Most coaches would rave about offence after a 7-1 victory, but Marc Crawford was most impressed with his defence corps Monday.
Former NHL blue-liner Joel Kwiatkowski scored twice and Canada jumped out to a big early lead en route to an easy win over HC Vitkovice Steel in the opener for both teams at the Spengler Cup.
Kwiatkowski, Domenic Pittis, Mark Hartigan, Brett McLean and Rico Fata scored in the first period for the Canadians, who completely outplayed their Czech opponents. Defenceman Shawn Heins picked up two assists.
“(The defence) were difference makers. We never spent a lot of time in our end,” Crawford said. “It was very tough for the Czech team to forecheck and we escaped our zone an awful lot of times with one good tape-to-tape pass.”
Kwiatkowski added another goal on the power play at 17:07 of the second. Kurtis McLean added Canada's seventh goal in the third.
Former NHL goalie Marty Turco started for Canada and was never really threatened by Vitkovice until Australian teenager Nathan Walker broke the shutout bid midway through the final period.
Canada got on the board quickly in the first when Kwiatkowski one-timed a shot from the top of the circle at 2:29 past Vitkovice goalie Filip Sindelar.
Pittis made it 2-0 just 34 seconds later when Stacy Roest found him in the slot on a delayed penalty. Perrault scored at 6:49 to make it 3-0 on a weak shot that Sindelar should have had.
Brett McLean made it 4-0 with a pretty deflection on a two-man advantage off a point shot from Heins at 10:08 and Fata stretched the lead with a backhand deke on a breakaway at 17:15.
Canada didn't have much time for preparation at the tournament. The team gathered for a meeting on Saturday night and practised for the first time Sunday.
“We had a real good start,” Crawford added. “I thought our depth was pretty apparent and I thought the guys really executed what we wanted them to execute without really having a lot of practice time.”
Walker, a 17-year-old from Australia, banged home a rebound past Turco on the power play at 8:23 of the third period for Vitkovice's lone goal.
Kurtis McLean added the final goal at 12:33 of the third period for Canada, which will face host HC Davos on Wednesday.
Crawford had little information on Monday's opponent, but Canada will be much better prepared in its second game.
“We have a lot of the Swiss league tapes. I've seen them play three games this year and I'll get a chance to watch them live (Tuesday),” Crawford said. “At the end of the day it's really about our players coming and competing and executing. They were terrific today and hopefully we can build on that.”
Crawford said Jake Allen will start in goal for Canada against HC Davos.
The Spengler Cup, the oldest professional international hockey tournament in the world, has been held in the picturesque mountain town of Davos since 1923. The competition features five European club teams and a Canadian entry comprised largely of European-based pros.
Canada has appeared in nine of the last 11 Spengler Cup finals, last winning the tournament in 2007.
The format offers little margin for error. After opening with two round-robin games, the tournament shifts into a sudden-death playoff round. The championship game will be played on New Year's Eve.
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