Following a pre-competition set that saw Canada establish a 2-1 record, including a 3-1 win over Finland last week in Calgary, the nation's red and white colours shone brightly inside Rexall Place with a 8-1 toppling of the same Finnish squad to open the 2012 World Junior Championship.
With help from Saint John Sea Dogs centre Jonathan Huberdeau, Mark Stone opened the scoring at 2:14 as he corralled a pass in the slot and made no mistake, pushing the disc into the gaping cage behind Finland's Christopher Gibson.
Canada extended to a 2-0 lead and 7-0 shot advantage 2:11 later when Brendan Gallagher popped the bouncing puck behind Gibson with a wild swing that connected on his backhand, bringing the sold-out Rexall Place crowd into an unrelenting craze.
"That's the way we played," said Canadian Head Coach Don Hay, looking back at what the crowd gave back. "We played with energy. We had a two-goal lead early in the game and to come out and play that way, I thought it was a really important start for us."
With Canada on what appeared to be an unstoppable run, Finland pushed back with six shots and three straight in the second period; and on the opponent's ninth attempt, Alexander Ruutu snapped a shot through rearguard Mark Pysyk, whose attempted block didn't wheel, and past Mark Visentin to pull his team within one at 1:21 of the middle period.
From there, it was lights-out as Visentin shut the door, rebounding from a disappointing pre-competition outing vs. Sweden with 24 saves today.
"They were coming on hard," explained Huberdeau who, in total, recorded a goal and four assists in Canada's opening-game win. "Mark [Visentin] stepped up and made several good saves to keep us in the lead. The early goals were good, but we needed more. The saves he made were huge and allowed us to settle down and start playing our game again. That's what we did."
"When Finland got to 2-1, I thought Mark made some good, real solid stops for us and gave us a chance to extend the lead," added Hay. "As the game continued, we got better and better."
Canada did respond, reestablishing the team's two-goal edge 1:41 later when Huberdeau and Stone connected once more with a highlight-reel, bar-in shot on a delayed penalty to put Canada up 3-1.
"[Stone] was a huge part of the win and we seem to have developed some chemistry, which is always good in a tournament like this; it's about who can build chemistry in short order and start working to develop it throughout the tournament, because that wins you games."
"I played with Huberdeau in the summer and we developed a little chemistry, but he can pretty much play with anyone," added Stone. "If I go to the net hard and put my stick on the ice, I'm going to get my opportunities; I was able to bang them home and help us get the win."
It was the goal that ultimately sank the blue-clad squad. Penalties to Finland's Konsta Makinen and a bench minor for too many men allowed Canada to register another pair on the scoreboard (Huberdeau and Dougie Hamilton), surging into the third with a commanding 5-1 lead.
Brett Connolly added another 52 seconds into the third to make it six; and with Huberdeau having already notched three points, Stone needed to match. No. 16 scored at 4:05 to record his hat trick tally, putting Canada up 7-1. Ryan Strome tallied another late in the game, adding more salt to an already bitter Finland loss.
A three-goal outing for Team Canada hadn't happened since Dec. 30, 2010 when Brayden Schenn cashed four in a 10-1 win over Norway. Stone, while pleased with his game and the team's victory, was all business as he looked ahead to his group's next assignment.
"We made some mistakes," he said. "Teams usually do in a tournament like this, like in the second period when we let up a little bit, but good teams bounce back. No matter what the score was, we're always striving to get better. That's our goal prior to the next one, because it's a long process to the end goal."