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Canada off to strong start at 2010 Worlds

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers
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The Canadian squad assembled by Rangers legend Mark Messier opened the 2010 World Championship tournament in impressive fashion on Saturday, as Team Canada defeated Italy 5-1 in Mannheim, Germany.

Messier, a Special Assistant to Rangers President and General Manager Glen Sather, is serving as Canada's General Manager in his first such experience since his Hall of Fame playing career ended in six years ago.

Rangers defenseman Marc Staal got his first taste of the World Championships on Saturday as Team Canada crushed Italy 5-1 in Mannheim, Germany.
Team Canada also features a pair of Rangers defensemen in Marc Staal and Michael Del Zotto, plus goaltender Chad Johnson, who backed up starter Chris Mason of the St. Louis Blues on Saturday.

The Canadians, coached by former Blueshirt Craig MacTavish, dominated the overmatched but spirited Italians, outshooting them 45-24 and breaking open the game with two goals in a five-minute span of the second period.

Staal played a total of 15:37 to rank third among Canadian defensemen in ice time. He had one shot on goal and was plus-1 for the game. Del Zotto saw 13:02 of action.

The game was effectively decided in the first half of the wide-open second period. Ahead 2-1 on the strength of a late first-period goal by defenseman Kris Russell -- which stood up as the winner -- Canada built a two-goal lead off the rush at 5:57 of the wide-open second period.

Colorado Avalanche forward Matt Duchene took a drop pass from Ray Whitney and rifled it past stunned Italian netminder Adam Russo for the 3-1 lead. Prior to the Duchene goal, the Italians had done a nice job skating evenly with the much speedier Canadian team.

Staal was on the ice for Duchene's goal, and his defense partner, Brent Burns of the Minnesota Wild, picked up the second assist.

The lead bumped up to 4-1 at 10:37 of the second, when Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos redirected Duchene's centering pass just inside the left post for his first goal of the tournament. Stamkos, who tied Sidney Crosby for the NHL lead with 51 goals in 2009-10, was stationed just outside the crease when Duchene found him with a short pass from behind the net. Kyle Cumiskey also assisted on the Stamkos goal.

Things got worse for Italy in the latter stages of the middle period, as defenseman Michele Strazzabosco, Italy's lone goal-scorer, took a double-minor for high-sticking at 11:39, and Nicola Fontanive was called for hooking Perry in the offensive zone while killing the penalty at 13:11. That left Canada with a 5-on-3 advantage for 2:28, but the Italians were inspired in killing off the penalties, and the power play ended when Canada was called for having too many men on the ice at 15:31.

Through 40 minutes, the Canadians were outshooting the Italians, 31-15. The Italian team, coached by former Oshawa General head coach Rick Cornacchia, decided Russo had seen enough at that point and opted to go with backup netminder Daniel Bellissimo for the third period.

Bellissimo, a 25-year-old native of Toronto who played at Western Michigan University before turning pro in Italy, made a tremendous save on a Marc Giordano point-blank shot just eight minutes into his stint, and he did not allow a goal until the 17:19 mark of the third, when Rene Bourque scored on a turn-around wrister from the top of the left circle that sailed through traffic in front of the net for a 5-1 Canadian lead. Defenseman Tyler Myers of the Buffalo Sabres, who had earlier been stopped by Bellissimo, picked up the lone assist.

In the opening period, Team Canada wasted little time getting on the scoreboard, as alternate captain Corey Perry of the Anaheim Ducks connected for a 1-0 lead at 2:43.

Standing just outside the crease to goaltender Russo's left, Perry took a cross-ice pass from Stamkos, who had emerged from behind the net after circling around the back of Russo. Bourque also assisted on Team Canada's goal. The puck actually deflected off Russo's pads as it made its way across the crease to Perry.

Russo, a 27-year-old native of Montreal, played major-junior hockey in the QMJHL before pursuing a pro career in Italy. He was one of nine North American-born players skated for Italy, including seven who were skating against their native country. The Italian team also featured two Americans of Italian ancestry in former college players Matt DeMarchi and Mike Souza.

After killing off an early Italian 5-on-3 that saw Mason make a remarkable reach-back save to preserve the Canadian lead, Team Canada got its first power play at 9:34 of the first period, when Italy took a penalty for having too many men on the ice. Del Zotto saw time on the power play, but the Italians did a strong job in killing it off.

Italy capitalized on that momentum to tie the game at 1-1 at 12:44, when Strazzabosco connected on a long drive from just inside the blue line above the right circle. The puck had shot out to Strazzabosco after a scrum on the left side of the ice, and the Italian defenseman wasted no time firing it past Mason.

Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, natives Nick Plastino and John Parco, both former OHL players, assisted on the Strazzabosco goal.

Italy took another penalty at 15:22, when Trevor Johnson went off for hooking. Shortly after his penalty expired, the Italians were shorthanded again, as Christian Borgatello was sent off for interference at 17:38.

With only 48 seconds left in the first period, Canada cashed in its extended power-play opportunity to regain the lead at 2-1. Defenseman Russell of the Columbus Blue Jackets came in from the left point to take a cross-ice pass from Whitney, who had made a nice move into the right faceoff circle. Russell moved in right to the edge of the crease to Russo's right and fired the puck past the unprepared netminder.

Canada outshot Italy 16-8 in the opening 20 minutes. Staal, who saw 5:08 of ice time, had one of the shots. Del Zotto, paired on defense with Francois Beauchemin of the Toronto Maple Leafs, skated 4:30 in the first period, including stretches on the power play.

Mason started in goal for Canada with Johnson on the bench as his backup. Johnson is wearing No. 30 in the tournament, while Staal and Del Zotto are wearing their Rangers numbers, 18 and 4.

Team Canada, which gained three Group B standings points for the regulation win, returns to action on Monday, when it faces Latvia.

In other games on Saturday, Denmark stunned Finland 4-1, and Switzerland beat Latvia. The Danish upset win was a nice break for the U.S. team, since Finland is part of the tournament's Group D, which includes Team USA.
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