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Team North America

Auston Matthews solid in World Cup opener

Team North America forward passes another test against Team Finland

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / Staff Writer

TORONTO -- The lead-in to the World Cup of Hockey 2016 left very little doubt about Auston Matthews' readiness for the NHL.

The No. 1 pick of the 2016 NHL Draft by the Toronto Maple Leafs had a strong training camp and pretournament games for Team North America and was eventually promoted to the team's top line.

Yet another test was passed Sunday when Matthews did plenty, including assisting on Team North America's first goal in a 4-1 win against Team Finland at Air Canada Centre.

It was Matthews' first game in his future home. He was greeted with the biggest cheer during pre-game introductions, and it only got better from there.

"My eye was on him because I thought he was going to have a [heck] of a game, and he did," Team North America coach Todd McLellan said. "There was no fear at all of playing him. He just hasn't played his first game (but) he's an NHL player. I know that. Everybody here knows that, he's that good.

"Again, he complemented the other two on the line. That made it complete. They were big bodies that held onto pucks. They had speed. I think they had 10 shots on goal. 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. You can't ask any more of him."

Matthews skated with center Connor McDavid and right wing Mark Scheifele. He had five shots on goal in his first World Cup game and showed key signs of a player with confidence.

Often, young players trying to make their mark or find a fit are reluctant to hold onto the puck for long and opt to just get rid of it instead of making plays.

Not Matthews.

During Team North America's only power play of the game in the first period, he took the puck to the net quickly from wide and low on the left wing and Jack Eichel eventually shoved in the rebound.

"Awesome," Scheifele said. "He was great. He was great with the puck. He made some great plays. He had a good chance, made a great play on our first goal, which was huge for us. And then from then on, he made a lot of great plays. He's a great player for sure.

"I think we created a good amount. A few little exceptions, times we could have made a different play. But that's what happens when you have new linemates."

Matthews, who turned 19 on Saturday, said he wasn't nervous in or before his debut at Air Canada Centre.

"Not too much, to be honest," he said. "I was pretty anxious to get going. I think we all were. It was a pretty special night, first game playing here in Toronto. Definitely an exciting time."

He said he believes he fits on Team North America's top line.

"I think with all of us bringing different things to the table," Matthews said. "Obviously Connor with his speed, and myself and Scheifele are two big guys who can control the puck down low. I thought we created a lot of pretty good opportunities, (including) with Connor's goal getting called back (late in the first period because of goaltender interference). We definitely created some scoring chances.

"It's a pretty good feeling to go out there and contribute. All four lines brought something tonight. Everybody was out there doing their part. We were utilizing our strengths and I think we put them on their heels."

Matthews said it was time for the build up to the tournament to end, that he and his Team North America teammates were eager to get on with the real games.

"A two-week camp, three exhibition games, and I think all of us pretty anxious to get going in the tournament," he said. "I think it showed. We were flying around the ice tonight, using our speed and getting pucks in behind their defense. It definitely worked out in our favor."

Matthews was one of many Team North America players who excelled on Sunday. Team North America dictated the pace for more than two periods, building a 4-0 lead, and allowed Team Finland very little opportunity to rally at any point.

"It was pretty special," Matthews said. "I think we played a solid 60 minutes. Besides that one goal they scored, I think we controlled the pace of the game.

"We utilized our strengths, our speed and we were able to control pucks down low and we were able to kind of take control of it."


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