DAVOS, Switzerland - The Spengler Cup final - Canada versus a top Russian team - will be a New Year's Eve hockey treat.
Former NHLers now skating for European clubs are getting a rare chance to represent Canada. They've been joined by free-agent goalie Curtis Joseph, who gets the start in the title game, and AHL skaters Simon Gamache and Danny Syvret. They were hastily assembled and have quickly become a cohesive unit.
A 4-2 win over Mannheim of Germany on Sunday sent Canada to the final with a 4-0 record, and head coach Sean Simpson's squad is determined to win this top club tournament for the first time in four years.
The opponent in Monday's championship game (6 a.m. ET, repeat 2:30 p.m. ET) will be Salavat Yulaev Ufa, a Russian powerhouse with a budget of US$50 million and the supplier of at least half the skaters on the Russian national team.
"As for motivation, I don't think we'll need to do much to get the guys up for this one," said Simpson. "We've really grown as a team."
"It's not going to be easy. The Russians have a heck of a team, but the way we've developed has been pretty good and the guys are excited."
Canada dealt Ufa its only loss of the tournament, 3-2 on Saturday, and the rematch promises to be just as exciting as that nailbiting preview.
Gamache, Dale McTavish, Ryan Keller and Andre Benoit scored Canada's goals against Mannheim, and Sebastien Caron was the winning goalie as Joseph rested up for the final.
"I trained hard for two or three weeks before coming over here," Joseph said before heading into a team meeting Sunday night. "The hockey over here is very, very good, very competitive."
"I'm happy to get some games in and I'm happy where we're sitting."
The 40-year-old goalie had offers from NHL teams for the 2007-2008 season but opted to remain at the family home north of Toronto to see what developed.
"This is a step in the right direction," he said. "I wasn't playing at all."
"If something comes up (in the NHL) halfway through the season, I'll go for it."
Given the way he's played in the Swiss Alps for the last week, there are big-league teams that could use him. For now though, Joseph is thinking only of his temporary teammates.
"The effort has been tremendous to see," he said. "Guys diving head first in front of pucks . . . it's really what Canadian hockey is all about."
The Spengler Cup is the biggest club tournament in the world. With all the Canadians playing in the Swiss elite league, organizers granted Hockey Canada permission to enter a team and it has done so since the 1980s.
"It's really great that it's on TV and people back home get to watch," said Simpson. "It's a very prestigious event in Europe."
"Every game is sold out. It's just a great hockey event, and the fact we've got guys who are not big-name stars playing for Canada . . . that's a great thing. Back home, people come up to me and say, 'I wondered where that guy was playing.' These guys really appreciate the opportunity to play for Canada."
Former NHL star Doug Gilmour, the player development advisor for the Toronto Maple Leafs, is an assistant to Simpson. It's Gilmour's first major coaching assignment.
"The players are thrilled to have him here," said Simpson.
Gilmour said he's thrilled to be helping out.
"It's been a great experience," Gilmour said. "We'll be dissecting films and determining strengths and weaknesses (Sunday night)".
"I cherish this opportunity. The guys came here from different teams committed to play for our country and they've worked so hard".
"They've played with their hearts. It's been fun to watch."
Gamache won the Swiss scoring title with Bern last winter, prompting the Maple Leafs to sign him. He has appeared in 11 NHL games with the Leafs this season. He's skating on a line with Serge Aubin and Kirby Law, who play for a team in Geneva.
Mark Giordano, the former Calgary Flame now with Moscow Dynamo, is paired on defence with Yannick Tremblay, who played sparingly last season for the Vancouver Canucks and who now is with Lugano of the Swiss league.
Danny Syvret of the AHL's Springfield Falcons, who captained the London Knights to a Memorial Cup title in 2005, is paired with Benoit, who has played in Tampere, Finland, since leaving the AHL's Hamilton Bulldogs.
Marc Chouinard, who played centre for the Canucks last winter and is now with Fribourg in the Swiss league, got into his first game Sunday after being summoned to replace the injured Ramzi Abid.
Ufa's lineup includes Oleg Tverdovsky, via the Los Angeles Kings, and Alexander Perezhoghin, who played for the Montreal Canadiens last season.
"They're unbelievably quick in transition - like any good Eastern European team," said Simpson. "They clog up the neutral zone and any time you lose the puck in their zone they're very quick at going the other way".
"We've got to take away their time and space. We want to play our game - pressure the puck, forecheck, be strong in our end - the Canadian style, and the guys are comfortable with that."
Ufa has a private jet and has lost only five games in the highly-competitive Russian league this season.
Ufa has "five or six guys who could be playing in the NHL today but they're getting two or three million so they stay at home," Simpson said.
It should be quite the game.