Canadians have received the greatest gift of all this Christmas -- hockey. As the NHL lockout entered its 101st day yesterday -- and a drop-dead date of Jan. 14 looms -- hockey-starved fans actually had reason to smile.
That's because the 2005 world junior men's hockey championship opened yesterday with Canada defeating Slovakia 7-3.
And perhaps those with the widest smiles were the families of the young players.
"We'll be excited, not only for him, but for all of Canada -- after all, it is our game," said Dean MacArthur, the proud father of Medicine Hat Tiger forward Clarke MacArthur, who capped off the win with two goals, including a penalty shot marker with seven seconds left.
"We're hoping they'll be able to go all the way and finish the job," the oilpatch production manager said from his Lloydminster home.
"We're very proud that he's made the team."
Dean and wife Deborah will be heading to North Dakota tomorrow to see the action in person.
"He's always had a dream to play in the NHL, but we always told him the dreamer has to do the work," he said.
"Now it looks like he's on his way."
Also heading south soon will be the family of Cochrane's Jeff Glass, who started in goal against Slovakia.
"We'll be there for the duration," said Glass' dad Glen, a 47-year-old oilpatch worker.
Dad, mom Jane and brothers Kevin, 14, and Trevor, 16, sat on the edge of their seats yesterday as Glass, an Ottawa Senators draftee, allowed three goals.
Glass turned away 20 shots during the game, which was dominated by Canada despite some sloppy play at times.
"He's come a long way ... he was a bit of an underdog going in," said Glen.
"So we were very happy and excited to see him get on the team."
Forward Jeremy Colliton -- a native of Blackie, 70 km southeast of Calgary -- didn't play yesterday because he was suffering from a banged-up knee.
The Canadian team has today off and faces Sweden tomorrow.