Grand Forks, N.D. -- Two out of three ain't bad, and that's how many Winnipeggers got to play in Team Canada's World Junior Championship opener against Slovakia yesterday.
Defenceman Cam Barker and forward Nigel Dawes both took regular turns in a 7-3 victory, while goalie Reg Beauchemin got a seat on the end of the bench, backing up starter Jeff Glass.
Dawes is a second-year member of Team Canada, but this was Barker's first game in the event he grew up watching.
"Until you're here, you don't know what it's going to be like," the 18-year-old said. "The tempo was very high, and the intensity was definitely up there. Guys had the jitters a little bit in the beginning, but we stuck to our game plan and played pretty well."
Barker wasn't happy with a hooking penalty he took in the second period, and says the team can play better defensively.
Dawes, tied for the team scoring lead at last year's tournament, was disappointed the Canucks let the Slovaks back in the game, after taking a 4-0 lead.
"I don't think we let up," he said. "We just got away from our game plan. We wanted to force them really hard, get pucks in deep and establish our forecheck. Come the second, we kind of sat back a little bit. They have a lot of talent on that team. If you sit back, they're going to make you pay.
"Today wasn't the best hockey we can play."
Neither Barker nor Dawes registered a point.
Merry What? This tournament usually starts Boxing Day, so this was the first time most players had a game on the 25th.
"To be honest, it doesn't feel like Christmas," Dawes said. "It's a little different. But it's the sacrifice we make, and I don't think we'd have it any other way."
Some of the corporate suites were decorated and there were a few Santas in the crowd, but that was about the only sign of the year's most celebrated holiday.
Team Canada held a small get-together Christmas Eve, in which they handed out some gag gifts and received watches from a team sponsor. Dawes and Barker were going to get together with members of their families here last night.
Mount Manitoba: Two Winnipeg fans down for the tournament have put their entrepreneurial spirit to work, making up T-shirts that celebrate the Manitoba flavour of Team Canada.
The front of the shirts read, "Mt. Manitoba," and carry the faces of Dawes, Barker, Beauchemin and Kenora's Mike Richards in a Mount Rushmore-style design.
Don McIntosh and Graeme MacMillan, both 21-year-old university students, printed up a couple thousand of the shirts, and are selling different styles for $20 to $25.