EDMONTON - Mark Stone and Jonathan Huberdeau had instant chemistry playing on opposite wings during the Canadian junior hockey team's summer camp in August.
The two big forwards clicked again and dominated Canada's 8-1 win over Finland to open the world junior hockey championship Monday.
Stone, who plays for the Western Hockey League's Brandon Wheat Kings, scored a hat trick. Huberdeau of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League's Saint John Sea Dogs had a five-point game with a goal and four assists.
The win came at a heavy cost for Canada, however, as forward Devante Smith-Pelly broke his left foot blocking a shot in the second period and has been ruled out for the remainder of the tournament.
The Anaheim Ducks forward is one of two NHL players on the team, and Canada cannot replace him on its roster. At this point the only situation in which a team could add another player would be in the case of a goaltender injury.
Huberdeau, meanwhile, will be a key player for Canada in its bid to re-claim the gold medal at the world junior championship. He was the third overall pick in the NHL draft this year by the Florida Panthers and was the Memorial Cup MVP last season.
He couldn't fully participate in the Canadian team's selection camp earlier this month because of a broken bone in his foot. Canada's exhibition game last week against Switzerland was Huberdeau's first since Nov. 7.
Canadian head coach Don Hay kept Huberdeau on the team because he's a difference-maker and also complements Stone so well.
Stone has hands that are anything but as the Ottawa Senators draft pick and Winnipeg native leads the WHL in scoring. Stone and Huberdeau are both over six foot one and difficult for the opposition to contain.
"Stone just continues to score goals for us and it's great to see Jonathan get some confidence and start the tournament off with a game like that," Hay said.
"They're two different guys, but they do good work in their areas of the ice. Mark does a great job in front of the net. He's got great hands for a big guy. Jonathan really sees the ice well and can put pucks in the small areas."
Buoyed by the roars of the 16,647 at Rexall Place, the host country put in a complete performance with solid goaltending, smart defensive plays and a hard-charging attack.
Brendan Gallagher of the Vancouver Giants, Niagara IceDogs defenceman Dougie Hamilton and forward Ryan Strome and Brett Connolly of the NHL's Tampa Bay Lightning also scored for Canada.
Alexander Ruuttu, son of former NHL player Christian Ruuttu, scored Finland's lone goal early in the second period to temporarily pull his country within one goal.
Hay went with experience in net by giving Mark Visentin of the IceDogs the first start of the tournament. The Phoenix Coyotes prospect made 24 saves on 25 shots for the win.
Visentin was Canada's starting goaltender for the medal round of the 2011 tournament in Buffalo, N.Y. His big save on Teemu Pulkkinen with three minutes to go in the first period Monday preserved Canada's 2-0 lead heading into the second.
"I'm happy with my performance tonight," said Visentin. "Obviously there's little things I'd like to fix up. I let (another) Phoenix draftee Ruuttu score. Good for him. He's a good guy, but I only let him get one and one only."
After giving up four goals on 17 shots in Canada's final pre-tournament game against Sweden, there were questions whether Hay would go with Visentin or Scott Wedgewood of the Plymouth Whalers.
"It was always going to be Mark in my mind," Hay said. "The experience of coming out in front of a crowd like this, he's been exposed to that last year in Buffalo. When you have a veteran goalie coming back you really have to give him the opportunity to lead off the tournament."
Finland went with Chris Gibson of the QMJHL's Chicoutimi Sagueneens in goal. Canada pelted the Los Angeles Kings prospect with 42 shots as Finland's defence wilted under Canadian pressure.
Canada had beaten the Finns 3-1 in a pre-tournament game in Calgary last week.
"What can I say? Eight-one," Finland coach Raimo Helminen said. "I couldn't prepare our team to play as much as I should. We were not ready, not physically, not mentally in this game at the beginning."
Canada has Tuesday off before facing the Czech Republic on Wednesday and Denmark the following day. The hosts conclude Pool B play on Saturday versus the United States. The U.S. was to face Denmark in Monday's later game in Edmonton.
In Calgary, Sweden defeated Latvia 9-4 in a Pool A game with defending champion Russia set to face Switzerland at night.
The top team in each pool earns a bye to the semifinal round. The second and third teams cross over and meet in the quarter-finals.
Ryan Johansen played centre between Huberdeau and Stone during summer camp, but Johansen wasn't made available to play for Canada by the Columbus Blue Jackets.
So Hay inserted Strome between the two wingers and the New York Islanders prospect thrived there with a goal and three assists.
Stone's third goal at 4:05 of the third period prompted a cascade of hats from the stands.
"He's always in the right spot in the slot," Huberdeau observed. "He scores a lot of goals. You could see that in exhibition games. He scored in every exhibition game since the beginning so it's easy to play with him."
Freddie Hamilton, Quinton Howden and, before he left the game, Smith-Pelly combined to shut down Finland's top line of Mikael Granlund, his brother Marcus and Pulkkinen.
Dougie Hamilton and defensive partner Brandon Gormley of the Moncton Wildcats logged a lot of minutes on Canada's back end in the first game.
Canada's special teams were sharp, killing four Finnish power-play chances. Canada scored two power-play goals, plus another on a delayed penalty with an extra attacker in the second period for a 5-1 lead heading into the third.
"It's the first win, but to do it in that kind of manner in front of the home crowd is pretty awesome," Canadian captain Jaden Schwartz said.
"You look at the start we had, we were extremely excited and you want to enjoy the moment. It's hard to calm people down when you skate in front of a crowd like that."
Canada has finished in the medals of the tournament 13 straight years, including five straight gold from 2005 to 2009. The Canadians have settled for silver in the last two tournaments, however.
Notes: Canada's Boone Jenner levelled Finnish defenceman Olli Maatta, who plays for the London Knights, in the opening period. Helminen said the 17-year-old may have a concussion . . . Canada is 21-7-6 all times versus Finland at the world junior hockey championship . . . The last Canadian player to score a hat trick in a world junior championship game was Brayden Schenn, also a Brandon Wheat King, on Dec. 29, 2010 versus Norway.