(Photo: Abercio/Wikimedia/CC BY S.A. 2.0)
It is a pretty rare thing for me to get jealous of professional athletes. Guys getting big contracts, scoring big goals or even dating a super model never got me envious. However I am jealous of the group of players that will represent Canada at this year’s Spengler Cup tournament in Davos, Switzerland.
It occurs every December between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. It is always hosted by HC Davos. Davos is a beautiful city! It has one of the biggest ski resorts in Switzerland. This ski hill is awesome. There is also a tobogganing run that takes forever to go down. They use the old school toboggans with metal runners!
This is a great tournament with a very unique history. Dr. Carl Spengler was its founder. The first tournament was played in 1923, (coincidentally Brownlee’s birth year). Dr. Spengler’s idea was to try to improve international relationships through hockey. He thought a hockey tournament would bring countries together and help to get past all the bad blood still evident from the World War.
It was set up as an international tournament with teams from all over Europe competing. Club teams from Sweden, Russia, Italy and Germany are a few of the countries that have represented, competed and won. The first Champion was from Oxford University in the U.K. That team was made up of many Canadian players that went to school there.
It wasn’t until 1984 that Team Canada was invited to play. Since then Canada has entered a team yearly and won the whole thing more than ten times. The Canadian team is made up mostly of Canadian players playing in European leagues, specifically in the Swiss league. Team Canada fills in holes in the roster from the American Hockey League or NHL free agents still hoping to sign.
Often goalies are what Team Canada needs. This is because few Swiss clubs will use an import spot on a Canadian goalie. They would rather use those spots on skaters. This is the reason why there have been so few North American-born NHL goalies getting contracts in Europe during the lockout. One exception has been Corey Schneider of the Vancouver Canucks. The difference for him is that he has a Swiss passport so he doesn’t take up an import spot. Lucky guy! He has been playing for Ambri-Piotta. It is in the southern part of Switzerland about one hour drive north of Milan. Truly a beautiful place to spend a lockout.
The rink the games are played in is called Vaillant Arena. It is an incredible place! It is a very beautiful arena. It holds just over seven thousand fans of which about half have seats. Most fans don’t ever sit though. They chant and cheer the whole game. It is a really cool atmosphere that they create. Instead of booing they whistle and these fans can really whistle! The songs they sing are years old and the fans are all diehards for their clubs.
There are six teams that play in the tournament. Other than Canada they are all club teams. The club teams are allowed to enhance their lineups. They are allowed to temporarily bring in three skaters and one goalie for the tournament. The host team, HC Davos will often recruit imports from the Swiss league that are not Canadian to play with them. The other clubs will take from their leagues back home if they want to improve their lineups. This enhancement just improves the already very fine hockey teams involved.
With the lockout rolling on many NHL players are heading over to compete with Canada. Players like John Tavares, Jason Spezza and Tyler Seguin are a few of the stars that will be there. There are four Oilers going, Ben Eager, Ryan Smyth, Sam Gagner and Devan Dubnyk. They should all have an incredible experience.
For Dubnyk I think this is a great chance to get playing some games. As I mentioned earlier it is hard for North American goalies to get spots in Europe so he hasn’t gone over. He is still a young, developing goalie that needs live action. He can’t sit it a whole year, it could stall his development. His is a big part of what the Oilers are hoping is a bright future for the team.
For Dubnyk, this will be his second time playing at the Spengler cup. He went over in 2006-07. It was his first year pro and he was in Stockton of the ECHL. That was the first time I met Dubby, I also played on Team Canada that year in Davos. My one and only time being a part of a Canadian team, something I was very proud to get a chance to do. My family and I still talk about that being a special holiday. I hope one day to go back and take it the tourney as a fan!
Pat Quinn was our coach that year . It was fun to have him as the coach and he got a lot of help from his assistants who were more familiar with the players on his team. We had a great tourney but we lost in the final. What I really enjoyed was playing against the different styles of play from each country. The German team was very feisty whereas the Russian club held on to the puck forever. Really opened my eyes to the unique skill sets of each country.
Doug Shedden was named the coach of team Canada. He has been coaching for quite a while in European leagues. I caught up with him last week…..
Q : What can a fan expect from the Spengler Cup in Davos?
A: This will be my fourth Spengler Cup. I played for HC Davos back in 1991. Just being up there for the week of the tournament is incredible. If you have a picture in your head of the perfect spot to spend Christmas, that place would be Davos. There are the mountains, outdoor rinks with shinny games going on, people speed skating, figure skating, downhill skiing, snowboarding, horse and buggy snow rides and lots of snow! To me as a Canadian it feels like a great place to be. Then you go into this hockey rink that just smells like hockey. It is an old wood barn arena. It just smells like hockey! It is packed every day. It is just an amazing week up there. Hockey Canada does such a great job to put on a great show for all the players and families.
Q : With the NHL lockout still rolling along there are many NHLer’s playing in the Swiss league. What impact with this have for Team Canada at the Spengler?
A : The greatest thing is that during this lockout the guys playing here in the Swiss league actually reached out to us first which was fantastic! Jason Spezza, Patrice Bergeron and Seguin from Boston all called us to say if the lockout is still going on we want to play. We were just saying to ourselves that this was fantastic!
Q : Would you recommend this tournament for fans to go and watch?
A: I had friends come over from Canada last year. They couldn’t believe what it was like, they had an amazing time. It was a really special week in their lives; they couldn’t believe the fun they had!
The Spengler Cup is truly a special tournament. The games will be on TV starting on Boxing Day. Between that and the World Juniors we should be able to enjoy some good hockey for a while at least!
Merry Christmas to you all!