Even the most decorated and experienced Canadian player admitted nerves got the best of him early in the world junior tournament opener against Russia.
But once captain Ryan Ellis and his teammates overcame the jitters, Canada skated to an important 6-3 victory on Sunday.
This result pleased all the southern Ontarians who battled the hour-plus delays over the Peace Bridge from Fort Erie into Buffalo, N.Y., and filled the 18,690-seat HSBC Arena.
"This is my third time and I was still nervous," said Ellis, who has won back-to-back Memorial Cup titles with the Windsor Spitfires. "I remember my first time, I didn't want to be on the ice I was so nervous."
The anxiety was evident early in Canada's game as the club was caught out of position a few times trying to make a momentum-changing hit.
This happened when Russia grabbed a 1-0 lead less than four minutes in.
With defenceman Dylan Olsen already checking opponent Dmitri Orlov coming out of a corner in Canada's end, Canadian Marcus Foligno skated hard at Orlov and not only knocked down the Russian, but Foligno and Olsen also went flying.
This resulted in an easy Russian goal and an early lead.
Team settled down
This sort of chaos was not part of the blueprint drawn up by Canadian head coach Dave Cameron and his staff. He didn't like his team's impatience and how his players chased their opponents around, instead of "letting the game come to them."
But as the clock clicked on, Canada settled down.
Part of the reason Canada found its game was the fact Ellis stood up after the first and second intermissions to remind his teammates to relax and stick to the game plan.
Ellis led by example. He went out and scored early in the second period with a planned shot off the end boards that wound up bounding off the left skate of Russian goalie Igor Bobkov, who plays junior in Canada for the London Knights.
The goal gave Canada a 2-1 advantage.
"Captain Ryan Ellis did a great job with us," Canadian forward Louis Leblanc said. "He has a lot of experience and has played a lot of games at this level. I think we're feeding off his experience and he's a great leader.
"His message was that we're going to fall behind, but that we need to keep going."
Keeping emotions in check is never easy for a teenager, let alone the fuzzy-faced group that represents Canada at the world juniors every Christmas. The trick for the Canadians has been to locate that fine line of physical play that helps their game.
Out of energy
The Russians were physical, too. But unlike the Canadians, the Russians could not sustain the level of rough stuff the entire game and that was evident by the penalties they were called for in the third period.
They were pooped and there was a tripping penalty, followed by a slash.
Canada took advantage with two power-play goals 2:28 apart to bust open a 3-3 tie. Canada made its opponents pay for their sins with three power-play goals in total.
Meanwhile, Cameron has drilled into his players that more than four penalties in a game will be unacceptable. Against Russia, the Canadian kids sat for only three minors.
When Canada checked in with only a five-on-three power-play goal in its second exhibition game against Sweden last Tuesday and then went 2-for-7 in man-advantage situations against Finland on Thursday, there were special-team concerns.
But Ellis predicted that the power play would be humming after the Finland game in Kitchener, Ont. He was right because his team clicked for three power-play goals in five chances on Sunday.
"I would never lie to you guys," he joked in his session with reporters afterward.
Canadian forward Casey Cizikas performed brilliantly on a penalty kill with seven minutes remaining in the first period. He kept the puck in the Russia end for 20 or so seconds to kill some valuable time.
"I was trying to get back to the bench and get some air. I was gassed," he said, when asked if he heard the crowd going nuts in response to his hard work.
In the end, Edmonton Oilers prospect Olivier Roy wound up starting in goal for Canada over Mark Visentin.
Roy, no relation to Hall of Famer Patrick Roy, played well enough to give Canada an important win with 24 saves.
The book on the 19-year-old from Causapscal, Que., is that he is a competitor, especially if his team falls behind.
"After the first 10 minutes, I settled in and played my game," he said.
It will be interesting as the tournament progresses to see if the Canadian line of Ryan Johansen, Foligno and Zack Kassian can continue to dominate.
There certainly is plenty of beef on the line in the 6-foot-3, 226-pound Kassian, the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Foligno and the 6-foot-2, 193-pound Johansen.
Foligno scored Canada's first goal, but he doesn't join his linemates for the power play. Instead, returnee Brayden Schenn replaces Foligno.
Schenn and Johansen scored the key power-play goals early in the third period.
Coach's niece stays home
Canada's head coach hoped to look up into the stands at HSBC Arena and see his 25-year-old niece Kristen. But the daughter of Cameron's older brother, Brian, decided to stay home.
Kristen was seriously injured 3½ months ago when she was hit by a suspected drunk driver in Erie, Pa., while out cycling. She was studying for a master's degree and in her second year as an assistant coach with the Mercyhurst College women's hockey team.
She has been recovering in Toronto's Lyndhurst Centre for spinal cord injuries.