The Spengler Cup is the Best Holiday Hockey Cup

It’s holiday time, which means it’s time for the greatest tournament of them all– the Spengler Cup!! Look, I understand how people enjoy the World Junior tournament, but for me– the Spengler Cup really is the bee’s knees of holiday tournament. Some love the idea of rising talent– me?? I’m about the randomness of some of these rosters and how it’s an invitational format makes it’s quite the exclusive tournament.

To start, the Vaillant Arena in Davos could be the most scenic arena in the world. The arena itself is an old world masterpiece with half the arena being seated, the other being standing room in supporter sections, as they chant to give it an atmosphere of international soccer. I don’t have much on my bucket list, but going to the Spengler Cup is one on that list.

20.03.2017; Davos; Eishockey National League – Training HC Davos; Die Vaillant Arena in Davos (Steffen Schmidt/freshfocus)

The teams are another great thing. The hosts HC Davos have five other teams invited to the tournament…well, four other teams as Team Canada is another stalwart of this tournament. In this edition, the Thomas Sabo Ice Tigers of Germany (hopefully wearing Chris Sabo rec-specs as visors), KalPa Kuopio from Finland, Metallurg Magnitogorsk from Russia, and Ocelari Trinec of the Czech Republic will be taking part of the round-robin tournament. In the past, the AHL’s Rochester Americans, Dinamo Riga, Team Switzerland, and a USA Select team have participated.

The rosters are also an eye-opener when it comes to guys who are still playing. Canada’s roster is the one that’s really amazing this year with Kevin Bieksa, Torrey Mitchell, Daniel Winnik, and Dominic Moore represent the old guard, with Zach Fucale, Dante Fabbro, and Colt Conrad being the new blood. Players like Tom Gilbert, Milan Jurcina, and Anders Lindback are a few of the old NHLers making appearance here, while Sami Kapanen coaches the KalPa squad. It’s a great “Oh, hey!!” moment when you see the names of yesteryear on the ice again. Hell, this was a tournament Sergei Fedorov came back to play after being on the sidelines for a couple years. It holds that kind of stroke in the international hockey community.

While there isn’t much of a broadcasting presence in the US, there’s places you could probably go to find a feed of the game. I only with the NHL Network would show a game or ten to give this underrated tournament the respect it deserves.

Olympic Hope Adds to Already Amazing Tournament at Spengler Cup

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One of my favorite tournaments of the holiday season is the Spengler Cup. I’ve stumped for this tournament many times, not just because Vaillant Arena is a stunning site for the eyes, but also due to it being a land of, “Oh, that’s where that guy went.” The 2017 event has even more appeal to it, as there will be another national team aside from Canada to be featured right before the Olympics this year.

First, a bit of a history. The tournament itself is an invitation-only tournament hosted by HC Davos and created by Dr. Carl Spengler to help promote German-speaking European hockey clubs back in 1923. It was a way for those who felt ostracized after World War I to have place to play and have a communal feeling. Two teams who are constant are obviously HC Davos, but also Team Canada– which is a group of Canadian players who play over in Europe and are released by their minor league or college clubs to play in this event. Canada has been given an invite since 1984; while the other teams are filled out by other national teams and European club teams.

With this installment of the Spengler Cup, Canada’s team will have a last rehearsal for players want to represent the nation in the 2018 Games in South Korea. While there are plenty of former NHL players who play in Europe on the roster, it also has three players from the AHL (Jeff Schultz, Cody Goloubef, and Christian Thomas), as well as four players from the NCAA (Brandon Hickey, Jake Evans, Jeremy Davies, and Dylan Sikura). With five players back from last years championship team (Mason Raymond, Nick Spaling, Maxim Noreau, Andrew Ebbett, and David MacIntrye); the Canadians should continue to be a favorite in this event.

However, Canada isn’t the only team who’s scouting their Olympic roster as Switzerland will be fielding a team ahead of the Olympics. Some names that NHL fans may know include Damian Brunner, Tobias Stephan, and Raphael Diaz; but start to learn about goalie Leonardo Genoni. Genoni has had a history with the Spengler Cup with HC Davos, but it’s been one of hot and cold spells in this week long tournament. With the Swiss paired against Canada, South Korea, and the Czech Republic; taking on Canada and the other participants in the Spengler could give them a gauge on what they would need in order to have success in Olympics. A notable omission is goalie Jonas Hiller, who played in the Karjala Cup in November, but is not on this roster.

HC Davos, Canada, and Switzerland will be joined by Dinamo Riga of Latvia and the KHL, Mountfield HK of Czech Republic, and finally HPK Hameenlinna of Finland. There are times where teams will loan out players for this event– which HC Davos is taking advantage of with getting Jeremy Morin from SC Bern, Tomi Sallinin from Kloten, and Samuel Lofquist from EHC Biel. For Dinamo Riga, the likes of Danny Kristo, Karl Stollery, and Nikolai Zherdev are on their KHL squad and will most likely be at this tournament. Former King and Panther Jaroslav Bednar captains the Mountfield team, while Hameenlinna boost a young squad of players including former Bruins prospect Mikko Lehtonen.

It’s a quick and fun tournament that doesn’t get enough play in the US, even if there’s a US team in it like was the case with the Rochester Americans a few years back. If you’re in Canada, you can catch the action on the TSN family of networks; but in the US– good luck finding a totally legal stream of the event.

Ontario vs. Berlin Shows the Need for More Transcontinental Games

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The International Frozen Friendly (Photo Courtesy of the Ontario Reign)

On February 13th, the Ontario Reign will host Eisbaren Berlin in what is being called the International Frozen Friendly. The German Elite squad will be the first European team to play an AHL team since 2014 when Farjestad BK played the Toronto Marlies and the AHL All-Stars. Both Eisbaren and Ontario are owned by the Anschutz Entertainment Group.

This is a concept that is needed more when it comes to minor league hockey. Granted, this is something that a team in the Pacific Division can afford to do since they play eight less games; but that notwithstanding, the idea is something more teams should do. It has gone the other way with the Rochester Americans going to participate in the Spengler Cup in 2013, but it seems like it’s something few and far between– especially during in-season play.

Whether or not Berlin will bring their top squad remains to be seen, but it should lay the groundwork for the AHL to maybe explore something with other European teams. If hockey is truly universal, then this is something that would be great as a yearly exhibition between the AHL side and a European squad. Sure, if the European teams lose a lot to the “AAA” pro squads, they may be a little hesitant, but it’s something that needs to be drifted.

That, or the AHL tries to get into that Champions’ League thing that the European leagues have every season. Sure– it’s a pipe dream to make that logistically work in terms of travel and scheduling, but it would be a fun sight to see and maybe actually get more eyes on leagues that fans may not be totally accustomed to.

There’s no losers in all of this– this helps out the AHL get attention on a semi-global scale with the Europeans looking at this game as a nice little gimmick, Berlin gets help with a North American tour of sort, and the game wins when you have a clashing of ideas and cultures when it comes to how teams are coached and how players are developed. More leagues need to look into it and if they can make it work with travel and money– why not have that?? It’s something that helps the sport overall and I think in the end– that’s the goal of everyone in the game of hockey.

On the Topic Of Non-NHL Olympic Rostering

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When it comes to Canada and their roster when it comes to the Olympics, they really need to look no further than to their Spengler Cup roster that they’ll send over to Davos at Christmas time. It seems to be the way that Hockey Canada is going when it comes to the exhibition games they’ll have to play beforehand.

Sure, the AHL is allowing their contracted players to be available for the Games, but when you’re a country like Canada who is all about hockey– having a team that has played together (at some point) is what they need for a tournament like this. This would be a bit of a leg-up on the competition, which is not what they had back in the ’80s when most every country had a dedicated national team playing exhibitions in the lead-up to the Games.

Would a team of AHLers be better than a Spengler Cup team?? Perhaps. Could there be some AHLers on the Spengler Cup team that could go to the Olympics?? Absolutely– as AHL players representing Canada in the Spengler is not unheard of in the least. But it’s time to let those guys who moved over to Europe to play hockey and know the bigger ice a little bit better, especially against countries who have players who use that ice surface all year long.

And let’s be honest– it’d be a huge chance for these guys to represent their country on a big stage; not just for Canada, but other countries as well.. Hell, even when it comes to the World Championships, the NHLers get the luster of coming over to play for that while the Canadians, Americans, Finnish players who play in Europe are left out in the cold. You don’t think those guys would be even hungrier to prove they belong at the Olympics and should be considered when representing their nation?? While it’s not the amateur idea that some people have in making the World Juniors as the Olympics every four years; it’s definitely something that has great storylines for the broadcasting companies to have a field day with.

Plus, let’s be honest– this is a one-and-done for the non-NHL players because we all know their coming back for Beijing in 2022. These will be the games to show the depth of each national team has. Sure, we know what they bring to the table on the NHL or even AHL side…but for the overall landscape of hockey, this will prove what they have.

(Of course, I am saying this assume there isn’t a secret schedule to save the NHL going to the Olympics and the NHL players who go rogue and play in the Olympics anyway.)