HAMILTON - Cody Hodgson, Zach Boychuk and Jordan Eberle have only just been thrown together, yet they look as if they've been teammates forever.
The scoring line will give Canada some offensive pop for the world junior hockey tournament.
Hodgson, the nifty centre from the OHL's Brampton Battalion, assisted on three goals in a 7-0 exhibition win over Slovakia on Tuesday night and upped his pre-tournament points total to a team-best nine in three games.
Boychuk, of the WHL's Lethbridge Hurricanes, scored twice and Eberle of the WHL's Regina Pats got one in the romp.
''We compliment each other,'' says Hodgson. ''Boychuk and Eberle have great speed and make plays at top speed.
''They create so much room for me to make plays. It's been a lot of fun so far.''
John Tavares of the OHL's Oshawa Generals, with two goals, Patrice Cormier of the QMJHL's Rimouski Oceanic and Jamie Benn of the WHL's Kelowna Rockets also scored. Five were power-play goals. Cormier's was short-handed.
Shots were 41-20 for Canada and Chet Pickard of the WHL's Tri-City Americans, getting his first 60-minute chance, earned the shutout.
''We're getting all the wrinkles out,'' said Hodgson. ''We got some big goals from different guys and great goaltending.''
Canada went 3-0 in pre-tournament play and begins its quest for a fifth straight title on Friday when it plays the Czech Republic in Ottawa (TSN, 7:30pm/4:30pm pt).
Slovakia's only podium appearance was 10 years ago when it won bronze, and coach Stefan Mikes hopes for a breakthrough this time with a roster that includes 19 players who are 19 years old. Canada has only 12 players in their last year of eligibility. Slovakia also has a good goaltender in Jaroslav Janus of the OHL's Erie Otters.
Mikes' men took too many penalties to stand a chance at a win on this night. They were at manpower disadvantages three times in the opening seven minutes, and Eberle backhanded in a rebound on a power play at 7:30 to give Canada an early lead.
Slovakia took four of the five penalties assessed in the first period, and three more before the four-minute mark of the second.
Tavares made it 2-0 with Canada at a two-man advantage. Hodgson faked a slap shot, passed instead to the star forward and watched as the projected No. 1 2009 NHL draft pick slipped the puck into the open side of the net at 2:34.
Boychuk made it 3-0 by deking Janus to the ice and slipping the puck into the open net with the flustered goalie's chest on the ice.
Coach Pat Quinn's squad had kicked it into a higher gear.
Quinn used Tavares with Angelo Esposito of the QMJHL's Montreal Juniors and Chris DiDomenico of the Q's Saint John, N.B., club. While Tavares was highly effective on power plays, the line didn't click at even strength.
Cormier scored short-handed at 6:49 of the third period when he beat Janus on the short side with a shot from the circle to the goalie's right.
Tavares followed with a power-play gem. His first shot was blocked. The puck was nearly waist high when Tavares stuck out his stick and balanced the puck on the blade. He turned the blade and dropped the puck into the net at 9:09.
''I was just trying to put the puck in the net and I felt that was the right thing to do,'' he said. ''I had some hand-eye co-ordination and put it in.
''Some of that comes from playing lacrosse and working after practice fooling round. Sometimes those things come into play and help you out. It was a nice one to score. The guys will be bugging me about that one for a few days.''
Boychuk slammed in another power-play goal at 9:55.
Cormier, Stefan Della Rovere of the OHL's Barrie Colts and Evander Kane of the WHL's Vancouver Giants comprise Canada's pest line. Canada comes up with one every year, and this trio can bash and aggravate an opponent to no end.
Benn capped the scoring with 55 seconds left.
Quinn wasn't about to get carried away with the win. After all, it was only an exhibition.
''It wasn't all pretty but we did a lot of good stuff,'' said Quinn.
The coaching staff has a big decision to make now. Pickard or Dustin Tokarski of the WHL's Spokane, Wash., club will get the first tournament start.
The four first-round games of the tournament will give the staff chances to revise some line combinations and make other adjustments until everything jells.
''We're still going to be looking in the next four games as to how this team will be the best when we hit the games you can't lose anymore,'' said Quinn.
Improvements in defensize zone play are a must, he added.
Notes: Canada was 5-for-11and Slovakia 0-5 on power plays . . . The Canadians, based in Orangeville during their exhibition games in southern Ontario, flew to Ottawa after the game . . . Announced attendance was 16,073 in Copps Coliseum. Snowy weather couldn't keep them away . . . Canada's bus, slowed in traffic, arrived only 30 minutes before game time . . . D Tyler Myers of the WHL's Kelowna Rockets did not dress . . . Slovakia has four defencemen who are six-foot-two or taller, including six-foot-six Juraj Valach...In other pre-tournament action team USA pounded Russia 5-1 in Kingston.