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Canada Beats Slovakia

by Lucas Aykroyd / Winnipeg Jets

Boxing Day is a big shopping day in Canada, and the hosts gave themselves a nice gift. Robby Fabbri led the way with four points as Canada downed Slovakia 8-0.

Fabbri notched two first-period goals and added a couple of assists in the second period. Meanwhile, Nic Petan had a goal and two assists, while Anthony Duclair, Max Domi, Brayden Point, and Jake Virtanen each tallied a goal and an assist. Nick Paul chipped in a single, whilen Sam Reinhart earned a pair of helpers.

Overall, it was a balanced attack, as 11 different Canadians hit the scoresheet. It was control, it was finesse, and it was also quite methodical.

Goalie Zach Fucale, who also served as the starter for Canada’s 2014 fourth-place team with a 2.42 GAA, got the win versus Slovakia’s Denis Godla, who made his tournament debut but was pulled halfway through.

It was Fucale’s first career World Junior shutout. Shots on goal were 34-12 for Canada, reflecting its dominance in all three zones.

At least on this night, Slovakia had about as much of a chance against Canada as a Montreal smoked meat sandwich has against a polar bear.

This was the kind of start that coach Benoit Groulx’s boys needed to send the fans home happy in their opener at the Bell Centre. The Canadians are eager to end their gold-medal drought at this tournament. Canada, the perennial favourite, hasn’t triumphed since Ottawa 2009.

The 18-year-old Fabbri, a 2014 first-round pick of the St. Louis Blues, was named this year’s OHL playoff MVP with 28 points in 16 games for the league champion Guelph Storm, and it wasn’t hard to see why here.

Canada got the party started at 4:52 on a slick three-way passing play. Duclair fed the puck to Reinhart on the rush, who dished a backhand to Fabbri and he zipped it past a helpess Godla.

At 8:17, it was 2-0 when Domi controlled the puck along the side boards and then sent a perfect pass in front to Duclair, who had time to stickhandle and deke to the backhand before putting it home.

Just 52 seconds later, Nic Petan found a streaking Fabbri in front of the Slovak net and he made no mistake. Canada now had three goals on just five shots.

Slovak coach Ernest Bokros called his time-out to regroup his troops. But it was too late. The game was already lost.

At 6:56 of the second period, Paul parked himself on the edge of the Slovak crease and shoveled in the rebound from a Jake Virtanen wraparound attempt to make it 4-0.

With a neat flip pass on the rush, Petan set up Point’s 5-0 one-timer from the slot at 11:35. That was it for Godla, who was replaced by David Okolicany after facing 23 shots.

Domi put Canada up 6-0 when the London Knights captain darted into the Slovak zone, cut to the slot, and whizzed a wrister high to the glove side with 3:46 left in the second.

With the teams playing 4-on-4, Petan made it 7-0 just over a minute later, dipsy-doodling along the goal line before beating Okolicany on the short side with a lightning release.

Virtanen rounded out the scoring at 8-0 with 3:19 remaining in the third, poking in a Point rebound that came off the back boards.

The last time Canada didn’t win its first game at the World Juniors was a 0-0 tie with Slovakia in Winnipeg on December 27, 1998. Canada last lost an opener to Finland in Helsinki on December 25, 1997.

This was far from Canada's most lopsided shutout victory in U20 history. That was a 16-0 win over Latvia on December 26, 2009 in Saskatoon.

Neither of these teams has much time to rest. The Slovaks face Finland in Saturday’s first game at the Bell Centre (16:00), while Canada takes on Germany later (20:00).

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