DAVOS, Switzerland – It’s the same old thing for Team Canada at this year’s Spengler Cup Championship - take 22 players from different teams, throw a Canadian hockey sweater on them and hope a little magic takes place. More often than not, it does.
The Spengler Cup is the oldest invitational club team tournament in the world and it is held every year from Boxing Day until New Year’s Eve in the beautiful Swiss alpine village of Davos. The format is a five team round robin, with the top two teams meeting in a winner take all championship. Canada has won the tournament 10 times since they were first invited 21 years ago. Last year a very good team, that went 3-1, could do no better than 3rd place. The format leaves little margin for error.
The Canadian team is made up primarily of pros that play in Switzerland and the rest of Europe, in addition to a few players loaned out from American and East Coast League teams. National Team Head Coach Marc Habscheid will be joined behind the bench by assistants Dave Lewis (former Detroit Head Coach) and Sean Simpson (who coaches for Zug in the Swiss League). Al Coates, Senior Advisor to the general manager in Anaheim is the GM and Lanny McDonald was brought in to act as Director of Player Personnel. Canada features 14 players who have some degree of NHL experience, including defenseman Jason York (708 career games, 221 points) and forwards Hnat Domenichelli (267 games, 113 points) and Stacy Roest (244 games, 76 points). The club also features Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Ian White, Vancouver ’02 3rd round pick Brett Skinner and Edmonton ’01 2nd rounder Doug Lynch. All three will play on a very young Canadian blue line, and will be in tough to quickly adapt their North American skills to the slightly quicker pace they’ll see in this tournament.
One of the most intriguing story lines will be come in Canada’s first game (Boxing Day). They will face the powerful Russian League team Magnitigorsk - a team coached by none other than former Canadian Olympic Team coach Dave King. The club features former Anaheim forward Stanislav Chistov and former Toronto and Philadelphia defenseman Dmitri Yushkevich. Magnitigorsk is currently running away with first place in the Russian League and King has them primed to win their first Spengler Cup title.
HC Davos, the host team and defending champions, are currently in 3rd place in the 12 team Swiss league. Familiar names to NHL fans are forwards Landon Wilson (Colorado, Boston, Phoenix, Pittsburgh) and Shane Willis (Carolina, Tampa Bay).
The other two teams in the tournament are Sparta Prague – lurking near the bottom of the 14 team Czech Extraliga and Eisbaren Berlin, coached by former NHL coach Pierre Page (Minnesota, Quebec, Calgary, Anaheim). Sparta sandbagged Canada one year ago at the tournament when coach Slava Lener rested seven of his regulars for the final game of the round robin. A weak Sparta lineup lost - thus shutting Canada out of the championship game. Berlin features a lineup peppered with Canadian pros, and is currently battling for top spot in the German League.
Paul Romanuk is currently based in London, England, where he works as a reporter for Sportsnet.