Yushiroh Hirano grabbed a hat-trick in the second period, Makura Furuhashi scored two and the Japanese power play went 3-for-0. Meanwhile goalie Yuti Narisawa made 16 saves to post a shut-out in his opening game.
"That's all great for us," said hat-trick hero Hirano. "We were strong on our special teams, we defended strongly. That will be so important for the rest of the tournament because the next games will be harder."
It was a baptism of fire for Serbia, back at this level of IIHF play for the first time since 2010, but a commanding performance adds weight to Japan’s hopes that it can improve on the two silvers and one bronze it has won since relegation from Division IA in 2016.
A second marker followed almost immediately as Serbia coughed up the puck in centre ice. Mateja Popovic’s misplaced pass went to Yuki Miura, who swiftly turned play around and set up Furuhashi for a well-placed wrister that flew over Rankovic’s shoulder.
Two goals down after six minutes, Serbia responded bravely. Anastasiadis Spiros’ men did not allow heads to drop and gradually began to ask some questions of Narisawa in the Japanese net. A couple of power plays midway through the first stanza helped to steady some Serbian nerves and late in the frame the puck was in Narisawa’s net after Mirko Dumic batted down Andrija Spanjevic’s long-range thunderbolt. However, joy soon turned to frustration as a video review found that Dumic’s stick was high and the goal was whistled off.
"[Serbia] made it a good game," added Hirano. "The first 20 minutes was hard for us. They came at us and created some good chances.
"But in the second 20 we started to play the way we want to play and that's what we have to do this week."
As Hirano pointed out, Japan heeded the warning. The second period began with Richard Carriere’s team stepping back on the gas and taking control of the game. Once again, the pressure paid off – and in a pattern similar to the first period with another Serbian penalty, swiftly followed by a Japanese power play goal. Team captain Shogo Nakajima powered down the right-hand channel, drawing the opposition to him and creating space for his team-mate to exploit in the left-hand circle. A pin-point pass set up the Abbotsfield Canucks forward for Japan’s third goal.
Hirano, aged 26, is one of Japan’s brightest talents. On a team largely comprised of home-based players, his AHL experience puts him on a different level from many of those around him. And he underlined that point with a second power play goal from almost the same spot to extend his team’s lead. Not that anyone could claim this is a one-man team: just 12 seconds after Hirano’s second goal, Furuhashi joined him on two tallies, punishing another slack pass in the Serbian zone to make it 5-0. Furuhashi, unlike the well-travelled Hirano, has played almost his entire club career with the Nikko Icebucks in the Asia League.
Japan had more to come. Late in the middle frame, Taiga Irikura added a sixth, tapping home a Kohei Sato feed to claim his first World Championship goal. Moments later, Hirano completed his hat-trick, this time from the opposite flank, and Serbia was facing a rout.
The final stanza brought one more goal from Kento Suzuki to complete an impressive start for Team Japan.