VANCOUVER, B.C. - It was a coming out party that was four years in the making.
Team Canada stepped back on to the biggest stage in international hockey and delivered a crowd-pleasing performance, formally kicking off its quest to erase the memory of Turin with a comfortable 8-0 victory over Norway on Tuesday.
With the building painted a patriotic red and white by fans who showed up en masse in Canadian jerseys, Jarome Iginla scored three goals and hometown hero Roberto Luongo stopped all 15 shots he faced. By the time the final buzzer sounded, people were dancing in the aisles and no doubt dreaming about a golden ending to the biggest hockey event played in this country since the 1972 Summit Series.
The anticipation for the Olympic tournament has been building for Canadian hockey fans since the country crashed out of the Olympics four years ago with a disastrous seventh-place finish, the worst-ever in history. It was worth the wait.
"You know it's going to be cool, but when you actually see it, it feels like a totally different place," said Iginla. "We've been looking forward to this for a long time and it's finally here. The crowd was awesome - it was actually more red and white than I imagined."
Several fans threw hats on the ice when Iginla tipped home a shot with less than two minutes to play, but the goal was originally awarded to Rick Nash. Iginla didn't officially get his hat trick until around four hours after the final buzzer, when the International Ice Hockey Federation awarded the goal to the Calgary Flames captain after a review.
The Canadian team showed off a number of its weapons against the overmatched Norwegians. Dany Heatley scored twice while Mike Richards, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry added singles for a young squad that looked fairly composed after skating into the spotlight for the first time.
Even though the roof didn't come off Canada Hockey Place, as Norwegian captain Tommy Jakobsen predicted it might, the crowd of 16,652 roared throughout the game and alternated between chants of "Go Canada Go!" and "Let's Go Canada!" The building is known as GM Place when the Olympics aren't in town so it was only fitting that it had a different feel for the only Team Canada member who plays for the Canucks.
"I think obviously there was much more electricity in the air," said Luongo. "This is big for Canada and for Vancouver."
It was a marvellous platform for Canadian hockey - even though the Norwegians didn't play the part of willing victim early on. The underdogs showed plenty of pluck in the first period, clogging the neutral zone and collapsing around goalie Pal Grotnes to keep Canada from scoring in the opening 20 minutes.
The attack started to get more organized in the second after Iginla found himself elevated to the top line alongside Sidney Crosby and Rick Nash. Crosby had assists on all three goals the unit accounted for and was pleased overall with his first taste of the Olympics.
"I thought we were really patient," said Crosby. "We didn't force things, we stuck with things early on when we couldn't have."
Having the chance to open the tournament against Norway was a nice bonus for a Canadian team that only got one practice in ahead of the event. Coach Mike Babcock tried a number of different line combinations and spread the ice time around - forward Brenden Morrow received the least with 7:50, defenceman Dan Boyle the most at 20:12.
It was important for the coach to see all of his guys in action as the games will only get more important from here.
"As much as the coaches know these players and have watched them, until you coach them you don't (totally know them)," said Babcock. "As I said before, we're a work in progress. We're trying to get better. In order to get better, we've got to understand a little bit how they play and put them in the right situations to be successful."
Canada's next action comes Thursday against Switzerland - the country it was memorably upset by at the Olympics four years ago - and wraps up the preliminary round versus the U.S. on Sunday. Every game beyond that will be a must-win.
It's a short event and the Canadians know they'll need to keep improving to achieve a golden result.
"This is a tournament where we have to get better every game," said Heatley. "It was a good start tonight, but games are going to get tougher and we've got to get better. We've got a lot of great players in there that just have to stick to the game plan, stick to what we do, and things are going to be good."
Lost in all of the focus on Team Canada was just how big the game was for the visitors as well. Norway hadn't qualified for the Olympics since participating on home ice at the 1994 Lillehammer Games and was thrilled to receive an invite to the big party.
They enjoyed the atmosphere as much as the guys wearing the Maple Leaf.
"Unbelievable, I've never seen that kind of thing before," said Norwegian defenceman Juha Kaunismaki. "I was really proud to play here and play against one of the best teams in the world right now. I like this culture here, everybody is really into the hockey and you can see that. They love the game."
Notes: Canada has won all four meetings with Norway at the Olympics, outscoring them 37-3 ... Third-string goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury was the only Canadian player not to dress ... Ole-Kristian Tollefsen missed the game for Norway ... Five Canadian players wore different numbers than they do in the NHL: Getzlaf (No. 51), Perry (No. 24), Patrick Marleau (No. 11), Eric Staal (No. 21) and Jonathan Toews (No. 16) ... Wayne Gretzky, Luc Robitaille and Denis Potvin were among the former hockey stars in attendance ... Canada's 23 players come from 14 different NHL teams.