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Tavares Shines for Team Canada

by Staff Writer / New York Islanders
KOSICE, Slovakia -- John Tavares picked up right where he left off at last year's IIHF World Hockey Championship, scoring a goal and an assist Friday in Canada's tournament-opening 4-1 win over Belarus.


The 20-year-old led the Canadian team with seven goals in seven games a year ago and looked comfortable in the national colours once again.

He worked the puck free in the corner to set up teenager Jeff Skinner's nifty tiebreaking goal in the second period before beating Andrei Mezin himself from a bad angle early in the third.

Jordan Eberle had the other two goals for Canada to give him 17 in his last 17 national team games dating back to the 2009 world junior championship.

Andrei Stepanov replied for Belarus.

All and all, it was a pretty solid start for the second-youngest team Canada has sent to this event since NHLers started participating in 1977. The average age of the roster is 24 years two months.

There was plenty of line juggling by Canadian coach Ken Hitchcock on a night where he had just 11 healthy forwards. Antoine Vermette had to sit out with a lower-body injury while James Neal hadn't arrived in Europe after being added to the roster.

Eberle got the team off to a quick start after taking a nice pass from Evander Kane and backhanding a shot past Andrei Mezin at 1:52.

However, the early goal didn't seem to discourage Belarus, which kept goalie James Reimer busy during his first ever start with the national team.

He denied Dmitri Korobov with a pad save in traffic and withstood a mad scramble during a late first-period power play. Stepanov tied it 1-1 shortly after picking up a loose puck at the side of the net and scoring with 34 seconds to play in the period.

The most spirited attempts came from Belarus captain Mikhail Grabovski, who did all he could to beat his Toronto Maple Leafs teammate. Grabovski directed five shots on net through 40 minutes, including a breakaway chance that Reimer denied with his glove.

The score was just 2-1 at that point -- Skinner had put Canada ahead for good with a quick shot to the top of the goal midway through the game -- so those saves were particularly important.

The Canadians looked extremely composed over the final 20 minutes, building a comfortable lead with goals by Tavares and Eberle while limiting the chances in their own end.

Notes:
A moment of silence was held prior to the game for victims of the recent subway bombing in Minsk ... Canadian Chris Stewart was stopped on a third-period penalty shot ... It had been 2,305 days since Andrew Ladd last represented Canada at the 2005 world junior tournament ... Mario Scalzo, the only non-NHLer playing for Canada, had two assists ... Mezin appeared in his 50th career game for Belarus.
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