EDMONTON – The two teams playing for the first time in nearly four years, Canada beat Finland 8-1 to open the World Junior Championship in Alberta, a win marked both by Canadian confidence and by Finnish nervousness.
Mark Stone led the way with a hat trick, and Jonathan Huberdeau had a goal and four assists. Ryan Strome had a goal and three assists. Alexander Ruuttu scored for Finland.
“We hadn’t really played much together, only practiced. The way we played was good and we need to get forward with the chemistry,” Stone said.
With the win Canada gains three points in the Group B standings while Finland still has zero. The win extended Canada’s streak to seven victories, the last Finnish win between the teams a 4-1 decision coming on December 30, 2001, almost a decade ago to the day.
Only once before (at the 2005 U20) has Canada scored as many goals against a Finnish team in World Junior competition.
Canada was welcomed by a red-and-white crowd of 15,296 at the Rexall Center and went to the attack immediately. The Finns may have had last change as home team, but there was nary a Suomi sweater to be found in the crowd. Stone got his first of the game at 2:14, snapping home a shot in front of the crease of Christopher Gibson after taking a perfect feed from Huberdeau behind the net.
Two minutes later it was 2-0 when Brendan Gallagher batted in a bouncing puck in front of Gibson. Finnish coach Raimo Helminen called a timeout to calm his charges, but Canada dominated the period.
“We got off to a great start, and the fan support was outstanding,” Canadian coach Don Hay said. “That two-goal lead early on was great for us.”
The only positives for the Finns in the opening 20 minutes were two excellent checks from defencemen Konsta Makinen and Jani Hakanpaa who thundered their opponents to the ice with big shoulder checks deep in the Finnish end.
The Finns got on the board early in the second, though, and looked to make a game of it. Miro Aaltonen made a sensational pass along the right wing boards in the Canadian end, finding Alexander Ruuttu in the slot. His perfect wrist shot sailed over the glove of Mark Visentin at 1:21.
But any hope the Finns may have gotten from that goal was dashed two minutes later when Stone got his second during a delayed penalty and Visentin on the bench.
The Finns had another great opportunity with Visentin out of position. The puck came to the top of the crease, but Canadian defenceman Scott Harrington made a great diving save on behalf of his goalie.
Huberdeau then scored on the power play at 9:24, Canada’s first of the game, and Canada got another with the man advantage from Dougie Hamilton four and a half minutes later to make it 5-1.
Brett Connolly made it 6-1 early in the third, finishing off a nice series of passes with a shot over the glove of Gibson. Connolly is with Team Canada and from Vancouver Island, is on loan from the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“I’m happy we got off to the start we did,” Connolly said. “We did a good job. We had a great start and the fans were very loud. That’s always good for the guys.”
Stone got his third of the day by getting to a loose puck first and pushing it past a beleaguered Gibson.
“Not everything went as well as I hoped it would go,” said Gibson, who was a surprise starter after Sami Aittokallio got hurt. “It’s a great experience to play in Edmonton in a full building. Playing Team Canada is a great experience, and I have to build on this.”