Vancouver - Dec. 26, 2011 - In typical Hockey Canada style, the Canadian team opened this year’s tournament with a convincing win over team Finland by a score of 8-1. Nothing brings a hockey loving country like Canada together more than watching their team play a solid, well rounded match on an international stage and coming out with a lopsided victory! And today’s game, which opened the tournament in front of the hometown fans in Edmonton, Alberta served notice that the sport of hockey is indeed Canada’s game and it is played with zeal and passion and is much more than just a game in our country.
With the weight of a Nation’s hopes riding on their shoulders, Canada opened the scoring early when Mark Stone took a behind the net pass from Jonathan Huberdeau to tap the puck into a wide open net to score the first of his three he would score in the game. Then with the Fins still trying to find their legs, Brendan Gallagher made the score 2-0 by tapping the puck out of mid-air past Finland’s goalie Christopher Gibson, who was late to react on the pass from Jaden Schwartz.
It was a perfect start to a game that Team Canada needed to calm the uneasy masses after losing to Sweden in pre-tournament play. At 4:25 of the first period, Canada had a 2-0 lead and all doubts as to what the team was made of seemed to have been quelled.
Canada came out and played a strong first half of the opening period, manhandling the Fins in all aspects of the game. Even giving the Fins two power play opportunities midway through the period, they were still able to limit only 1 shot getting through to Canada’s goalie Mark Visentin for both opportunities. Finland just couldn’t seem to get team Canada figured out as they only managed six shots on Visentin in the first period alone, even when team Canada started to fall into some sloppy play habits late in the period.
Aside from total puck control in the first 20, Canada’s Boone Jenner was showing the team’s physical dominance as well as he annihilated Finland’s Olli Maatta with a solid body check in the period. Welcome to Canada Olli!
Alexander Ruuttu scored for the Fins at 1:21 of the second period by wristing a shot over Visentin’s glove hand during a rare team Canada defensive breakdown in their own end, to pull Finland within one goal, but that was all she wrote for the Fins as team Canada took control of the play for the remainder of the game. Just over a minute after Finland pulled within a goal, Mark Stone scored from the top of the right face off circle beating Gibson on his blocker side. It didn’t help the Fins that their goalie was playing with a defensman’s stick at the time, and that their defensive game looked more like the Keystone Kops in their own end. The goal was the result of another well controlled play by team Canada who capitalized on another scoring opportunity.
Team Canada finally got their first power play opportunity of the game when Ryan Strome was tripped up while trying to break away in the Finland zone. It took Canada less than a minute to capitalize on their first power play when Jonathan Huberdeau wristed a shot from the right face off circle to beat Gibson, making the score 4-1. Less than 2 minutes after Huberdeau’s goal, Finland takes a too many men on the ice penalty giving team Canada another power play chance and Dougie Hamilton makes them pay with a slap shot from the blue line scoring through a screen. Hamilton’s goal made the score 5-1 as well as making it an official laugher for the home team. With the score well in hand for team Canada, the team suffered a casualty when forward Devante Smith-Pelly blocked a shot with what looked like with his knee in the second period. He came out for a shift after taking the shot, but left the game after that shift and didn’t return.
Team Canada would score three more goals in the third period, to make the score 8-1. Brett Connolly would score with a rising wrist shot to beat Gibson over the glove from the left face off dot. Brian Strome would score with a laser of a wrist shot from the blue line to beat Gibson, who didn’t even see the shot until it was on it’s way back out the net. Both of these goals were beauties in their own right, but the goal that gets the accolades of the game was Mark Stone’s hat trick goal which was scored on a major league passing play at 4:05 of the third period to make the score 7-1. The play was started with a pass from Stone to Ryan Strome who passed it to Huberdeau in the slot who’s shot was stopped by the pad of Gibson, but Mark Stone picked up the rebound and slammed it past Gibson with a backhand shot.
Aside from a few bouts of sloppy play, in their own end and a very bad, ill-timed penalty by Nathan Beaulieu midway in the third period, it was an impressive effort by team Canada to start the tournament. Canada will need to shore up it’s play in their own end, and not take stupid penalties like Beaulieu’s in the third period against teams like the Russians or USA, because they have the skill and firepower to capitalize on the errors team Canada made late in the game.
Team Canada will now have a few days off to address their issues and solidify their game before they face the Czech Republic team on Wednesday night. But if today’s game is any indication of what team Canada hopes to accomplish in this year’s tournament, the country can be proud of this year’s team and what it hopes to achieve in the form of hardware at the end of the tournament. But no pressure, it’s only the entire country cheering them on right?