The teams are making final evaluations of their rosters before the 2016 World Junior Hockey Championship officially gets underway. The pre-tournament gives coaches a chance to see their players in actual competition, rather than in intra-squad scrimmages.
Canada's first tune-up game took place in Imatra, Finland, against the newest addition to the Top Division of the IIHF under-20 bracket.
If it wasn't clear beforehand, it quickly became apparent that Belarus simply could not match the speed and skill of the Canadians. Dylan Strome walked down the middle of the ice with little resistance as he fired a wrist shot past goaltender Vladislav Verbitsky for the first goal of the game.
Travis Konecny's ability to handle the puck at high speed was on display on Canada's second goal of the period, as he scored on a quick wraparound.
Brayden Point, playing his first game of the year, extended the lead to three after navigating around several Belarusian players on his path to the net, knocking in his own rebound. Unfortunately, he was unable to complete his first game since November 17th, as he left the game with an unrelated injury in the second period and did not return.
Strome got on the scoreboard for a second time with a nice pass from behind the net to defenceman Travis Dermott.
Jake Virtanen capped off a five-goal first as the puck bounced around in front of the net on a delayed penalty to Belarus.
A lack of discipline in the second allowed Belarus to push back, getting four opportunities with an extra man. Two of those penalties overlapped, and Belarus came out firing the puck, with captain Vladislav Goncharov blasting a few slap shots off Mason McDonald before Danila Karaban tried the same tactic at the side of the net, finally getting an open net to slap the puck into the get Belarus on the board.
After handily outshooting Belarus 18-4 in the first, the shots were a much closer 15-11 in the second thanks to the parade to the box by Team Canada.
Karaban, along with linemates Dmitri Buinitsky and Artemi Chernikov, were Belarus' most threatening offensive trio in the game, getting most of the chances for their team, with the top defensive pairing of Goncharov and Ottawa 67's defenceman Stepan Falkovsky playing significant minutes on the back end.
Canada returned to their goal-scoring ways early in the third, as Mitchell Marner scored his first goal with a nice wrist shot from the slot on the power play. Brandon Perlini made it 7-1 late in the third when he stole the puck at his defensive blue line and went on an individual rush.
While it looked like Canada was winding down the play toward an easy win, Lawson Crouse was injured by friendly fire on the last shot attempt of the game, and left for the dressing room as the final whistle sounded.
Canada will remain in Imatra to take on the Czech Republic at 10 AM EST tomorrow, in their second of three pre-competition games. As seems to be the case every year, the team will need to make adjustments to the aggressive style they employed in their first game of action to prevent their opposition from getting so many man advantage chances. Final cuts are expected to be made after that game, to allow the team that will play the tournament to get a game together in the last trial game versus Sweden on Wednesday.