Source: Canadian Press

Ben Street had a goal and an assist as Canada’s Olympic men’s hockey team stormed out of the gate early before cruising to a 5-1 victory over Germany on Thursday at the Beijing Games.

Alex Grant, Daniel Winnik, Maxim Noreau and Jordan Weal also scored in both countries’ tournament opener, while Eric O’Dell and Kent Johnson added two assists each. Edward Pasquale made 23 saves.

Tobias Rieder replied for Germany, which upset another group of Canadian non-NHLers in the semifinals of the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang. Mathias Niederberger stopped 22 shots.

In a surprising twist, Hockey Canada announced moments before warmup that Claude Julien, who had been tabbed to coach the team before breaking his ribs during training camp in Switzerland, had joined the group and would resume his duties following the game.

Jeremy Colliton, who stepped in to fill Julien’s void, will now revert back to an assistant’s role.

The United States thumped China 8-0 in Group A’s other game. Canada will face its North American rival Saturday before wrapping up round-robin action Sunday against the tournament hosts.

The game at Wukesong Sports Centre, which hosted basketball at the 2008 Summer Olympics, didn’t feature the star power hockey fans envisioned just two months ago after the NHL withdrew from the event because of COVID-19 concerns.

And while the likes of Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby, Leon Draisaitl and Tim Stutzle were thousands of kilometres away for the 9:10 p.m. local start in front of a few hundred flag-waving Chinese spectators, the game still had name recognition from a Canadian perspective.

Eric Staal, who won gold in 2010 and is looking for another NHL shot, is the captain, while Owen Power and Mason McTavish, the first and third overall picks at the 2021 NHL draft, are also on the roster.

But it was Canada’s lesser names leading the way on this night.

The Germans have 10 returning players, including former NHLer Dominik Kahun, from the team that advanced to the 2018 gold-medal game with a 4-3 victory over Canada, which has O’Dell, Noreau and Mat Robinson back wearing the red Maple Leaf.

Canada came out flying in the first period Thursday on the smaller NHL-sized ice, with O’Dell — perhaps looking for revenge from four years ago — crushing blue-liner Marco Nowak with a clean, devastating hit behind the German net.

The puck was worked to the point, where Grant, listed as Canada’s seventh defenceman, fired home the opener off the post and in at 4:43, with Nowak, who went to the locker room and didn’t return, still trying to shake out the cobwebs.

Street made it 2-0 at 9:47 on a quick shot upstairs off an O’Dell pass as Julien looked on from the stands with the rest of Canada’s brain trust.

Winnik stretched the lead to 3-0 just 32 seconds later on a pass from Adam Cracknell that Niederberger should have stopped.

Canada got into some penalty trouble later in the period, including an eight-second 5-on-3 man advantage, but Pasquale — last season’s goalie of the year in the Russian-based KHL — was there to shut the door.

Germany, which came out with more purpose after the intermission in an attempt to match Canada’s physical play, got on the board at 10:45 of the second when Reider took advantage of a bad Mark Barberio turnover and fired home a rebound.

But the Canadians responded on a power play at 12:58 when Noreau thumped a slapshot past Niederberger low blocker on a clean look.

Power nearly got in on the action later in the period, but the German netminder denied the 19-year-old defenceman with a terrific save at full stretch.

Not wanting a repeat of the start of the second, Canada pressed the issue to start the third with sustained offensive zone time by using a grinding style suited to the smaller ice surface before Weal made it 5-1 with 8:38 left in regulation.

Canada locked things down from there to secure a convincing victory — and a measure of Olympic payback.

Notes: Canada won gold in 2002, 2010 and 2014 with its NHL stars, but hasn’t topped the Olympic field without its best since 1952. … Staal had three assists against Germany in Canada’s 8-2 victory in the qualification round at the 2010 Games.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 10, 2022.