EDMONTON — Owen Power's hat trick helped Canada overcome a nervous start at the world men's under-20 hockey championship with a 6-3 doubling of the Czechs on Sunday.
Canada trailed 3-1 during the first period and was an even 3-3 heading into the second. Power's two power-play goals then broke the tension for the host country at Rogers Place.
The 19-year-old from Mississauga, Ont., became the first Canadian defenceman to score three goals in a single game at the world junior men's championship.
"I think pucks kind of just found me," Power said. "Guys did a good job of getting me good pucks in good spots to shoot.
"There's been a ton of really good players come and play in these tournaments, so I had no idea that no one had got a hat trick, so definitely just surprised. Doing it at this stage and wearing a Canadian jersey is definitely pretty special."
The Buffalo Sabres made Power the first overall pick in this year's NHL entry draft. The University of Michigan rearguard and Canadian teammate Cole Perfetti already won world men's championship gold medal in June playing for Canada in Riga, Latvia.
Perfetti, a Winnipeg Jets prospect playing for the American Hockey League's Manitoba Moose, had three assists in the game. The Canadians leaned on the poise of Power and Perfetti in a rocky start.
"It's huge. It's the pressure of playing for your country, it's the excitement of playing for your country, it's the experience of playing against the best in the world," Canadian head coach Dave Cameron said.
"I'm sure they drew on-ice experience from it and from a coaching point, we're drawing on their leadership off-ice from it."
Mason McTavish had a goal and an assist and defencemen Donovan Sebrango and Olen Zellweger also scored for the host country.
After giving up three goals on seven shots in the opening period, Canadian starting goaltender Dylan Garand stopped the remaining 10 he faced.
Michal Gut had a goal and an assist and Stanislav Svozil and Pavel Novak also scored for what is now Czechia after the Czech hockey federation's adoption of the country's name change from "Czech Republic'.
Jakub Malek, a New Jersey Devils prospect, turned away 30 shots in the loss.
Canada is arguably in the easier of the two pools alongside Czechia, Finland, Germany and Austria. Defending champion United States, perennial contender Russia, Sweden, Slovakia and Switzerland comprise Pool B in Red Deer, Alta.
Canada takes on Austria on Tuesday with a game the following day against Germany before capping the preliminary round on New Year's Eve against the Finns.
In other games Sunday, Finland opened with a 3-1 win over Germany and the Swedes downed Russia 6-3 in Red Deer.
The quarterfinals Jan. 2 and semifinals Jan. 4 precede the medal games Jan. 5 in Edmonton.
Canada fell 2-0 to the Americans in the 2021 final in Edmonton. That tournament was held without spectators because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tickets were sold to the 2022 edition, but the provincial government limited capacity for sporting events to 50 per cent five days before it started. So Edmonton's Rogers Place is capped at 9,320 spectators and Red Deer's Centrium at 3,555.
While chants of "Let's Go Canada" erupted at Rogers Place, the arena wasn't half full for Canada's opener Sunday. Power's third goal produced a smattering of hats on the ice.
After a six-goal first period, Canada tightened up defensively and gained momentum via Power's two power-play goals. He made the most of a two-man advantage in the second period with a one-timer from the top of the circle.
He completed his hat trick tapping in a rebound during a goal-mouth scramble for another power-play goal at 10:15.
"He's got a real low panic threshold," Cameron said. "It's the ability to play the high-performance game with a calmness. I'm not sure you can teach that."
Czechia's pre-tournament game against the Swiss was cancelled because of COVID-19 protocols while the Canadians got a 6-4 warmup win over Russia.
The Czechs, who gave up three power-play goals, lost assistant captain David Jiricek to an injured left knee in Sunday's second period when the defenceman collided with Will Cuylle.
"On a positive side, guys were playing well defensively," Czech coach Karel Mlejnek said. "They were doing stuff we told them to do.
"On the other hand, our discipline was a key part of our game and one of the reasons why we lost, especially the five-on-three power-play."
Cameron called a timeout in the first period when Svozil, a Regina Pats defenceman, and Kelowna Rockets forward Novak struck twice in a 51-second span for a 3-1 Czech lead.
"I think that timeout was huge that we took," Power said. "It kind of settled us down and I think we did a better job of keeping guys in front of us."
Sebrango and Power then pulled the host country even. An all-alone Sebrango converted a backhand feed from Perfetti off the rush to score with 29 seconds remaining in the first.
When Power put the puck on net after collecting a long rebound, his shot deflected off Malek and into the net 23 seconds after the Czechs took their two-goal lead.
Gut's shot over Garand's glove hit the goal camera and came out so quickly that video review was needed to rule it a Czechia goal at 7:42.
McTavish circled the offensive zone with the puck before letting a sharp-angled shot go that beat Malek far side four minutes after the opening faceoff.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 26.
Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press