Canada 6 Belarus 1
KLOTEN, Switzerland — Steven Stamkos is a perfect example of just how much an invitation to the IIHF World Hockey Championship can mean to a player.
The chance to suit up for Canada has given the teenager a chance to extend a season that continues to improve dramatically after a rough start. The latest positive experience came Friday as Stamkos scored the first two goals in Canada’s 6-1 win over Belarus.
Afterwards, he sounded like a guy who doesn’t ever want the summer to come.
“For me, it’s just trying to keep going on that second half of the season,” said Stamkos. “I gained some confidence there and I wanted to keep it rolling in this tournament — so far, so good. I don’t want to take a step back here.”
The first game looked a lot like a step forward. He wasn’t the least bit out of place on a line with veterans Martin St. Louis and Shane Doan, displaying a deft touch by scoring goals on two nifty redirections.
He displayed modesty when asked about his play — suggesting that reporters could even have converted the chances — but Dany Heatley shot that theory down.
“It was fun to see him today,” he said. “A couple sick goals.”
Heatley also scored twice, raising his gaudy career total to 34 goals in 44 world championship games. Mike Fisher and Jason Spezza had the other goals for Canada.
Mikhail Grabovski replied for Belarus.
It was an excellent start to the tournament for a group of Canadians that were playing together for the first time. The lack of in-game experience had coach Lindy Ruff feeling some butterflies before his first assignment behind the bench of a national team.
“When you don’t get to see your team play or how your lines operate, you’re nervous,” he said. “I thought that Stamkos line got us a good start. That gave us a little bit of comfort right off the bat.”
All of the other favourites managed wins on the opening day of the competition as well. Russia beat Germany 5-0, Switzerland defeated France 1-0 and Slovakia edged Hungary 4-3.
With 16 teams at the world championship, there will always be mismatches. Canada-Belarus certainly registered as one of those — although Belarusian coach Glen Hanlon invoked a dress code before the game to try and convince his players otherwise.
“I don’t care what you guys wear, but you can’t wear Hockey Canada stuff,” Hanlon told his players. “We’re going to games, they’ve got Hockey Canada hats on and Hockey Canada shirts. And I go, ‘Guys, we’re trying to beat these guys.’
“We need to believe (we can win).”
Stamkos helped take that belief away in the first period.
The No. 1 overall pick in last year’s NHL draft tipped in a beautiful St. Louis pass at 1:05 before redirecting another shot behind Vitali Koval at 14:29. It’s the sort of thing that he started doing for Tampa Bay in the latter half of the season, earning him an invitation to the world championship.
The maturation process should only continue here in Switzerland.
“When you come in at 19 or 20, you’re a young player,” said Ruff. “You’re even young to the guys that are 25 because players start to mature in that 25, 26 area. It just takes awhile.”