Feature

COREY HIRSCH
SPENGLER CUP EXPERIENCE

EDITOR'S NOTE: Utah Grizzlies veteran goalie Corey Hirsch received permission from the NHL's Dallas Stars to leave the AHL team and participate in the 2002 Spengler Cup hockey tournament held in Davos, Switzerland, the last week of December. Hirsch played in three of Canada's five games, including the title game. This was not Hirsch's first international experience. He won a silver medal in the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, and a bronze medal in the 1995 world championships. The Salt Lake Tribune asked Hirsch to write about his experiences in Switzerland.

I consider myself a lucky man. I have not made the millions of dollars that some professional athletes make, but hockey has given me so much more. Hockey has given me experiences to last a lifetime, and the Spengler Cup tournament would be no different.

The Spengler cup is one of the oldest and most prestigious tournaments in the history of hockey. Every year at Christmas time, the best club teams from each elite league in Europe compete in Davos, Switzerland, for the Spengler Cup. Team Canada receives an at-large bid to complete the field.

The other countries are represented by teams from Germany, the Czech Republic, Finland, and the host team, Davos, Switzerland. Team Canada is represented by a mixture of Canadians playing hockey in Europe and a few NHL prospects playing in the AHL. Among them this year was former Utah Grizzlies forward Jarrod Skalde. When I was approached by my Utah coach, Don Hay, and asked to represent Canada in the Spengler Cup, I jumped at the opportunity. I have been extremely fortunate to represent Canada in the Olympics and at the World Championship in years past, and I consider it an honor to wear the national symbol that has given me so much. This was a great opportunity to give something back.

To represent your homeland is probably one of the greatest honors you can ever have. It is unfortunate that most people will never feel the sense of overwhelming pride, and emotions that I feel every time I step on the ice wearing a jersey with my national emblem. Imagine going to work everyday and getting to wear a national flag on your chest, knowing that everyone back home wants you to be your best and represent your country admirably. It is an absolutely amazing feeling.

The 2002 Spengler Cup definitely lived up to its billing. There are tents set up outside the arena hours before the game. They sell beer, bratwurst, and even champagne. These fans line up two hours before the game so they can be in the standing-room only section. Known as the rowdy section, some European hockey fans would rather stand for the entire game than take a seat. The fans chant and sing songs throughout
the whole game.

This incredible tournament is a seven-day party carved out of the Swiss Alps, and Davos has some of the most beautiful scenery I have ever seen. Chocolate cafes and expensive retail shops line the main streets of Davos. My wife paid $10 for a cup of hot chocolate. It better have been the best hot chocolate she ever had.

The hockey games are played with a few different rules than in North America. There is no two-line pass rule and no fighting. There are a few shoving matches, but you are suspended for the remainder of that game and the following game if you fight.

Fighting was never one of my strong points, so I wasn't too concerned. Without the two-line pass rule, there is room for more fast breaking plays and scoring chances. The games in the tournament are usually close. In a short tournament like this where you play each other once and only the top two teams go to the final, team can't
afford to make any mistakes or to lose any games.

The opening game of the tournament started with us scoring in the final minute to beat the German team 5-4. In the next game we overpowered the Czech team 4-1.

The only day off we had during the tournament was definitely a special one. We did something I haven't done since I was a child, we practiced outside on an outdoor hockey rink. It was something out of a postcard. The sun was shining, mountains surrounded us, and a crowd of about 300 came to watch us practice. I looked around and took a moment to myself. For the first time in my life, I didn't want practice to
end.

Rejuvenated after our day off, we went on to win our next two games and put ourselves in the final against the host team Davos. Team Canada had lost the previous two tournaments in the final to this same team, so to say we had something to prove was an understatement.

I had not forgotten the reason we had come to Switzerland. Each one of us wanted to win for our country. The hosts were not very gracious in the final and the game was a
close battle. Swiss fans were out in full force, drinking beer, eating brats, and singing throughout the whole game. We silenced the crowd, scoring late in the third, to go up 3-2, and went on to win the championship.

We had gone undefeated throughout the tournament. What a feeling. I had forgotten how good it felt to win a championship game. It was great for all of us, even better for Canada.

I came home exhausted. I had traveled more than 10,000 miles and played five games in seven days. This was the experience of a lifetime, and I am thankful everyday for the opportunity. I consider myself blessed to be able to play a sport for a living. I may not have made the millions I thought I would, with experiences like these and a family like I have, I feel like a millionaire.

 

For more information:
Brad Pascall Vice-President, Hockey Operations