The Canadian men’s Paralympic sledge hockey team wasted no time asserting itself as a heavy medal favourite in Sochi.
Looking for a medals sweep in Olympic and Paralympic hockey after the men’s and women’s teams both captured gold in February, the Canadian side destroyed Sweden 10-1 in the opening preliminary round game.
Seven different scorers lit the lamp for Canada. Anthony Gale, Dominic Larocque and Adam Dixon finished with two goals apiece.
Despite the score, captain Greg Westlake wasn't entirely satisfied with his team's defensive performance.
"I think defensively we have to make quicker decisions," Westlake said after the game. "A couple times we held on to the puck too long and that gets us in a bit of trouble. Then we had a couple defensive breakdowns like on the goal against us.
"We watched the (Olympic) men's tournament here in Sochi and no one talked about how many goals they scored, they just played great hockey. That's where we have to be."
The game was barely a minute old when Billy Bridges opened the scoring for the Canadians, and by the end of the first period, the score was already 4-0.
Sweden’s starting goalie, Ulf Nilsson, was under siege the entire time he was between the pipes, and had no answer for the Canadian attack, surrendering seven goals before he was replaced for the start of the third period by Kenth Jonsson. But it made no difference, as Jonsson allowed another three goals on only nine shots.
Canadian goalie Benoit St-Amand had a shutout bid going until early in the third period, when Swedish forward Per Kasperi took a rebound in the crease and fired the puck just inside the post.
The Canadian squad came into Sochi determined to make up for a shocking result in Vancouver in 2010, when the team fell to Japan in the semifinals, and then failed to medal against Norway in the bronze medal game.
That fourth-place finish lead to a roster overhaul, as nine new players were brought in to join the eight remaining team members from the 2010 Games.
The average of the team is now 26, with only four players over the age of 30; St-Armand is the greybeard of the group at 35. Delaney, at 17, is the team's youngest player.
"All the veterans give me great advice and keep me feeling confident," Delaney said, after describing his first goal in Paralympic hockey as "really exciting."
"They tell me to play like it's any other tournament and to continually tell myself that I am at this level for a reason."
Canada v. Norway on Sunday
Canada is part of Group A this year, along with Sweden, Norway and the Czech Republic. Group B consists of Russia, South Korea, Italy and the U.S.
In other Group A action, Norway defeated the Czech Republic 2-1, while in Group B play, the U.S. thumped Italy 5-1. In the latest game of the day, Korea overcame a two-goal deficit to tie the game and send it into overtime at 2-2. A scoreless overtime then sent the game into a shootout, which Korea won. Final score: 3-2.
The top four teams from the preliminary round will advance to the semifinals on Thursday, March 13, with the gold medal game taking place on Sunday, March 15.
Canada’s sledge hockey teams have three podium finishes since the sport’s debut in 1994, winning bronze in 1994, silver in 1998 and gold in 2006.
If the team wins gold in Sochi, it will mark the first time the nation has ever completed the hockey triple gold in a single Olympics/Paralympics.
Canada’s next game is Sunday against Norway (streaming live on cbc.ca/paralympics at 5 a.m. ET.)
"We scouted the Norway game against the Czechs (Czech Republic) and they are ready to play, too," Canadian coach Mike Mondin said. "They had real good emotion in their game so we are going to have to be prepared."