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Canada cruises past Czech Republic in Ivan Hlinka Memorial opener

Graham Hughes/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Canada's men's under-18 team opened the Ivan Hlinka Memorial tournament with a 4-0 victory over the Czech Republic on Monday.

Spencer Watson scored on a penalty shot for Canada, which also got goals from Michael Dal Colle, Hayden Fleury and Daniel Audette.

Goaltender Julio Billia earned a shutout stopping 13 shots, while Czech goaltender Vitek Vanecek was far busier with 38 saves.

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Billia was named Canada's player of the game, but head coach Dale Hunter pointed to defenceman Aaron Ekblad as key to the team's win.

Ekblad, the team's captain who Hunter calls "a big horse," finished the game with three assists. Hunter said Ekblad is versatile as both an offensive and defensive blue-liner, and that his locker-room influence is invaluable.

"He's a leader on and off the ice. He's got a presence about himself," said Hunter. "He cares about the kids and takes care of them. He's one of these leaders that talks to them. He doesn't yell and scream at them. They look up to him and he's got a presence about himself."

Dal Colle started Canada's attack with a power-play goal just 2:24 into the first period, and Fleury added another on the power play with three seconds left in the period.

Watson was pulled down on a breakaway but capitalized on the penalty shot at 17:55 in the second. Audette added the game's final goal during another power play 1:24 into the third.

Canada next plays Sweden on Tuesday. The Swedes opened the tournament with a 3-2 loss to Switzerland on Monday. Elsewhere, Finland edges the United States 3-2 in overtime and Russia beat Slovakia 2-1.

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