MONTREAL — Canada's junior team has been together since Dec. 11 and they all agree it's about time to play a real game.

Canada opens the world junior championships Friday night against Slovakia at what is expected to be a packed Bell Centre.

"We're all looking at beating up someone else besides ourselves in practice," said Canadian forward Curtis Lazar, who joined the team only on Dec. 19 on loan from the Ottawa Senators. "We're excited to get this thing going.

"I know, for myself, I just got here recently and I'm already sick and tired of it. I can't imagine about these other guys. They've been itching and ready to go for a while. When we hit the ice, it'll be pretty cool."

There are high expectations for Canada, which has been shut out of the medals the past two years and has not won gold in the past five.

Lazar was part of a Canadian squad that finished fourth at last year's event in Malmo, Sweden, but this team is felt to have more skill and depth. He is among seven returning players along with goalie Zach Fucale, who gets the start against Slovakia, defenceman Josh Morrissey and forwards Connor McDavid, Nic Petan, Frederik Gauthier and Sam Reinhart.

"It is quite motivating," said Lazar. "I know it is for myself because I want to erase that memory from last year and overcome it with a result this year.

"I feel we have a great group and we're going to be able to have success no matter who we're playing against. It's a matter of executing every time we step out on the ice."

For many, the 20,000-plus at the Bell Centre will be the largest crowd they've ever experienced, which can add to the excitement but may also be intimidating— especially if the team struggles early and the crowd gets impatient.

"We're going to have to manage the crowd and get them behind us right off the start," said Lazar. "If we can get that momentum going in the tournament, it's going to be really beneficial to us. I mean, world juniors on Canadian soil, they're here supporting us. It's a matter of us putting on a show."

Defenceman Joe Hicketts, in his first world juniors, hopes to embrace the excitement.

"We look to take advantage of that atmosphere and energy that Canadian fans bring and use it to our advantage," he said. "Not putting pressure ourselves, but using the crowd is an asset."

Likely the most closely watched Canadian, along with local product and Montreal Canadiens draft pick Fucale, is 17-year-old McDavid, who is expected to be picked first overall in the 2015 NHL Draft.

McDavid is coming off a broken hand suffered in a fight in November but showed in pre-tournament games he has shaken off any rust and is close to top form.

"It's pretty exciting," said McDavid. "World Juniors. Boxing Day. My childhood dream.

"To play in it last year was pretty good. To play here in Montreal, it's going to be an awesome experience."

In three exhibitions games, Canada lost in overtime to Russia and posted one-sided wins over Sweden and Switzerland. They had two days to practise and do last-minute team bonding heading into the first game that counts.

One matter they went over in detail was the small differences between NHL and international rules. Games are called more closely in international hockey, but coach Benoit Groulx feels his team is ready for that.

"We don't have any guys on our team that want to go out there and do stupid things or take bad penalties," he said. "It's more about controlling what you're doing, being in the right frame of mind. So far we've been pretty good about it, but now it starts for real. I think we're aware of it and we'll do good.

"We want to put a fast game on the ice. We have to be a tough team to play against, whistle to whistle. We don't want to be part of those scrums at the whistle or anything like that. When you look at our team, we have a lot of skilled players that are not playing like that. I don't expect discipline to be an issue at all, to be honest."

Canada plays again Saturday night against Germany. Groulx would not say if Fucale or his second goalie Eric Comrie will start that game.