From the opening faceoff, it was never in the cards for Finland to pull off the upset I predicted and defeat the hosts Team Canada. Even before the opening faceoff things went wrong for Finland. In the midst of the excitement of the opening day of the tournament, Hockey Canada forgot to play their national anthem. That mistake on the part of the Canadians set an ominous tone for Team Finland that would last until the final whistle.
To say the game started off well for the Canadians would be an understatement. Just 2:14 in, Mark Stone started off his Player of the Game performance with the tournament’s opening goal. Just over two minutes later Sherwood Park, Alberta native Brendan Gallagher, who grew up in the stands at Rexall Place as a fan, made it 2-0. Finland managed just one shot on goal through the first nine minutes. Still though, with memories of the Canada-Russia gold medal game of a year ago still fresh in their minds, fans were not satisfied with a mere 2-0 lead. The Canadian players knew this, and by the end of the second period fans could breathe quite a bit easier. Three Canadian goals courtesy of Mark Stone, Jonathan Huberdeau and Dougie Hamilton made it a 5-1 game.
In the third period Canada again got off to a quick start. Just 52 seconds in, returnee Brett Connolly made it a 5 goal lead, and one that would not yield another jaw-dropping comeback. Stone’s hat trick goal and Ryan Strome’s first of the tournament closed out the touchdown win.
Brett Connolly, who failed to score at last year’s tournament, got the monkey off his back in the third period with his first ever WJHC goal. “It’s nice to get one and help the team win,” he said. Ryan Strome was another player who was an enigma to Western Canadian fans, rarely having played on their side of the country. He ended the night one of the toasts of Edmonton, garnering four points in his WJC debut. Strome on the emotion of the fans:
“Obviously we all want to go out there and make the big hit, but we have to play with poise.”
This game was defined by the sea of red and white that was Rexall Place, as well as the offense. That’s obvious. No ordinary team can score 8 goals, and no ordinary line (Huberdeau-Strome-Stone) can collect a combined 12 points in their first ever WJC games. The game can also be defined by the big defensive plays Team Canada made in front of Mark Visentin. Scott Harrington, Nathan Beaulieu and Brandon Gormley all made stellar defensive plays even when the game was all but locked up. If this team is to experience more success, it is those types of efforts that are counted on; maybe even more than the offense. Either way, it was a near perfect performance by Team Canada, whose next task comes against the Czech Republic on Wednesday December 28 at 6pm on Rexall Place ice.
-The Team Canada victory did come at a price. Forward Devante Smith-Pelly left the game in the 2nd period with a leg injury and will undergo x-rays tonight. The team will have an update tomorrow.
-Finnish defenceman and potential 1st round draft pick in 2012 Olli Maatta left the game and was experiencing concussion-like symptoms.
-Team Canada will have a full practice tomorrow
-Don Hay has yet to decide on a starting goalie for the Czech Republic game
The 2012 WJHC are coming to THW. Myself and Chris Ralph have been granted full media access for the duration of the tournament, including all round robin and medal games. Together we will bring breaking news, game analysis, player interviews and stories to THW.
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