Connor McDavid might be the youngest player on Canada's roster at the World Under-18 Championship in Sochi, Russia, but the 16-year-old forward made quite an impact Thursday during his country's 4-1 victory over Slovakia in the Group B opener at Shayba Arena.
The United States, which is seeking a fifth straight gold medal at the tournament, suffered a 4-3 setback to host Russia when Vladimir Tkachyov scored with 1:54 left in third period at Bolshoy Ice Dome in a Group A preliminary-round matchup.
The Americans pulled into a 3-3 tie when captain J.T. Compher scored a shorthanded goal 11:14 into the third. The play began when United States forward Tyler Motte stole the puck at the top of the U.S. blue line and skated into the neutral zone with Compher, before the latter got the pass, skated into the Russian end and beat goalie Igor Shestyorkin (34 saves) with a shot under his arm.
The U.S. team had taken a 2-0 lead less than eight minutes into the first on power-play goals by forward Jack Eichel and defenseman Will Butcher. The Americans outshot Russia, 18-11, in the opening period.
Russia pulled to within one goal nine seconds after Butcher's tally when Nikita Setdikov sent a puck past U.S. goalie Thatcher Demko (24 saves). Pavel Buchnevich, a highly regarded 2013 draft-eligible prospect, then scored a power-play marker 2:19 into the second with Michael McCarron in the box for hooking square the game 2-2.
Ilya Ivanov gave Russia its first lead 1:33 into the third.
The United States will next face the Czech Republic on Saturday. Russia will face off against Finland.
Canada spotted Slovakia a one-goal lead in the first period when alternate captain David Soltes connected 3:11 into the contest.
The Canadians roared back when Nick Baptiste scored 7:20 into the first before McDavid of the Ontario Hockey League's Erie Otters struck for a power-play goal to give his country a 2-1 lead.
With Slovakia's Erik Cernak off for holding, McDavid skated down the middle of the ice, splitting two defenders and forcing the puck through goaltender Denis Godle (31 saves) for the 2-1 edge.
"We had a good start, though we were down 1-0 early on there," Canada coach Don Hay told the International Ice Hockey Federation website. "We generated a lot of shots and a lot of offense. But the penalties crept in and we have to watch out for those because we won't be able to take so many against Russia or the U.S."
Canadian captain Sam Reinhart extended the lead to 3-1 at 11:10 of the third period off a feed from McDavid, before Samuel Bennett-McDowell closed out the scoring off another assist from McDavid 34 seconds later.
McDavid, who finished with a plus-2 rating and won nine of 10 faceoffs, started the game on a line with Reinhart and Bennett-McDowell. Goalie Spencer Martin of the OHL's Mississauga Steelheads earned the win with 12 saves for Canada.
"I thought we played really well and it was a good tournament opener," McDavid said. "We had a strong forecheck and good cycling. We do need to stay out of penalty box more, but that's just something we need to get used to playing in international competition."
Canada was whistled for eight minor penalties in the game.
McDavid led all first-year OHL players with 41 assists and was second with 66 points. He's a candidate to be the first player picked in the 2015 NHL Draft.
Canada won the bronze medal at last year's tournament, its first medal of any kind since winning the gold in 2008. The Canadians also won gold in 2003 and a silver in 2005.
Canada will next play Germany on Saturday, and Slovakia faces Switzerland on Friday.