Brett Howden, Tim Hunter and Team Canada started things off on the right foot on the opening day of the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship in Buffalo, N.Y.

Canada used three first period goals to skate to a 4-2 win over Finland in their opening game.

“It’s really big for us to start off the tournament with a win, especially over Finland, who are a strong team,” said Howden. “We still feel like we’ve got a lot better and we still feel like we’ve got a long way to go to where we want to be playing.”

While the Canadians did the majority of their scoring damage in the first period, the team appeared to get stronger as the game went on, limiting Finland to eight shots in the third period.

Howden, who was playing in his first World Junior game, said he felt like the team settled in as the game progressed and were able to play a solid final 40 minutes to capture the win.

“It was really cool (playing in his first game at the World Juniors), it was pretty surreal getting out there and seeing all the crowd, and everybody needed that first period to get the jitters out, but after that, everyone felt pretty comfortable,” he said.

Everett Silvertips goalie Carter Hart was stellar throughout the game, turning away 29 shots in total to backstop Canada to the win.

There was one save that Hart didn’t make however with Kelowna Rockets defenceman Cal Foote diving back to swat a puck off of the goal line in the third period to keep Canada in front by two.

“That was pretty crazy, we couldn’t believe it when we seen it,” said Howden. “They went upstairs to look and you could see how close it was, it was a hairline away from going in. That was huge to keep that two-goal lead at that moment, so it was a big play by him and saved us a goal for sure.”

Boris Katchouk of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds opened the scoring for Canada with a controversial goal just 5:34 into the game as he drove into the net just as the puck was approaching the goal line. After the goal stood, Regina Pats forward Sam Steel put Canada up by two only 27 seconds later with a power play goal.

Finland responded with a goal from Swift Current Broncos forward Aleksi Heponiemi with 7:41 to go in the first period, but Canada was able to restore the two-goal lead only 33 seconds later when Cape Breton forward Drake Batherson buried his first of the tournament.

Canada played with penalty fire one too many times early in the game and Finland struck for a power play goal 7:31 into the second period as Henri Jokiharju made it a one-goal game.

Finland went 1-for-6 on the power play in the game, which Howden said is an area that they need to be better in moving forward.

“That’s something that we really wanted to focus on coming in and didn’t do a great job of that tonight,” he said. “This tournament is so short that any power play is so crucial, so we’ve really got to clean that up and stay disciplined.”

The Canadians were able to move back in front by two before the second was over as Erie Otters forward Taylor Raddysh fired a rocket past Finnish goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen that would be enough offence to skate to the win.

Coming out of the game, Howden feels there was plenty for Canada to build off, but still work to do. “We’ve just got to tighten up our all around game, just all the small little details, they don’t seem like much, but they turn out to be really big impacts in the game and we know what we’ve got to do and we’ll sharpen up our game.”

Canada will be back on the ice on Wednesday to take on Slovakia. Puck drops at 6 p.m. at the Key Bank Centre in Buffalo.

In other opening day action at the World Juniors: the Czech Republic shocked Russia, 5-4; Sweden skated past Belarus, 6-1; and the United States cruised to a 9-0 win over Denmark.

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