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Tavares sparks Canada in 8-1 win over the Czechs at world junior tournament

OTTAWA - John Tavares jumpstarted Canada at the world junior hockey championship Friday by scoring his country's first two goals of the tournament in an 8-1 win over the Czech Republic.

The Oshawa Generals centre scored a power-play goal with four seconds left in the opening period and again at 2:06 of the second before assisting on the third goal of the game by linemate Angelo Esposito of the Montreal Junior.

Tavares is a possible No. 1 pick in the 2009 NHL entry draft. While he's repeatedly said he wants to be defensively responsible in all three zones of the ice, his puckhandling skills make him stand out from other players in this tournament and they were on display in the tournament opener for Canada.

``I want to create opportunities and put the puck in the net,'' Tavares said. ``I think that's what I do best. I want to make sure the coaches can count on me, but I want to score goals and produce opportunities.''

Windsor Spitfires defenceman Ryan Ellis, Medicine Hat Tigers forward Tyler Ennis, Chris DiDomenico of the Saint John Sea Dogs, Zach Boychuk of the Lethbridge Hurricanes and Niagara IceDogs defenceman Alex Pietrangelo also scored for the defending champions.

Dustin Tokarski's shutout bid ended with two minutes remaining when Jan Kana scored on the Spokane Chiefs goaltender. Tokarski made 21 saves for the win.

Jordan Eberle of the Regina Pats and Boychuk contributed a pair of assists apiece.

Canada, winner of four straight world junior titles, faces Kazakhstan on Sunday. The U.S. beat Germany 8-2 earlier in another Pool A game.

Russia downed Latvia 4-1 and Sweden beat Finland 3-1 in Pool B.

The team with the best record in each pool at the end of the preliminary round earns a bye to the semifinals. The runners-up meet the third seed from the opposite pool in the quarter-final.

The announced crowd of 19,622 at Scotiabank Place was a world junior hockey championship attendance record for a single game.

When the Canadian team skated onto the ice, they were greeted with a standing ovation. A Canadian flag the size of four parked sport utility vehicles was passed from hand to hand in the upper bowl as the anthem played.

The majority of the players on the Canadian team had never played in front of that many people before. In various stages of nervousness and excitement, they breathed easier after Tavares's goals.

``The crowd definitely got us into the game and we all excited to play and maybe too excited, but I think that first goal definitely released a bit of pressure,'' Eberle said.

Canada scored four goals in the second period and chased Tomas Vosvrda from the Czech net. He gave up five goals on 22 shots and was replaced by Dominik Furch after Ennis's goal at 13:33 of the second.

Several Canadians contributed to keeping the Czechs in check in the opening period.

Tokarski got a pad on Petr Strapac's chance from close range during a Czech power play four minutes into the game. He later spread-eagled to stop Vladimir Ruzicka on a breakaway.

``That's what you want out of your goaltender,'' Tokarski said. ``One thing is to make the big saves earlier and give our team a chance to win.

``Your first period in the whole tournament, you want to get feeling good and get in a groove and I think I did that.''

Captain Thomas Hickey broke up an odd-man rush by the Czechs nine minutes into the game.

Shortly after Tokarski's spectacular save on Ruzicka, Quebec Remparts centre Patrice Cormier hammered both Jan Piskacek and Milan Doczy on the same shift and sent the Doczy skating slowly to the Czech bench

``It ignited the troops,'' Eberle said. ``Right after that, we had a fire.''

Eberle, Boychuk and Cody Hodgson set the table for Tavares's first goal by pressing hard for one with two minutes remaining in the first period.

Eberle assisted on both Tavares goals. Early in the second, Eberle dug the puck out of the corner and sent it across to Tavares, who dropped to one knee and beat Vosvrda glove side.

Tavares cut across the high slot and wired a shot over Vosvrda's right shoulder with just seconds left in the first period, which gave Canada a lift heading into the next period and deflated the Czechs.

``I really hadn't seen him play before selection camp,'' head coach Pat Quinn said of Tavares. ``While he's not blessed with blazing speed, what he does it have that change of pace that freezes guys and he knows where to carry the puck and get himself into shooting positions that lots of people can't do.''

The Czechs are carrying a dozen players from the Canadian Hockey League, including two of Ennis's teammates from the Medicine Hat Tigers. Tigers defenceman Thomas Kundratek was the highest Czech taken in this year's NHL entry draft at 90th overall by the New York Rangers.

The Czechs usually have a lot of players toiling in North America in their lineup and the debate has often been whether that hurts team chemistry and cohesion. The Czechs won back-to-back gold in this tournament in 2000 and 2001, but have won one bronze medal since then.

The Czechs could use 19-year-old forward Jakub Voracek, but the seventh overall pick in the 2007 draft isn't available because he's playing for the NHL's Columbus Blue Jackets.

Notes: Canada is 9-0-2 versus the Czech Republic since 1994 after the division of Czechoslovakia into the Czech Republic and Slovakia . . . The Canadian junior team wore 'LB' stickers on the helmets Friday to honour the late Luc Bourdon, who died at the age of 21 in a motorcycle accident earlier this year. The defenceman played for Canada and won gold at the 2006 and 2007 world junior championship. Also, no Canadian player will wear Bourdon's No. 6 in this tournament.



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