Canada's young guns deliver in hockey opener
Young team with veteran leaders
Canada overcame a slow start in Saturday's opener at the world hockey championship in Germany to dominate Italy 5-1.
Steve Stamkos, Matt Duchene and Rene Bourque each had a goal and assist at the game in Mannheim, with Corey Perry and Kris Russell also scoring for Canada.
The Canadians will take on Latvia on Monday.
Ray Whitney was named Canada's top player of the game on his 38th birthday, setting up two goals and narrowly missing scoring himself on more than one occasion.
While Whitney and captain Ryan Smyth are among those bringing a veteran presence, Canada is stocked with promising young players.
Stamkos and Tyler Myers just turned 20 three months ago, and there were four teens in the lineup Saturday: Duchene, Evander Kane, Michael del Zotto and John Tavares. Jordan Eberle, 19, is part of the Canadian team but did not play on Saturday.
"We have a very young team, but we have veteran leaders," said Stamkos. "For [Whitney] to come out and make two great passes — he's a great playmaker obviously still — it's nice to see that from the veteran guys.
"That's why they're our leaders, and the young guys are going to follow."
15 minor penalties
The game was patrolled by activist officials, who saw fit to call 15 minor penalties all told.
Canada was on the scoreboard before three minutes had elapsed, courtesy of a Stamkos rush. The Tampa Bay Lightning phenom set up Perry for an easy tap-in past Adam Russo. Russo, from Montreal, was one of seven Canadian-born players in the Italian lineup.
Italy enjoyed a two-man advantage for 30 seconds, and a shot went off Mason's arm and bounced toward the goal line before the netminder batted the puck away.
Michele Strazzabosco made no mistake at the 12:44 mark, with a slapshot from the point that resulted from a clean face-off win for Italy.
The game's key sequence came late in the first. Nicola Fontanive was sprung on a short-handed break, but Chris Mason set aside his slapper with a pad save. The puck was worked back into the Italian end, and Whitney found Russell pinching from the point with a cross-ice pass for the go-ahead goal with just 48 seconds left in the period.
"It just goes to show you the game's as much about mental ability as it is about physical ability," said Canadian coach Craig MacTavish. "Ray played outstanding. He made a terrific play on the power-play goal that Russell got coming down the backside at a pretty critical time in the game. His playmaking ability was outstanding tonight."
Mason would finish with 23 saves.
Canada found its groove in the second, with Calder Trophy nominee Duchene leading the way. The Colorado Avalanche rookie scored just under six minutes into the period with a hard shot from the slot, and nearly five minutes later he sent a pass from behind the Italian net for Stamkos to bang home from the doorstep.
Canadians started sluggishly
"They could really skate and they jumped on us early," said Duchene. "I know I had really heavy legs in the first and I had to shake them out. Once we got the concrete shaken out, we got going."
Toronto-born goalie Daniel Bellissimo was heroic in relief for Italy in the third period, making several big stops, but Bourque of the Calgary Flames scored on him with just under three minutes remaining.
"We cannot compete with those guys; they've got much more talent than us," said Strazzabosco. "A game like that is a preparation for the huge games we have coming up."
Italy is coached by Rick Cornacchia, who led an Oshawa Generals team that included Eric Lindros and Fred Brathwaite to the 1990 Memorial Cup. The Italians play Switzerland on Monday.
With files from The Canadian Press