Samuel Helenius stepped up with two goals for Finland, and Joel Maatta added a single. Brad Lambert shone with a pair of assists.
Finnish head coach Antti Pennanen praised Lambert afterwards: "He has good confidence at the moment and he is kind of fearless, especially with the puck. We all know that he is gifted and talented and today he was so good. It was nice to watch."
The Finns, who earned the 2021 bronze medal with a 4-1 victory over Russia, are looking to top the podium for the first time since 2019. Their other four World Junior gold medals came in 1987, 1998, 2014, and 2016.
Leevi Merilainen, the 19-year-old starting goalie of the OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs, made a winning IIHF debut with 23 saves. Germany’s Nikita Quapp, who plays for the DEL’s Krefeld Pinguine at age 18 and appeared in two U18 Worlds games in Texas in April, had 19 stops.
Of Merilainen, Pennanen said: "He was pretty calm. I think he can improve his game a lot during the tournament. He was so good today and made a couple of great saves."
Luca Munzenberger replied for Germany, which finished sixth last time and could take some positives away from this outing.
"It was a good game," said Quapp. "We were much better than in the exhibition games, had great breakouts, and didn’t have problems getting out of the zone."
This game was a positive step forward for Lambert, who totalled one goal and three assists in his 2021 World Junior debut. The 18-year-old Lahti-born forward is pegged to go in the first round of the 2022 NHL Draft, even though he has struggled with two goals and four assists for JYP in 24 Liiga games this year.
"It's my draft year, but I just try to take it day by day and get as much better as I can, improve as a player and a person," Lambert said.
In the second period, the Germans continued to make things tough on their blue-and-white foes. Finnish defender Aleksi Heimosalmi had to rush back and cut off Danjo Leonhardt on a dangerous-looking solo break.
With Finland’s Kasper Simontaival in the penalty box for hooking, Munzenberger jumped in down the middle to beat Meerilainen with a low glove-side wrister at 3:27. The tall University of Vermont rearguard had just come out of the penalty box himself. It was Munzenberger's first World Junior goal. He went pointless in five games last year.
"Our forward Alexander Blank had the puck and tried to skate through three guys, kind of lost the puck," Munzenberger said. "It came back to me and I just fired the puck."
Finland struck back at 7:38 for a 2-1 lead. Maatta, who plays with Munzenberger in Vermont, converted the rebound from Heimosalmi's center point blast and celebrated his first career World Junior goal.
"We know each other from Vermont and knew that we would play each other in the first game," Munzenberger said. "So it was a big event for [the team] also in Vermont and they watched the game together. I haven’t checked my phone, but there will be messages for sure. It was nice to score the tying goal, but then he scored as well, so it didn’t help us that much!"
Late in the middle frame, Quapp battled hard to keep Germany's hopes alive. He made a fine glove stop on Oliver Kapanen on a Finnish odd-man rush and stoned Helenius from the slot after Ville Koivunen centered the puck from behind the net.
At 7:53 of the third period, Helenius gave Finland some breathing room at 3-1, busting to the net on the rush to finish off a sweet cross-ice pass from Lambert. The Germans pulled Quapp late for the extra attacker, but couldn't narrow the gap.
Both teams are right back in action on Monday. Finland takes on Austria, while the Germans will battle Czechia.
Lambert identified the strengths the Finns will need to rely on at these World Juniors: "How we stick together in the team. Obviously that can go a long way: battling as a team, playing defence as a team, and being a tight five-man unit. We also have a lot of good skaters, so our speed is good."
Even though players are within a pandemic bubble again, like last year, fans were in the stands for this opening game at Rogers Place, subject to the province of Alberta’s 50 percent-capacity attendance. This was the first World Junior game with fans since 5 January 2020 in Ostrava, Czechia, where Canada defeated Russia 4-3 to win the gold medal with 8,963 on hand.
This was Germany’s 12th consecutive loss to Finland in IIHF World Junior Championship history. Including the West Germany era, the Germans have never beaten the Finns at this tournament, dating back to a 2-0 loss on New Year's Day 1992 in Kaufbeuren.
Despite starting off with a defeat, Germany – like other nations – does not need to worry about being relegated at this tournament.
The IIHF Council decided earlier on Sunday that, as in 2021, the same 10 teams in the top division will return for the 2023 World Juniors in Novosibirsk and Omsk, Russia. It is “to safeguard the sportive integrity of the competition in the light of the extraordinary Covid-related circumstances.” Belarus, which earned promotion from Division IA earlier in December, will get to take part, bringing the total number of 2023 teams to 11.
Prior to Finland-Germany, a minute’s silence was observed in memory of Niclas Kaus. The junior player from Lowen Frankfurt passed away at the age of 18. After being hit in a DNL III game on 18 December, he collided with the boards and was taken to hospital, where he died four days later from head injuries.