Mark Stone made his first world junior tournament game a memorable occasion.
But as impressive as his three-goal performance was in Canada’s curtain-raising 8-1 victory over Finland, the victory came at a cost because front-line forward Devante Smith-Pelly left the game in the second period with what turned out to be a fractured left foot.
He departed the festivities at Rexall Place on crutches and sporting an air cast as he was transported to hospital for an X-ray and is expected to be out of action for four to six weeks with a fracture of the first metatarsal bone.
“Seeing one of our leaders go out like that is a tough thing, but we don’t know how serious the injury is,” Canadian forward Brett Connolly, who scored early in the third period, said immediately following the game. “Hopefully, we’ll have him back. He’s an important part of this team and a tough competitor.”
"Heartbreaking way to end my tournament," said Smith-Pelly, who has five points in 26 games with the NHL's Anaheim Ducks this season. "But I know the guys will do the country proud regardless."
"This is a very unfortunate injury for Devante," said Ducks general manager Bob Murray in a statement. "We anticipated him playing a prominent role for Canada at the 2012 world junior tournament. Although this is a big loss for Canada and the Anaheim Ducks, we fully expect Devante to return to full health this season."
Hockey Canada announced Smith-Pelly would remain with the Canadian junior team.
Canadian goalie Mark Visentin proved to his teammates and the rest of the country that he is a mentally-tough competitor.
The last time he played a meaningful game for the Canadian junior team was last January, when he played a big part in Canada’s monumental third-period collapse against the Russians in the gold-medal final.
Visentin, a Phoenix Coyotes prospect, hasn’t been all that impressive with his junior team this season, the Niagara IceDogs. He also failed to improve his situation after a less-than-inspiring effort against Sweden in Canada’s final pre-tournament game last Friday.
But Canadian head coach Don Hay, now 8-0 at the helm of the national junior team, felt Visentin of Waterdown, Ont. still deserved the start.
“It was always going to be him in my mind,” Hay revealed afterwards. “He deserved the start. He has the most experience.” The 19-year-old Visentin made 24 saves in the win and was in control the entire game. The only shot to beat him was from Alexander Ruuttu, the son of former NHLer Christian Ruutu, early in the second period from the slot.
“It was real good for him to play that well in the first game,” Stone said. “I thought he was real calm out there for us.” At the other end of the rink, Finland goalie Christopher Gibson had considerably more work. The Los Angeles Kings prospect who plays junior in Chicoutimi faced 42 shots.
Before a rambunctious crowd of 15,296 (not a sellout), Canada enjoyed a 2-0 lead after the first period and was out in front 5-1 following 40 minutes.
When Canada scored three goals in the opening 7:18 of the third period, the crowd started to chant “we want 10, we want 10.”
While the line of Stone, Jonathan Huberdeau and Ryan Strome combined for five goals and 12 points, 11 of Canada’s 18 skaters picked up at least a point.