MANNHEIM, Germany _ There were a few tentative first steps for a young Canadian team at the IIHF World Hockey Championship. Canada found itself tied with hockey minnow Italy late in the first period Saturday before veteran Ray Whitney set up a couple nice goals to help spark a tournament-opening 5-1 victory.
Italy arrived at this tournament with vastly different goals than Canada _ namely, avoiding relegation _ but provided a surprising amount of pushback early on. The 15th-ranked hockey nation managed to force several turnovers in the opening minutes and generated some quality scoring chances.
Canada went ahead for good at 19:12 of the first period, when Kris Russell took a nice cross-ice pass from Whitney and beat Italian goalie Adam Russo to make it 2-1. Whitney then hooked up with Matt Duchene at 5:57 of the middle frame and Canada never looked back.
Corey Perry, Steven Stamkos and Rene Bourque also scored for Canada, which faces Latvia on Monday.
Michele Strazzabosco replied for Italy.
Italian coach Rick Cornacchia figured his team had a chance if it could keep the game close in the opening 10 minutes and they managed to do it.
Perry opened the scoring for Canada at 2:43 by knocking in the rebound off a Stamkos shot, but Strazzabosco tied it just over 10 minutes later when his big blast from the point beat a screened Chris Mason.
In fact, the Italians could have been ahead at that stage of the game. Captain Roland Ramoser saw his hard shot glance off Mason's arm and bounce around on the goal-line before the Canadian goalie could sweep the puck to safety. Video review confirmed that it stayed out.
Mason improved his career world championship record to 5-0 and had a little more work than he might have been expecting. He stopped Nicola Fontanive on a short-handed rush in the first period before standing tall and denying Stefano Margoni, who was left alone in front.
Overall, it was the kind of tentative opening game Canada often plays at events like these. With only one exhibition contest before the tournament, the players appeared to be feeling one another out.
The Whitney-Duchene-John Tavares trio appeared to have some chemistry while Stamkos, Perry and Bourque seemed to click as well. Canadian coach Craig MacTavish has said he'll actively tinker with his units, just as Mike Babcock did at the Vancouver Olympics.
The world championship opener was the first game for a senior men's national team since Sidney Crosby's golden goal in Vancouver and the setting was completely different. There was very little atmosphere in SAP Arena, a venue that holds more than 13,000 and was a little more than half full.
Notes: Whitney celebrated his 38th birthday on Saturday. He's the oldest player on the Canadian team ... Bourque, Francois Beauchemin, Chad Johnson, Kyle Cumiskey and Rich Peverley all dressed for their first game with a Canadian national team ... Ryan Smyth appeared in his record 60th world championship game for Canada _ and 39th as captain ... The Italian roster features nine players who were born in Canada.