EDMONTON -- Before the puck dropped on Canada’s opening game at the 2012 world junior hockey championships, Don Hay had a simple message for his nervous players:
Enjoy the moment. Remember it.
“Don just said look around during O’ Canada, look around and see what you’re playing in,” said Canadian forward Mark Stone of the electric atmosphere inside Edmonton’s Rexall Place and the words from his head coach. “It’s unbelievable the kind of support we’re getting.
“The first couple of minutes I was just looking up at the crowd, it was really rocking. I’ve never played in front of a crowd like this.”
The 19-year-old leading scorer in the Western Hockey League sent that collection of puck-crazy 15,296 paying customers into a greater state of frenzy by scoring a hat trick en route to a 8-1 rout of Finland on Monday. The hats came raining down at 4:05 of the third period when Stone knocked a rebound behind flailing Finnish netminder Chris Gibson, who plays with the QMJHL’s Chicoutimi Sagueneens.
“That’s the most (hats) I’ve ever seen, at least for one of my hat tricks,” said Stone. “Maybe they’ll give me a few.”
Still slightly self-deprecating, as if Stone’s hat tricks don’t usually warrant enough excitement to toss a newly purchased souvenir shop Team Canada hat onto the ice – of which there were many.
Stone, a winger with the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings, was paired on a line with NHL first-rounders Jonathan Huberdeau of the QMJHL’s Saint John Sea Dogs and Niagara IceDogs forward Ryan Strome. Huberdeau finished the afternoon affair with a goal and four assists, while Strome tallied a goal and three assists. In summer training camp Hay had paired Stone with Huberdeau, a Florida Panthers selection, and forward Ryan Johansen – who was not loaned to Team Canada by the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets.
“I just want to get to the net,” said Stone, a sixth-round pick of the Ottawa Senators. “Most of my goals are easy goals – I haven’t gotten much of an easier one than the first one tonight. Huberdeau’s been finding me since Day One at selection camp in the summer and now we’ve added Strome (property of the New York Islanders) to our line and that guy’s got so much skill – check him on YouTube, he’s unbelievable – there’s a lot of different things on that line.”
It’s not a surprise to see Stone defer to the talent of his highly touted linemates, because it’s something he’s done before when he was a member of the Wheat Kings team that hosted the 2010 Memorial Cup in Brandon. It’s not that he’s uncomfortable being the centre of attention, it’s just not his style.
“I think the only attention I got during that tournament was because of me (playing) against my brother (former Calgary defenceman Michael Stone),” said the Winnipeg native. “This is a little different for me because it’s a world event, so I’m just trying to continue on and win a gold medal.
“I like to stay low, lay low. I’m not as outgoing a person as some others, but if I have games like this obviously you have to talk to the media -- and that doesn’t bother me at all anymore.”
It was the second time in two years a Wheat Kings forward has netted a hat trick for Canada after former WHL star Brayden Schenn scored four goals in a 10-1 win over Norway at the 2011 event in Buffalo.
“I didn’t really know that, but just being mentioned with Brayden Schenn is something I’ll honour obviously,” said Stone. “It’s good for our organization.”
If Stone keeps going at this pace he might have to actually take some of the credit once in awhile for himself. But he was quite right to share the kudos with his linemates in a dominant performance against a Finnish team that battled their physical opponents and seemingly a case of stage fright in front of a pro-Canadian audience. Stone, Strome and Huberdeau used the body for most of the game to run roughshod over the smaller Finnish side, creating space and scoring opportunities. The Finns – despite having some highly scoring forwards of their own -- never seemed to adapt and although they got on the board early in the second period, were never really in this one.
“Canada was really good and I couldn’t really prepare our players to play as much as I should have,” said Finnish coach Raimo Helminen. “We were not physical enough. We knew what kind of hockey our (opponents) were going to play but we were not ready.”
It was a particularly important game for Huberdeau, who is returning from a broken foot which kept him off the ice for six weeks. His first game back was an exhibition tilt against the Swiss before Christmas. The ultra-skilled forward was magnificent, finding Stone with a seeing-eye pass from behind the net for Canada’s opening goal less than three minutes after the opening faceoff, and scoring on a Canadian power play in the second period with a heavy wrist shot that appeared to go through Gibson.
Hay and his Canadian kids will need a healthy Huberdeau as the tournament moves along because they will have to deal with the loss of Anaheim Ducks forward Devante Smith-Pell, injured during the second period blocking a shot. There were reports that Smith-Pelly left the arena on crutches after the game.
“Devante blocked a shot in the foot,” said Hay. "He's gone for X-rays. We'll know more maybe late tonight, maybe early tomorrow.”
Canada has an off-day on Tuesday before they face the Czech Republic on Wednesday.