Young guns firing

PAUL FRIESEN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:41 AM ET

PARDUBICE, CZECH REPUBLIC -- The kids are all right.

Pete Townsend and Roger Daltry said it some 40 years ago, and Team Canada is certainly singing that tune after the opening stanza of the World Junior Hockey Championship.

Stocked with a who's who of the country's best 18- and 19-year-olds, Canada instead leaned on the two players who can't even order a beer anywhere in this country in a 3-0 blanking of the home team in its tournament opener here yesterday.

John Tavares, with two goals, and Steven Stamkos, with three assists -- both just 17 -- quieted much of the raucous, sellout crowd of 10,057, and helped Canada survive a shaky start against a Czech team that came out flying but faded away down the stretch.

"It was one of the greatest moments of my life," Tavares said of his first goal, which he capped by leaping to the top of the glass, and almost over, right in front of a section of flag-waving Canadian fans. "The guys were joking with me, thought I was going to the third row. I was just real excited."

LOOSENED

A one-timer on a perfect feed from defenceman Logan Pyett on a power play, the goal broke a scoreless tie midway through the second period and loosened the grip the Canadians obviously had on their sticks. This team was definitely shakin' all over to that point.

But goaltender Jonathan Bernier, the coolest guy in the building, was unbeatable, and then the kids took over -- led by the wunderkind from Oakville, Ont.

First, there was Gretzky. Then Lemieux. Now Crosby.

Who's next? Tavares, the thinking goes.

Fair or not, the Oshawa Generals phenom, already projected to be the NHL's first draft pick in 2009, lugs the expectation around like an amplifier, praise ringing in his ear wherever he goes.

But that's not all Tavares shook off yesterday.

Limited to the part of backup musician (a power-play specialist) for the first time since he left diapers, it seems, the Canadian junior player of the year last season had just four or five shifts, by his count, against the Czechs.

That's fine for a grinder or a goon -- but a guy with hands of silk?

"It's not difficult at all," Tavares insisted. "You're part of Team Canada. Contributing in any way is special. And still being so young and learning from the other guys, it's brought me in nicely, and maybe not too fast."

What's this, the guy's mature, too? Aren't phenoms supposed to have egos the size of Russia?

"I'm not here to show I'm the best player in the world or anything," Tavares said. "I'm here to contribute to the team and win a gold medal. I understand the pressures and what's been put on me. I just go out there and play like when I was a little kid and I had so much fun. Nothing mattered, nobody saw me."

So what now, coach Craig Hartsburg? Surely you can't leave your lead singer off to the side of the stage, doing the doo-wop thing, from now on.

"To be a good team you need guys to play roles," Hartsburg said. "He certainly has accepted it. We've just got to keep him going here. Every power play he's going to have a chance to contribute."

Yeah, Hartsburg added, he'll probably get Tavares some five-on-five time. Sooner, rather than later, we presume.

And then there's Stamkos, in many eyes the NHL's first pick next summer.

Getting a more regular shift, the pride of Unionville, Ont, overcame his nerves just fine, thank you.

"That was unreal," Stamkos said. "I've never played in circumstances like this, with the fans. We're a pretty inexperienced team at this level. I mean, we only had two guys returning from last year. We just had to get the jitters out at the beginning."

Consider it done.

"I'm a little emotionally drained," Tavares concluded. "I was going nuts on the bench, even though I wasn't playing."

Kids these days.


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