KLOTEN, Switzerland - Steven Stamkos is a perfect example of just how much an invitation to the IIHF World Hockey Championship can mean to a player.
The chance to suit up for Canada has given the teenager a chance to extend a season that continues to improve dramatically after a rough start. The latest positive experience came Friday as Stamkos scored the first two goals in Canada's 6-1 tournament-opening win over Belarus.
Afterwards, he sounded like a guy who doesn't ever want the summer to come.
"For me, it's just trying to keep going on that second half of the season," said Stamkos. "I gained some confidence there and I wanted to keep it rolling in this tournament - so far, so good.
"I don't want to take a step back here."
The first game looked a lot like a step forward. He wasn't the least bit out of place on a line with veterans Martin St. Louis and Shane Doan, displaying a deft touch by scoring goals on two nifty redirections.
He displayed modesty when asked about his play - suggesting that reporters could even have converted the chances - but no less of an authority than Dany Heatley quickly shot that theory down.
"It was fun to see him today," he said. "A couple sick goals."
Heatley also scored twice, raising his gaudy career total to 34 goals in 44 world championship games. Mike Fisher and Jason Spezza had the other goals for Canada.
Mikhail Grabovski replied for Belarus.
In other action Friday, it was: Russia 5 Germany 0; Switzerland 1 France 0; and Slovakia 4 Hungary 3.
At Kloten, it was an excellent start to the tournament for a group of Canadians that were playing together for the first time. The lack of in-game experience had coach Lindy Ruff feeling some butterflies before his first assignment behind the bench of a national team.
"When you don't get to see your team play or how your lines operate, you're nervous," he said. "I thought that Stamkos line got us a good start. That gave us a little bit of comfort right off the bat."
The other tournament favourite also managed a win on the opening day of competition as Russia beat Germany 6-1 in Bern. Canada had to settle for silver at last year's tournament after getting beaten by the Russians in the final.
With 16 teams at the world championship, there will always be mismatches. Canada-Belarus certainly registered as one of those - although Belarusian coach Glen Hanlon invoked a dress code before the game to try and convince his players otherwise.
"I don't care what you guys wear, but you can't wear Hockey Canada stuff," Hanlon told his players. "We're going to games, they've got Hockey Canada hats on and Hockey Canada shirts. And I go, 'Guys, we're trying to beat these guys.'
"We need to believe (we can win)."
Stamkos helped take that belief away in the first period.
The No. 1 overall pick in last year's NHL draft tipped in a beautiful St. Louis pass at 1:05 before redirecting another shot behind Vitali Koval at 14:29. It's the sort of thing that he started doing for Tampa Bay in the latter half of the season, earning him an invitation to the world championship.
The maturation process should only continue here in Switzerland.
"When you come in at 19 or 20, you're a young player," said Ruff. "You're even young to the guys that are 25 because players start to mature in that 25, 26 area. It just takes awhile."
Canada's elder statesman also got his tournament off to a good start.
Dwayne Roloson made 23 saves in goal and became the oldest player ever to suit up for Canada at this event. He'll turn 40 in October but wasn't feel particularly nostalgic after securing a place in the record book.
"I'm just honoured to be able to keep playing," said Roloson. "I'm not worried about any of the other accolades until I'm officially done. We'll focus on those things later on in life."
One of the few mistakes the goalie made all game ended up working in his favour - Roloson got tied up with the post as Grabovski fired the puck into an empty cage late in the first period. However, the apparent goal was overturned because Roloson had knocked the net off its moorings while trying to scramble back to his crease.
Grabovski got his payback later by spoiling the Canadian goalie's shutout with less than eight minutes to play. However, Roloson claimed the goal didn't bother him.
"All I care about is winning," he said. "As long as we win that's all that matters to me. It could be 11-10, who cares? As long as we win."
The Kloten Arena was roughly two-thirds full for Canada's tournament opener, but there was plenty of atmosphere. Canadian flags, shirts and jerseys were sprinkled throughout the arena and a group of local schoolchildren spent most of the afternoon chanting: "Canada! Canada!"
While it paled in comparison to what the Canadian team will face at the Olympics next February, this event could help some players prove to Steve Yzerman that they belong in Vancouver. Stamkos doesn't expect to be one of those guys.
"There's so many great players who aren't even here and are still in the playoffs," he said. "Who knows what happens when you put an Olympic team together here - you're probably on the outside looking in.
"You do whatever you can to try and impress them, maybe not for next year but for the future."
Russia 5 Germany 0
At Bern, Switzerland, Russia opened defence of its title with an impressive win over Germany.
Oleg Saprykin, Ilya Kovalchuk, Sergei Zinoviev, Anton Kuryanov and Denis Zaripov scored, while Ilya Bryzgalov, the Phoenix Coyotes goaltender, had 20 saves for the shutout.
Switzerland 1 France 0
At Bern, Toronto Maple Leafs netminder Martin Gerber stopped 14 shots as the host team survived a scare from France.
Martin Pluss's goal midway through the first period stood up for Switzerland, which won despite a 41-save performance from French netminder Fabrice Lhenry.
Slovakia 4 Hungary 3
At Kloten, Lubos Bartecko's second goal of the game with 13 seconds remaining in the third period helped Slovakia avoid a major upset at the hands of the Hungarians.
Marcel Hossa and Stefan Ruzicka had the other goals for the Slovaks, who squandered a 3-1 third-period lead. Roger Holeczy, Tamas Sille and Imre Peterdi scored for Hungary.