia and Latvia against the U.S. in the nightcap.