Canada clicks in world junior opener
ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, QMI Agency
|Canada’s Mike Stone (L) celebrates his goal on Finland with teammate Jonathan Huberdeau during the first period of play at the 2012 IIHF U20 World Junior Hockey Championships in Edmonton, Alberta, December 26, 2011. (REUTERS/Todd Korol)
EDMONTON -- Every journey begins with the first step, and you can tell where Team Canada's world junior championship road began by the footprint on Finland's neck.
The Canadians used their opponent's jugular as a starting block in their run for gold, going up 2-0 before the Finns even had a shot on net, pumping three more goals past them in the second period and cruising to a 8-1 opening game victory at Rexall Place.
"We really fed off the crowd," said Canadian coach Don Hay, who got plenty help motivating his guys from a raucous red and white crowd of 16,296. "They gave us a lot of energy and that's the way we played, with energy. I thought it was a really important start for us."
With fans a little nervous after Canada's 5-3 loss to Sweden in the final game of the exhibition schedule, the home team calmed the masses some with Monday's convincing win, spearheaded by Mark Stone's hat-trick and Jonathan Huberdeau's five-point night.
"We had a great start, everything was going for us," said Huberdeau, who had a goal and four assists. "We were pumped up with the crowd behind us. That's what we needed (a quick start), and that's what we did."
The Canadians jumped in front in a hurry, with Stone scoring at 2:16 and Brendan Gallagher at 4:25 to force an early Finnish time out.
"To get that momentum on our side quickly, and get the monkey off our back early so we could just go out and play the game, was great," said Ryan Strome, who contributed a goal and three assists to the cause. "I think we played a pretty good 60 minutes. That was our problem in the pre-season, not being able to put a full effort together. We finally did it tonight and it felt pretty good."
Finland cut the lead to 2-1 just 1:21 into the second period, but that would be the last anyone saw of them. Three straight goals for Canada (Stone at 3:02 and power-play goals from Huberdeau at 9:24 and Doug Hamilton at 12:54) wrapped it up by the second intermission.
Huberdeau, who showed up for Canada's training camp in a walking cast after breaking his foot Nov. 5, looked like he'd never been gone, forging a quick and dynamic chemistry with linemates Stone and Strome.
"It was hard to get back on the ice, but I think tonight was great," said the Florida Panthers prospect, who only played one exhibition game before Monday. "Stone is always in the right spot in the slot and he's been scoring every game since the beginning of camp. It's easy to play with him."
Stone completed the hat-trick 4:05 into the third.
"If you saw my face I was in a little bit of shock," he grinned. "It was a good experience and a moment I will always remember."
Not so much for Finnish coach Raimo Helminen, who didn't know whether to wave a white flag or kick a dog.
"What am I going to say ... 8-1, Canada was really good," he sighed. "We weren't ready. We knew what kind of game our opponent was going to play and we were not ready."
Embattled netminder Mark Visentin got the start for Canada and, while he didn't get a lot of work (three shots in the first 13 minutes), held up his end of the bargain, stopping 24 of 25 shots.
"I know that our fans believe in us," he said. "Whether they believe in me or not is out of my control. I'm just trying to do the things I can control, which is stop the puck, and so far, so good."
The Canadians get a day of practice before playing the Czechs on Wednesday.
LATE HITS: The game wasn't without its down side as big winger Devante Smith-Pelly left the arena on crutches after getting hit on the foot with a shot. He went for X-rays and his status will be determined Tuesday.
QMI Agency's Dave Cameron and Terry Jones are set to take you through the action during Team Canada's opening game at the 2011 world juniors.