Rousing success so far

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 8:08 AM ET

And you thought the World Junior Hockey Championship started Christmas Day down in Grand Forks.

Anyone at the new downtown rink last night would have guessed otherwise, as Winnipeggers filled the place to the rafters for a pre-tournament tuneup featuring Team Canada and the Finns.

Wearing Canadian colours, waving Canadian flags and cheering every hit, big save and, of course, every goal by the Canucks, 15,015 fans partied like it was like 1999 all over again.

Of course, this exercise had less to do with flag-waving than it did with preparing Team Canada for a run at its first World Junior title in eight years.

To that end, consider last night a rousing success, too.

So much for needing time to gel.

"We've got to form an identity," head coach Brent Sutter said after the 6-0 romp. "I didn't look at it as an exhibition game at all."

Neither did his team.

Based on what we saw, it's ready for the opening faceoff against Slovakia right now.

Maybe it's because of the 12 returning players from last year's silver-medal winners. Or maybe all those Western Leaguers know Sutter's system, inside-out.

Or maybe there's simply something special brewing inside the Team Canada dressing room, as many of the players have been telling us for a week.

If there's one thing we know, it's that all the talent in the world doesn't necessarily buy you team chemistry.

It would appear Team Canada has plenty of both.

Led by Kenora's Mike Richards -- any questions left about why he was named captain? -- the Canucks made the Finns look like a high school team, out-working, out-hitting and out-shooting them by an embarrassing margin.

No, this Finnish team isn't necessarily expected to be a gold-medal contender. But it's certainly not the tournament's 90-pound weakling, either.

Against Canada, though, it looked it.

"We started well ... but I don't know what happened," Finnish centre Arsi Piispanen said.

Being run over by a truck tends to do that to you.

Even Canada's skill players, like Sidney Crosby and Corey Perry, were throwing their weight around. And if they weren't doing that, they were generating the kind of offence expected to carry Canada a long way in the 10-day event.

Shots were 41-10, leaving you wondering only if perhaps the Canucks should have saved some of whatever irked them for Christmas Day, when they open against the Slovaks.

"We were in-your-face and aggressive," Sutter said. "We did a lot of good things."

If it weren't for a lack of finish and several goal posts, the 6-0 shutout could have hit double digits.

Apparently, killer instinct won't be an issue, either. Canada led 4-0 through 40 minutes, and came out in the third period as if they were down a goal. I don't think the Finns touched the puck in the first two minutes of the third.

By the time Winnipeg's Cam Barker made it 6-0 11 minutes in, the Finns, who'd been game for the most part, wanted nothing more than to get out of the rink with their pride intact.

They didn't make it.

"We weren't afraid of the Canadians," Piispanen insisted. "But maybe we respect them a little too much."

Before the game, Sutter downplayed the idea of sending a message to the Finns, who will be in Canada's pool at the tournament.

The way his team played, it was obviously a high priority.

The only question that wasn't answered was in goal. Of course, Jeff Glass can't be faulted for facing just 10 shots.

What does it all mean?

Only that Team Canada is as good as advertised.

Or else the Finns did one heck of a job playing possum.


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