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BERNIER STOPS 44; TEAM CANADA WINS 3-0

by Staff Writer / Los Angeles Kings
CP (PARDUBICE, Czech Republic) - Canada had little time to revel in its record-setting win to open the world junior hockey championship Wednesday, but intended to use it as fuel for their second game in less than 24 hours.

Stellar goaltending by Jonathan Bernier and the offensive talents of 17-year-olds John Tavares and Steve Stamkos helped the defending champs overcome a nervous first period and post a 3-0 win over the host Czech Republic on Wednesday.

Canada barely had time to catch its breath before Thursday's game against Slovakia starting at 4 p.m. local time (10 a.m. ET). Wednesday's game started at 8 p.m. local.

The victory established a record for consecutive Canadian victories at a world junior championship at 19, surpassing the 18 won during the country's run of five straight gold between 1992 and 1997.

Tavares of the Oshawa Generals made the most of his few shifts by scoring two power-play goals. The Sarnia Sting's Stamkos assisted on all three goals.

Matt Halischuk of the Kitchener Rangers also scored in his first international game for the Canadians, who are chasing a fourth straight gold medal for their country in this tournament.

Bernier was the backbone of Canada's victory by stopping 44 shots for the shutout. The Czechs had their best chances to score in the first period, but the Los Angeles Kings' draft pick was calm under pressure.

He either kept the puck in front of him to glove it or deflected shots harmlessly to the side.

"If you look at Canada in the past, every time they come over to Europe their goalie is MVP and he showed why he could be MVP at the end of this tournament," Stamkos said.

"The shutout is huge, especially the way this tournament is run. Goals-for and goals-against can be a tiebreaker when it comes down to wins, losses and points."

Canadian head coach Craig Hartsburg said despite his admiration for Bernier's performance, he would wait until Thursday morning to announce whether he'd go with Bernier again or give Steve Mason a start against the Slovaks, who fell 4-3 to Sweden on the other Pool A game Wednesday.

"It's a short turnaround and the luxury of having two really good goaltenders is we can use them both," Hartsburg said.

In a Pool B games in Liberec, the U.S. downed Kazakhstan 5-1 and Russia beat Finland 7-4.

The top team in each pool earns a bye to the semifinals Jan. 4. The second-and third-place teams cross over to meet in the quarter-finals Jan. 2.

It was a capacity crowd at the Pardubice Arena of 10,057 fans, including about 200 Canadians who began singing the national anthem after Tavares scored his second midway through the third period.

"It's my job to contribute offensively on the power play and tonight it was nice to do it," Tavares said. "So many guys did so many things: the penalty kill was amazing tonight and Bernier was on his head."

Canada held the Czechs scoreless on nine power-play chances while going 2-for-5 themselves.

The Czechs were well-versed in Canadian hockey as their roster included 10 players from the Canadian Hockey League.

Goaltender Michal Neuvirth plays for the OHL's Windsor Spitfires and he stoned Canada on several chances until Tavares's goal at 11:21 of the second period broke the tension for the visitors.

Halischuk made it 2-0 at 3:57 of the third by banging in his own rebound between Neuvirth's pads. Tavares put a sharp-angled shot off the shoulder of Neuvirth and into the net for his second of the game at 11:53.

"We played well in the first period, we played awesome and then Canada started to play their hockey and they won the hockey game," Neuvirth said.

Hartsburg put both Tavares and Stamkos out together when Canada had a man advantage and it paid dividends.

Tavares's only ice time was on the power play, while Stamkos had a few shifts even strength.

"Both have great creativeness and they've got good poise on the power-play," Hartsburg said. "It's not easy to come off the bench and play that role and to be a good team, you need guys to play roles and (Tavares) certainly has accepted it."

The youngest players on the squad exploded with excitement in goal celebrations. Tavares nearly went over the glass on his first goal and Stamkos launched himself into the air and on to Halischuk's head after Canada's second.

"I didn't think I could jump that high," Stamkos said.

The Czechs outshot Canada 9-2 over the opening seven minutes on the strength of two power-play opportunities.

Bernier made six saves during them and also stopped Halifax Mooseheads forward Jakub Voracek on an attempted wrap-around in the opening minutes.

"The important thing was to come out strong and have a good game, control my rebounds," Bernier said. "I came out with a shutout, so it's a plus, but we wanted the three points and that's what we did."

The tournament's commencement was big news locally. A Pardubice daily newspaper devoted its sports front and two more pages of coverage to the tournament Wednesday.

"The building was unbelievable," Hartsburg said. "I haven't seen anything like that since Vancouver (in 2006)."

Canadian forward Colton Gillies hammered Czech defenceman Antonin Boruta in the corner boards after Canada's first goal to the dismay of the home-team fans. Some threw debris on to the ice. Boruta returned to the Czech bench under his own steam.

Notes - Goalkeeper Jakub Kovar is a teammate of Tavares with the OHL's Oshawa Generals . . . Forward Brad Marchand could end up a linemate of Voracek's as Marchand was traded to the Halifax Mooseheads after joining the Canadian team . . . Canadian tour operator John Carroll expects to have 450 Canadians here by tournament's end and there are more who have come on their own.

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