Jillian Saulnier and Jamie Lee Rattray each scored their first goal at the senior level Tuesday as the host country opened the tournament with a 2-0 victory over Sweden.
The 22-year-olds are among 10 players making their debut for Canada as the women's national program looks to develop its next generation of talent with an eye towards the 2018 Olympics.
"I'm really excited to get the first tournament under my belt," said Rattray. "It's a stepping stone and hopefully there's more to come."
Canada's roster has a much different look than the one that scored the dramatic 3-2 come-from-behind overtime victory against the United States at the Sochi Olympics.
Hayley Wickenheiser, Jayna Hefford, Caroline Ouellette, Gillian Apps, Meaghan Mikkelson, as well as goaltenders Shannon Szabados and Charline Labonte, are among the veterans who were left off roster for the event at the Interior Savings Centre in Kamloops to give younger players a taste of the international stage.
Hockey Canada held a camp in September ahead of the tournament and made it clear to all the invitees what's expected of them at this level.
"We told them right from the beginning: 'We didn't bring you in here just to experience the camp. We brought you here because we believe you can play on this team,'" said Canadian head coach Doug Derraugh. "They proved us right."
Canadian captain Haley Irwin, one of the veterans on the team, said it was exciting to see the youth coming up through the ranks.
"It's awesome for (Saulnier and Rattray) to get their first goals in their first game," said Irwin. "Our young group is very talented, very skilled, very hard working. As we go through the tournament we'll see them get better and better."
Emerance Maschmeyer — a 20-year-old who also played her first game for Canada — made 12 saves to record the shutout on Tuesday, while Kim Martin Hasson stopped 40 shots for Sweden in a losing effort.
"I love getting shots," said Maschmeyer. "But I can't complain about not getting shots because that means my team's doing really well."
In the day's other game, Dani Cameranesi had a goal and an assist as the U.S. opened its schedule with a 5-0 victory over Finland.
Canada plays its rival to the south on Wednesday in the first meeting between the two teams since Sochi, something that definitely isn't lost on the young players.
"It's just a healthy, competitive rivalry," said Saulnier. "It's always a big game and the countries love it. It's something that's very hard-fought and very clean. It's a good battle so it's definitely a fun one to play in."
After Saulnier scored to give her team a 1-0 lead in the first period against Sweden, Rattray calmed any Canadian nerves 2:31 into the second, moving in and ripping a shot upstairs shortside on Hasson.
"I was pretty excited to get out there and the atmosphere was pretty fun," said Rattray. "It's pretty great to be in your home country and it's definitely a great way to start."
Canada and the U.S. remain the two dominant powers in women's hockey, and Hasson was the only reason Canada didn't win by a more lopsided scoreline. Sweden barely touched the puck in the second period as Canada cycled for entire shifts and held a 19-0 edge in shots.
"Every team has their own style of play," said Saulnier. "It's really important we stick to our game plan and try not to focus too much on theirs. Just focus on the little things and hopefully that will work for us."
Sweden had a bit more pushback in the third, but Hasson continued standing tall to keep the deficit at just two, making big saves on Rebecca Johnston and Jessica Campbell.
Saulnier opened the scoring at 7:22 of the first period, taking a feed from Jenelle Kohanchuk off the rush and firing a quick shot past Hasson.
As expected, the Canadians came in waves throughout the opening 20 minutes, controlling the puck for long stretches on an ice surface that looked to be tilted in one direction. But they couldn't find another way past Hasson, despite a 12-5 shot advantage, often passing up clear opportunities in search of a better options that weren't there against an opponent content to collapse in front of its own net.
"There was a couple times when we came right around the slot and weren't even looking for the shot — we were looking to make a play," said Derraugh. "I think especially when you have a younger team with some veterans they tend to do that."
With a step up in class at the tournament just around the corner, the players know they will have be more ruthless in front of goal in order to succeed.
"I think it was a good first start for us, especially with a lot of newcomers," said Irwin. "I'm sure they had a few nerves. There's always things we can get better at.
"We have to bury the puck on 42 shots more than twice, but that's something that will come."
Notes: Canada has won the Four Nations Cup tournament 13 times — including last year in Lake Placid, N.Y. — while the U.S. claimed the other five titles. ... The teams are gearing up for the women's world hockey championship, which runs from March 28 to April 4 in Malmo, Sweden. ... Apart from Canada's veteran core, the team in Kamloops is also without Marie-Philip Poulin — who scored the late equalizer as well as the winner against the U.S. at the Olympics — because of an undisclosed injury.Suggest a correction