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After a long absence, Moscow captures Spengler Cup

by Bill Meltzer
The annual Spengler Cup tournament in Davos, Switzerland, is the hockey world's second-oldest ongoing club-team tournament after the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Recently, Russian team Dynamo Moscow captured the 82nd edition of the tournament, defeating defending champion Team Canada in the final, 5-3.

The annual six-day event at Vaillant Arena is one continuous party, on the ice and off, from the day after Christmas to New Year's Eve. As usual, the stands were packed with 7,000-plus spectators every match and featured the uniquely pitched atmosphere typical of hockey in Switzerland.

For the participating teams in the five-team invitational event, it's a grueling test of endurance that sees clubs play up to five games in less than a week. This year's field consisted of host team HC Davos, Dynamo, the Canadian national team (consisting of players who ply their trade in Europe), Czech team HC Karlovy Vary and German entry HRC Ingolstadt.

It had been 25 years since Dynamo Moscow last took part in the Spengler Cup, which is named for its prize donor, Dr. Carl Spengler (1860-1937), a prominent scholar, physician and sportsman from Davos. In the years following World War I, Spengler believed the tournament would foster understanding through sports competition.

Historically, the tournament was dominated by Soviet and Czechoslovakian teams, who routinely won the prize throughout the 1960s, '70s, and early 1980s.  Dynamo last appeared in the event in 1983, taking the prize home to Moscow.

Team Canada entered the tournament with 11 Spengler Cups to its credit. The Canadians have sent entries to the tournament since 1984, and prevailed in its first try.

Typically, the Canadian team is comprised of players with for European teams (largely in Switzerland’s Nationalliga A), along with a handful of American Hockey League and other North American minor leaguers. Sean Simpson took over as Canada's coach for last year's tournament, and he returned to the fold to defend the crown.

"In this tournament, every game is like sudden death and so important," said Simpson. "You can't blow even one period. It's crazy how it works."

The just-completed tournament had special meaning for the Canadians, who have reached the finals in eight of the last nine installments. This time around, the team was playing to honor the memory of assistant coach Jim Koleff, who recently passed away at age 55 after a battle with cancer.

The tourney started well for the defending champs, but hit a snag when HC Davos upended the Canadians, 6-5, in a shootout. Dynamo, which entered the final game of the round-robin portion of the tournament unbeaten, faced Canada in its finale and rested many of its regulars. The Canadians won, 6-3, to set up a rematch with Dynamo in the final.

In the championship tilt, former NHL players Petr Cajanek and Mattias Weinhandl provided the heroics for Dynamo. The Moscow-based club raced out to a 3-0 lead, and appeared ready to cruise to victory before Micki Dupont and Hnat Domenichelli scored power-play goals just 18 seconds apart in the final minute of the second period.

Just 23 seconds after the third period started, though, Cajanek tallied his second goal of the game to give Dynamo some insurance. The goal proved important as Randy Robitaille answered for Canada. As the clock ticked down under three minutes, Dynamo’s Maxim Pestushko capitalized on a Serge Aubin turnover to cement the victory for the Russian side.

"We played well for most of the tournament, but Dynamo was a little bit better," Simpson said. "We had maybe 20 bad minutes of hockey in the five games, but at this level, there's just not too much room for error."

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