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Canada aims for 12th Spengler Cup championship

by Bill Meltzer
The annual Spengler Cup tournament in Davos, Switzerland, is the hockey world's second-oldest on-going club-team tournament, after the Stanley Cup Playoffs. For fans, the annual six-day event at Vaillant Arena is one continuous party, on and off the ice, from the day after Christmas to New Year's Eve. But to the participating teams in the five-team invitational event, it's a grueling test of endurance to play up to five games in less than a week.

Now in its 84th edition, the 2011 tournament pits host team HC Davos against a field consisting of fellow Swiss National League A team Kloten Flyers, KHL team Dinamo Riga, Czech team HC Vitkovice, Grizzly Adams Wolfsburg from Germany's DEL and Team Canada.

Primarily consisting of players signed to European teams (especially ones in Switzerland), Canada has won the tournament championship 11 times, most recently in 2007. Hockey Canada has sent entries to the tournament since 1984, and prevailed in its first try as well as in 1986, 1987, 1992, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2002 and 2003. Canada reached the final last year before falling to KHL representative SKA St. Petersburg. Overall, Canada has reached the final nine of the last 11 years.

Former Stanley Cup-winning coach Marc Crawford will be behind the bench for Team Canada.
(Photo: Getty Images)
This year's Canada squad features former Stanley Cup-winning coach Marc Crawford behind the bench and includes 16 players with NHL experience. The most prominent names on the roster include goaltender Marty Turco, defensemen Ryan Parent, Joel Kwiatkowski, Cory Murphy and Jordan Hendry, and forwards Glen Metropolit, Stacy Roest, Dominic Pittis and Jean-Pierre Vigier.

"I'm excited to work with this group of players," said Crawford, who has Doug Shedden and Trent Yawney serving as assistant coaches. "There is not much time to prepare for a tournament like this, so it's important to keep things simple. We've got a lot of guys who have experience over (in Europe), and a lot of the guys have played together before."

In total, there are eight returning players for Canada who suited up in last year's tournament. Many of the Canadian forwards, including Metropolit, Roest and Vigier, have established themselves among the top offensive players in the Swiss league.

Now in his third season with SC Bern and fifth season in Switzerland, Vigier is a grizzled veteran of the Spengler Cup. The 35-year-old right wing, who played 213 NHL games with Atlanta, has represented his homeland in every Spengler Cup since coming to play in the Swiss National League.

"It's one of the oldest tournaments in the world. Being a part of it is great fun," Vigier told the tournament's website. "My parents are travelling to Davos from Canada to watch some games in (Vaillant Arena). … My family and friends get up at five in the morning to watch us play on TV. But the Spengler Cup is not just fun, it's also hard work for us. We're representing our country, after all."


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One of the big challenges for Canada every year is trying to overcome the built-in disadvantage of playing against clubs that have been together all season. That challenge, however, did not seem to faze Canada in its 7-2 rout of Vitkovice in its opening game. Kwiatkowski scored a pair of goals, while Pittis, Joel Perrault, Brett MacLean, Rico Fata and Kurtis MacLean each had goals. Staked to an early 4-0 lead, Turco made 29 saves in the win.

"I think our depth was pretty apparent," Crawford told Hockey Canada's website.

Canada is back in action Wednesday, against HC Davos. The tournament's two quarterfinal games will take place Thursday, with the semis Friday and the final Saturday. By the end of the tournament, the winning team and runner-up will have played games on four straight days.

Dinamo made a statement of its own in its opening game, beating Kloten 9-2. The game was highlighted by one of the most bizarre goals scored this season. Dinamo forward Roberts Bukarts' shot struck the crossbar, bounced in the air, ricocheted off the back of Kloten goaltender Ronnie Rueger and fell into the net.

Kloten bounced back in its next game, beating Wolfsburg 6-0. In the meantime, 14-time champion HC Davos beat Vitkovice 2-1.

HC Davos won its most recent Spengler Cup in 2006 and last reached the final in 2009. Within Switzerland, although the National League halts play during the tourney, control of the tournament was long the exclusive domain of host club HC Davos, which arranged the event. Historically, the team's four invited challengers were foreign-based clubs. That changed two years ago, though, when a second Swiss team was added each year.

Founded in 1923, the Spengler Cup tournament is named for Dr. Carl Spengler (1860-1937), a prominent scholar, physician and sportsman from Davos. In the years following World War I, Spengler believed that the tournament was to foster understanding through sports competition. 

Historically, the tournament was dominated by Soviet and Czechoslovakian teams, who routinely won the prize throughout the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s. The balance of power shifted once Canada got involved.
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