Brad Bowden

CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. – Brad Bowden (Orton, Ont.) had a hat trick to lead a balanced offence, helping Canada’s National Sledge Team to an 8-0 win over Italy in the opening game for both Sunday at the 2017 World Sledge Hockey Challenge.

The Italians iced only eight skaters and two goaltenders due to missed flights and missing equipment, but kept the game close until the dying minutes of the second period.

Adam Dixon (Midland, Ont.) and Billy Bridges (Summerside, P.E.I.) added a goal and two assists each for the Canadians, who held Italy to just two shots on goal. Corbin Watson (Kingsville, Ont.) and Dominic Larocque (Quebec City, Que.) made a save apiece to share the shutout.

Canada was in charge early, scoring twice before five minutes had elapsed.

Bridges got the first at 1:17, splitting the Italian defence before beating a sprawling Santino Stilitano, and Bowden jumped on an offensive zone turnover and roofed a shot past Stilitano for a 2-0 lead just past the four-minute mark.

But the Italian netminder was the story from there, keeping it a two-goal game until late in the second period when the Canadians struck for three goals in less than three minutes.

Greg Westlake (Oakville, Ont.) finished off a pretty feed from Bridges to make it 3-0 at 10:48, Bowden got his second off a won face-off at 11:32 and Dixon beat Stilitano through traffic to stretch the lead to five at 13:08.

Stilitano gave way to Gabriele Araudo to begin the third period, but the new puck-stopper failed to stop a puck, allowing three goals in three minutes before Stilitano took over goaltending duties again.

Bowden needed just 32 seconds of the third period to finish his hat trick, Liam Hickey (St. John’s, N.L.) went low for the seventh goal at 1:43 and Bryan Sholomicki (Winnipeg, Man.) snuck in the final marker 1:40 after that to cap the offensive output.

Stilitano finished with 26 saves in a terrific performance.

“Being back in Charlottetown again, we kind of feel like it’s our home, and you always want to play well in front of your home crowd. The Italian goaltender played outstanding and he kept the score close for over half the game, but our guys didn’t show any frustration, they just stuck to the plan.

“Overall, I really liked how the boys were unselfish, stuck within the structure of the game and didn’t try to do things on their own. The guys have a really strong focus of having a chance at a gold medal here, so the next game is a stepping stone in that process.”

– Ken Babey (Saskatoon, Sask.), Team Canada head coach, on opening with a win over Italy

Canada continues the preliminary round Monday night against Korea (7 p.m. AT), right after Italy meets the United States (12 p.m. AT).