John Tavares is certainly living up to his billing at the World Junior Hockey Championship, scoring Canada's first two goals on the power play and assisting on another as the defending gold medalists soundly beat the Czech Republic 8-1 in their opening game.
Angelo Esposito, Ryan Ellis, Tyler Ennis, Chris DiDomenico, Zach Boychuk and Alex Pietrangelo also scored for Canada, who are seeking their fifth straight World Junior title for the second time in tournament history.
Tavares, in his fourth season with the Oshawa Generals of the Ontario Hockey League, has generated plenty of attention over the last few years as a potential first overall pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. The 18-year-old is already two points shy of last year's totals (five points) when he made his first appearance in the tournament.
"He's a good hockey player," Canadian defenceman P.K. Subban told TSN. "When you look at him play in the OHL, his stats speak for themselves and he's always been a guy who steps up in the big games. And he did today."
"I really hadn't seen him (Tavares) play before selection camp," added head coach Pat Quinn. "While he's not blessed with blazing speed, what he does it have that change of pace that freezes guys and he knows where to carry the puck and get himself into shooting positions that lots of people can't do."
The first period started off evenly, with both clubs trading scoring chances and keeping the sold-out Ottawa crowd nervous. But with a holding call to Czech blueliner Milan Doczy late in the stanza, Canada's power play got to work. With a feed from linemate Jordan Eberle, Tavares streaked in from the right side and lifted the puck over netminder Tomas Vosvrda's shoulder.
"Obviously there were a few shifts there where we were a little nervous and just getting the feeling out there," Tavares told TSN after the game. "Once we got a few big hits and started playing our game, we were great. We still have a lot of areas we want to improve on, but overall we capitalized on our chances and fed off the energy and it was huge for us."
Tavares's first goal set the tone for an offensive onslaught in the second period. Tavares scored his second goal with the man advantage at the two minute mark, and followed it up with a two-on-one feed to Esposito for a quick 3-0 lead. The goal was sweet redemption for the Atlanta Thrashers prospect, who finally made the team after being cut for three straight years.
"It's a good feeling," said Esposito. "I waited a long while for it and Johnny made me a great pass and I just had to find that open net and put it in there."
Canada chased Vosvrda out of the net after Ellis and Ennis made it 5-0, and Dominik Furch came in to replace him.
Dustin Tokarski, who led the Western Hockey League's Spokane Chiefs to a Memorial Cup last spring, was solid in goal with 21 saves. He looked brilliant stopping Vladimir Ruzicka on a breakaway in the first period and was unbeatable until Jan Kana broke his shutout bid with two minutes left in the game.
"You want your goaltenders to make big saves early and get your guys rolling if you're off to a slow start," said Tokarski. "We got rolling after that first (goal) and the floodgates opened."
The offensive output was surprising for a Canadian squad that did not score more than four goals in a game in last year's tournament. The last time Canada scored eight in a game was in Grand Forks, North Dakota in 2005 when they defeated Sweden and Finland 8-1, and Germany 9-0. Prior to Friday, Canada's largest margin of victory over the Czech Republic was a 7-1 victory in 2004.
The Canadian squad honoured the memory of Luc Bourdon during their game, wearing "LB" on their helmets to pay tribute to the two-time World Junior gold medalist. Bourdon, a member of the 2006 and 2007 teams, was killed in a motorcycle accident back in May. In addition to their tribute, no Canadian player is wearing Bourdon's No. 6 in this tournament.
Canada has won four straight World Junior gold medals and if they can capture another one in Ottawa they will tie a national record set from 1993 to 1997.
The Czech Republic has not won a medal at this tournament since a bronze in 2005 and has not captured gold since their 2001 squad won in Moscow. Team Canada is now 10-0-2 over their last 12 games with the Czech Republic at the World Junior Championship.
Canada's next game is against Kazakhstan on Sunday and can be seen live on TSN, TSN HD and TSN.ca at 3pm et/Noon pt.