Team Canada’s first-ever World Para Hockey Championship game on home soil went pretty much as expected.
When you have a world power taking on a relative neophyte in the sport, the result isn’t going to be all that close, and that was the case as Canada took on Korea at the Moose Jaw Events Centre.
Canada scored seven goals in the first, built an 11-0 lead through two and would go on to a 15-1 victory to get their tournament off to a solid start.
Coach Russ Herrington pointed to the fact Korea had a tough game against Czechia yesterday as Canada had the day off as one factor in how well things turned out for the hosts.
“The Korea-Czechia game yesterday was pretty tightly played and physical, and they ended up actually losing a player to injury tonight,” Herrington said. “Then our guys were rested and ready to go. There were a lot of fans, a lot of family here, the Snowbirds were here. So I think that really energized our crew and getting one early really settled the nerves and allowed guys to just focus on playing.”
Fittingly, team captain Tyler McGregor would do the honours of scoring Canada’s first goal in a world championship on home soil, with the marker coming only 1:23 into the proceedings.
Things just kept going from there, with Canada’s depth and skill hemming Korea into the zone for the majority of the first two periods. Korea wouldn’t register a shot until just over five minutes remained in the second, when they took advantage of Canada’s first penalty of the game.
To get a sense of how the result was as predictable as it was, one just had to watch the special feature played between periods that showed Canada working with Korea during a special training camp in Calgary earlier this year.
It’s all part of the ongoing process to grow and improve the game, especially when it comes to a young and building team like the crew from Korea.
“I hope that when they left Calgary that they were able to take some things back to Korea and work on it and continue to improve,” Herrington said. “We've all been there, when you kind of have that contrast between a team that's been together for a while versus a team that's just trying to figure out what this level is all about.”
Still, this is a world championship and Canada has their eyes set on gold, which means they had to do what they had to do.
“The big thing to us was it felt like a mature effort tonight, in that there wasn't a lot of variance from what our true identity is,” Herrington said. “Our commitment to playing defensively and protecting the middle of the ice, we did a real good job of that. And there were two or three goals in particular that you see and you’re like ‘yes, this is exactly why we keep preaching this’. So everyone contributed and it was a great effort all around.”
Dominic Cozzolino led Canada with an eight-point night that included four goals, two of them on the power play. As one might expect, he was quick to pass off praise to his teammates for the all-around team game.
“Honestly, I just got lucky tonight,” he said. “It's just a testament to this team that we have and everybody contributed, which is really nice to see. Hopefully we keep rolling into tomorrow..”
Cozzolino also pointed to the win being important simply as an icebreaker, given that it was the first time Canada had played a world para hockey game at home.
“That's the kind of stuff you'd like coming into a tournament,” he said. “Especially on home ice with great fans. So yeah, that was a really nice one to get out of the way.”
Ah yes, the fans. Close to 1,000 people took in the contest, offering Canada the kind of support they’d never seen before.
“It's amazing,” Cozzolino said. “I always as a kid always dreamed of playing for Team Canada at home, so to have the fans in the crowd with lots of our teammates’ families and friends and everything, it’s incredible.”
The contest also featured a pair of career milestones, as Cozzolino hit 100 points for his career and McGregor cracked the 200-point mark for their time playing internationally.
McGregor joined Adam Dixon in finishing with two goals and five points, while James Dunn had a hat trick and five points of his own. Zach Lavin, Corbyn Smith, Auren Halbert and Raphaelle Tousignant rounded out Canada’s offence.
Seung Hwan Jung drew a huge cheer when he scored Korea’s lone goal with 7:17 to play in the third period.
Canada goaltender Jean-Francois Huneault faced only six shots to earn the win.
Korea’s Hyuk Jun Choi got the start in goal for Korea and made 12 saves in the first period before giving way to Dae Han Bong, who made his first international appearance and stopped 22 shots, including a penalty shot on Cozzolino.
Canada is back in action Tuesday when they take on Czechia, with game time 7 p.m. at the Moose Jaw Events Centre. Korea has an equally as difficult challenge as they face the United States in the 3 p.m. game. Germany and Italy play the first game of the day at 11 a.m.
Tickets for all games are available at www.sasktix.ca.