After finishing fourth at the 2013 tournament, despite a stacked lineup due to the NHL lockout, the always-favoured Canadians are under pressure to win this year. Their last gold medal came on home ice in 2009 in Ottawa. Prior to 2013, the last time they failed to medal was in 1998, when they came eighth.
Anthony Mantha led the way with three goals for Canada, while Sam Reinhart added a goal and an assist. Josh Anderson, Bo Horvat and Nic Petan had singles, and Jonathan Drouin recorded three assists. Derrick Pouliot and Connor McDavid had two helpers apiece.
"The fans were unbelievable tonight," said Horvat. "I can’t believe the amount of Canadian fans that are here. It was pretty cool and we’re glad we got the win for them."
Dorian Saeftel and Janik Moser scored for Germany. The Germans are hoping to avoid relegation. They finished ninth last year, and the last time they bettered that result was 1996 (eighth).
Jake Paterson, who was Canada’s third-string goalie and did not play in 2013, recorded his first career World Junior victory. Germany’s Marvin Cüpper, returning between the pipes for the second straight year, took the loss.
As expected, it was a robustly played affair with the workmanlike Germans, whose skill level couldn’t match Canada’s. There is still room for coach Brent Sutter's squad to improve.
"You can always improve on your game," said Sam Reinhart. "It’s a process. It’s not just going to happen right off the start of the tournament."
There were thunderous pre-game chants of “Go Canada Go!” from the hundreds of red-clad Canadian fans in attendance. But they were temporarily silenced when Germany drew first blood at 1:34. After a faceoff win in the Canadian end, Saeftel’s shot along the ice fooled Paterson.
At 6:21, the Canadians made it 1-1 after a spectacular Matt Dumba rush. Dumba’s backhand attempt glanced off Cüpper’s pads and Anderson was there to put the rebound high past the goalie.
During the game’s opening power play for Canada, Dumba’s aggressive rushing nearly set up the 16-year-old phenom McDavid on another close-in chance. Dumba, who has played 13 games for the NHL’s Minnesota Wild this season, often appeared to have a step on his competition.
At 10:41, Canada made it 2-0 on its second man advantage, with Mantha whipping home a rebound past the prone German netminder.
"Everyone knows Anthony can score goals, and he definitely showed that tonight," said Horvat. "He’s a special player. He can put the puck in the net."
Captain Leon Draisaitl got behind the Canadian defence a couple of minutes later but couldn’t outwit Paterson in close.
Canada looked defensively suspect at times, enabling the Germans to get the equalizer at 15:59. A completely unguarded Moser took a cross-ice pass from Dominik Kahun and put it into the open net on Paterson’s stick side.
Mantha restored Canada’s one-goal lead with 2:24 left in the opening frame, cutting around the net and scoring on a backhanded wraparound.
The Germans abandoned Cüpper to the wolves on the fourth Canadian goal. The German goalie made multiple stops before Sam Reinhart sent a neat pass through the crease to Horvat, who lifted the puck home to make it 4-2 at 18:29.
Canada picked up its physical game in the second period, with Curtis Lazar running over German defenceman Jonas Noske.
The gap on the scoreboard increased as well. Sam Reinhart broke in alone on Cüpper and got three cracks at it before shoving the puck over the goal line at 6:45 for a 5-2 lead. McDavid recorded his first World Junior point with the second assist.
A sweet power play feed from Drouin gave Mantha his hat trick goal. He whacked it home at Cüpper’s left post with 8:32 remaining in the middle frame. (No hats, however, were thrown on the ice.)
Just past the halfway mark of the third period, Petan put home a loose puck to make it 7-2 after McDavid nearly scored after coming around the net. McDavid is the first 16-year-old to represent Canada at this tournament since Sidney Crosby (2004).
"It was an unbelievable experience," said McDavid. "I was a little nervous. Any time you wear the Canadian jersey, there are nerves that come along with that. But it went away pretty quickly."
In 2013, the Canadians opened similarly with a 9-3 romp over Germany. The last time Canada didn’t win its first game was at the 1999 tournament in Manitoba, a 0-0 tie with Slovakia.
Germany’s next game is against Slovakia on Friday, while Canada faces the Czech Republic on Saturday.
(Nathan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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