Connor Bedard had a goal and an assist and Canada opened its world junior hockey championship with a decisive 5-2 victory over Latvia on Wednesday in Edmonton.
Ridly Greig and William Dufour each scored and contributed a helper, while Lukas Cormier and Olen Zellweger also found the back of the net. Captain Mason McTavish notched two assists for Canada (1-0-0).
Rainers Darzins and Bogdans Hodass put away goals for the Latvians, who were coming off a 6-1 drubbing by Finland on Tuesday.
Canada’s Sebastian Cossa made 24 saves and Patriks Berzins stopped 39 of 44 shots for Latvia (0-2-0).
The Canadians will continue round-robin action Thursday when they take on Slovakia (0-0-1).
The 2022 tournament is being held in August after the original iteration was called off on Dec. 29 after just four days as rising COVID-19 cases among players and officials forced games to be forfeited.
Dufour gave the Canadians some breathing room with 5:16 to go in the third period. The New York Islanders prospect collected a slick pass from Greig and sending a quick shot in past Berzins to give his side a 5-2 lead.
Canada broke out with a three-goal performance in the second but found themselves in trouble in the final frame due to a series of undisciplined penalties.
Latvia got nine seconds of five-on-three play midway through the third when Greig was called for hooking after Kent Johnson had already been sent to the box for delay of game.
The Canadians weathered being down two men and Cossa preserved the advantage with a collection of timely stops.
Earlier in the period, Latvia cut the deficit to 4-2 on a power play after Greig was called for tripping.
Just four seconds into the man advantage, Hodas — a Medicine Hat Tigers defenceman — ripped a shot off from the top of the faceoff circle. The puck appeared to tick off Cossa’s pad on its way into the net.
Greig capped a big middle frame by collecting a pass from Dufour along the boards for an odd-man rush and poking a puck past Berzins at the 16:16 mark.
A power-play goal gave the Canadians a three-goal lead after Latvia captain Ralfs Bergmanis was called for slashing.
Bedard set up the play with a no-look backwards pass to Zellweger at the blue line. The defenceman wound up and fired a rocket through traffic, finding the back of the net 12:17 into the second.
Less than a minute earlier, Cormier scored with the man advantage after Dans Locmelis was called for roughing.
Joshua Roy calmed a bouncing puck and dished it to Cormier, who sent it sailing past Berzins from the top of the faceoff circle.
Canada’s power play looked to be in trouble on its first attempt of the tournament earlier in the period.
The man advantage saw Cossa nearly send a puck into his own net while trying to clear and Johnson come within inches of scoring an own goal. The host nation turned the puck over multiple times and Latvia registered a pair of short-handed shots.
The Canadians went 1 for 4 on the power play Wednesday and Latvia was 1 for 5.
Canada kept Berzins busy across the first period, outshooting Latvia 18-4.
The host nation dominated play but Latvia scored the equalizer with less than two minutes to play in the opening frame. Darzins chipped a shot up and over Cossa stick side to make it 1-1.
Bedard opened the scoring 7:31 into the game, blasting a shot through a pair of Latvian defenders and over Berzins’ glove from the top of the slot.
The 17-year-old Bedard, a forward for the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League, is an early favourite to be picked first overall in the 2023 NHL entry draft.
Earlier Tuesday, Winnipeg Jets prospect Daniel Torgersson scored twice as Sweden (1-0-0) took a 3-2 victory over Switzerland (0-1-0) in Group B play.
The final game of the day is a clash between Germany (0-1-0) and Austria (0-0-0).
NOTES: Greig turned 20 on Monday. The world juniors are a showcase of the best under-20 players across the globe, but the International Ice Hockey Federation has allowed athletes born in 2002 who have already turned 20 to play in this summer’s championship. … Cossa was playing on familiar ice, having helped the Edmonton Oil Kings to a WHL championship in June. … Canada’s goal song is “Can’t Stop” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press