HALIFAX – It’s only one game into the IIHF World Hockey Championship and Dany Heatley has already found a pretty cool souvenir.
He’ll be taking a puck back to his home in Ottawa after passing Marcel Dionne to become Canada’s all-time leading scorer at this event. The second of three goals he scored during a 5-1 win over Slovenia put him in the record books on Friday.
“I’ll put that one on my mantel,” he said.
Heatley also added an assist during a dominant performance by Team Canada in its first ever world championship game on home soil. Canada outshot Slovenia 65-22 and would have had a much more lopsided win if not for the solid play of unheralded goaltender Robert Kristan.
“We could have had 10 tonight,” said Heatley.
His opponents agreed.
“I see it’s written here 65 shots,” said Slovene coach Mats Waltin. “I thought it was 95.”
The players in red had plenty of reasons to smile after this game.
Canada’s star-studded forward units all showed some promise in the opener. The top line of Heatley, Ryan Getzlaf and Rick Nash did a fantastic job of controlling the puck in the offensive zone and created several dangerous scoring chances.
The Slovene goalie was particularly impressed by Canada’s ability to cycle the puck.
“I was just watching those red jerseys all over the zone,” said Kristan.
Dan Hamhuis and Martin St. Louis also scored goals for Canada while Anze Kopitar replied for Slovenia.
Even though this event is being played in North America for just the second time ever, it looked similar to other world championship games. The sound of honking horns and beating drums filled the arena and there were even two Skoda cars in the Metro Centre stands.
The differences were small. Celtic music blared during stoppages in play, the scoreclock counted the period down rather than up and the smaller North American-sized ice replaced the typical international setup.
There were several empty seats when the puck was dropped just after 4:30 p.m. local time but the arena filled up as the game wore on. Announced attendance was 7,921 – roughly 600 short of a sellout.
“It defintely felt like we were at home with the crowd behind us,” said Canadian forward Jason Spezza. “They’ll get more and more into it as the tournament goes on.
“You have to be respectful to the countries you’re playing and we were pressing them quite a bit. I don’t think the fans really needed to help us out too much tonight.”
The loudest fans didn’t belong to either of the teams on the ice. Pockets of maroon-clad Latvians, who have been packing downtown bars here, could be heard chanting throughout. Three of them even brought along large drums to pound on.
Elsewhere Friday, Russia beat Italy 7-1 while the United States defeated Latvia 4-0.
A goal by Hamhuis gave Canada a 1-0 lead after a somewhat tentative first period. The Canadians tended to be passing a bit too much while trying to set up perfect plays.
Coach Ken Hitchcock and his assistants addressed that during the first intermission and the team responded.
“The players respect each other so much on our team that sometimes that sometimes they’ve overdo it by trying to give someone else the goal,” said Hitchcock. “We made adjustments during the game and I was happy with the performance.”
Canada really poured it on in the second period and fired 31 shots at the Slovene goalie.
Heatley made it 2-0 just 41 seconds into the frame after Nash fought off a check in the corner and made a beautiful pass to him at the side of the goal. That was his 21st career world championship goal and briefly pulled him into a tie with Dionne.
He broke the record later in the period when a weak shot found its way through Kristan’s pads to make it 4-1. The hat trick came with about 10 minutes to play after Heatley fought off a check and roofed a hard backhand shot, prompting a couple fans to throw their hats on the ice in celebration.
“Dany’s the same way every night,” said Getzlaf. “He’s a great hockey player and a great goal-scorer. He find ways to get that puck to the net.
“I got to find ways to put it on his stick, and most of the time Heater’ll put it away.”
It’s something the Canadian team hopes it can count on moving forward.
Coach Ken Hitchcock was an assistant with the Olympic team in 2006 and has noticed a change in the 27-year-old sniper since. Back then, Heatley might not have had his first and third goals, which he converted from in close.
“He’s always been a good offensive player but he’s really using quickness in small spaces to score now,” said Hitchcock. “To me that’s a difference in Dany Heatley from the last time we were together in the Olympics. He’s improved a lot since even ’06.”
All Canada really needs is more of the same.
He was the leading goal-scorer and point-getter during Canada’s world championship wins in 2003 and 2004 and might just get another golden souvenir if he repeats that feat. Heatley simply loves this event.
“I’ve always had fun here,” he said. “I think that’s the key for me.”