Matthews Makes Toronto Debut A Memorable One

No. 1 Pick Helps Power Team North America To World Cup Win

TORONTO -- Next to watching Team Canada in action, the toughest ticket in town was being inside the Air Canada Centre to see Team North America take on Finland in Auston Matthews' Toronto debut on Sunday. And keeping with the storybook script, the No. 1 overall pick by the Maple Leafs didn't disappoint his hometown fans.

 

The 19-year-old wiz kid from Scottsdale, Ariz., lived up to the hype and helped the youngest team in the tournament breeze past a Finland squad loaded with international experience, 4-1 in the first games for both teams.

 

"He hasn't played his first game but he's an NHL player. I know that. Everybody here knows that. He's that good," said Team North America head coach Todd McLellan.

 

"He belongs where he is right now. He fits where he is. There's no, hey, let's babysit him and make sure we're protecting him. Let him play. He's got all the skills and he's playing the right way. We can't ask any more of him."

 

If the young phenom was nervous it didn't show. After a two-week training camp and three exhibition games, players were finally ready to drop the puck. 

 

"I think all of us were pretty anxious to finally get going in the tournament, and I think it showed," Matthews said. "We were flying around the ice tonight, utilizing our speed and getting pucks in behind their defense so it worked out in our favor."

 

Playing on a line with rising Canadian stars Connor McDavid and Mark Scheifele, Matthews looked right a home playing against the big boys, using his speed and hockey sense to show why the Toronto Maple Leafs made him the first overall pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft.

 

In total he played 14 minutes and 20 seconds, peppered Finnish goalie Pekka Rinne with five shots and created the first Team North America goal in a dominating 4-1 win.

 

"It's a pretty good feeling to go out there and contribute," Matthews said. "All four lines really brought something tonight and everyone was out there doing their part. We were utilizing our strength and speed, and we definitely put them on their heels."

 

Matthews showed both his strength and his speed on the first Team North America goal, side stepping a hit from Finnish defender Rasmus Ristolainen along the way boards and unleashing a high shot that Rinne couldn't corral before McDavid swooped in to poke in the rebound.

 

The line had several more great chances in the period to pad the lead, including a goal called back for goaltender interference.

 

Along with McDavid he received the loudest ovation from a crowd that was certainly behind the kids.

 

"Whenever you have the crowd behind you're able to build off it," said second year player Jack Eichel. "For us to get a goal in the first and get going was good. Even those goals that were called back got the crowd into it and we definitely used that to our advantage."

 

Team North America will need every ounce of its youthful energy as they face a quick turn around against a desperate Russian squad that dropped a heartbreaker, 2-1, to Team Sweden earlier in the day.

 

"They're both different teams. Finland is a little more structured defensively while Russia has a lot of firepower up front. They’re both going to be difficult games," Matthews said. "Tonight was definitely not an easy game, but we stuck to our game plan and was able to work it out. Tomorrow should be just as tough so we're going to have to come prepared."

 

But for the youngster who seems to have taken life in the Toronto media spotlight in stride, it's just another game and another opportunity to show that he belongs playing with the big boys.

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