HALIFAX, Nova Scotia (Reuters) - Dany Heatley scored a hat-trick in Canada’s 5-1 win over Slovenia on Friday when the ice hockey world championship made a rousing return to the sport’s birthplace and spiritual home.
While Canada has dominated international hockey capturing a record 24 world titles, the lopsided victory was one that hockey mad Canadians had waited 100 years to see.
The game marked the first time the International Ice Hockey Federation’s (IIHF) flagship event had been staged on Canadian ice.
Canada has traditionally made sluggish starts to the world championship but there were no hiccups on Friday as the hosts made sure the historic game had a happy ending.
Heatley, playing in his fifth tournament, became Canada’s all-time leading scorer at world championships. His hat-trick took his total to 23 goals, surpassing Marcel Dionne (21).
“I’ve been in few tournaments and had a chance to play with a lot of great players over the last few years,” Heatley told reporters.
“Any time you play for Canada and you get in this tournament you come here to win,” the Ottawa Senators player said.
“It (the record) is a nice thing to have.”
Tampa Bay Lightning’s Martin St Louis and Nashville Predators defenseman Dan Hamhuis also scored as the defending champions blasted 65 shots at shell-shocked Slovenian netminder Robert Kristan.
The hosts dominated the opening period, outshooting the Slovenians 19-6, but could put just one past Kristan, Hamhuis slamming home a loose puck from the side of the net.
Heatley doubled Canada’s lead 41 seconds into the second and St Louis added a powerplay tally before Los Angeles Kings’ leading scorer Anze Kopitar converted a two-man advantage for Slovenia’s lone goal.
Heatley scored again from a goalmouth scramble before the end of the second to send Canada into the intermission 4-1 up then had the only goal of the third lifting a backhand over a weary Kristan to complete the hat-trick.
“We played the way we needed to play to win,” said Canada coach Ken Hitchcock. “The part I liked the most is we worked for our scoring chances. We didn’t play with skill ahead of work, we played with work ahead of skill.”
In Quebec City, Stefan Lassen scored with the first shot of the game but it would be the only time scrappy Denmark would lead as the Czech Republic rallied for a 5-2 win, Radim Vrbata showing the way with two goals and an assist.
Russia, led by NHL scoring champion Alexander Ovechkin, faced Italy later on Friday while the United States were opening their account against Latvia.
Editing by Rex Gowar