DAVOS, Switzerland – The Spengler Cup could just as well have been the Stanley Cup for the joyous Canadian team.
Kirby Law and Ryan Keller scored in the second period to lift Canada to a 2-1 victory over Russian club Salavat Yulaev Ufa to win the 81st Spengler Cup tournament on Monday.
The players, mostly NHL cast-offs now skating for European club teams, erupted in celebration as time wound down on Canada’s first win at the annual Christmas-week event since 2003.
“It’s not absolutely the best team Canada can put together, but these guys are just as proud to wear the Canadian sweater as the top guys,” said coach Sean Simpson. “They got their chance to show what they can do.”
It was Canada’s 11th Spengler Cup win since it began entering teams in 1984.
The squad that came together just before the tournament won all five of its games over six days, twice defeating a skilled Ufa club that plays together all season.
Forty-year-old Curtis Joseph was a standout in goal in the final as Canada took advantage of two strange goals to take the lead and then held on with a solid defensive effort in the third period.
“Certainly we have Cujo and some guys who have played many NHL games, like Travis Green, but a lot of guys have never played in the NHL, or just a few games, and they still get to wear the shirt and compete for Canada,” said Simpson. “I think that’s really great.”
The Ufa bench was in disbelief as a video review upheld Law’s opening goal seven minutes into the second period.
Goaltender Alexander Eremenko looked to have the puck frozen against the post with his pad for two or three seconds after a Simon Gamache wraparound attempt before Law banged at it and saw it go in. The Ufa players felt the whistle should have blown the play dead.
“They were hoping for the whistle and we were hoping there wouldn’t be a whistle,” said Law, a McCreary, Man., native and former Philadelphia Flyers part-timer who is now playing for Servette Geneva in the Swiss league.
Simpson said the puck looked to be loose.
Less than three minutes later, Ric Jackman’s pass went off a skate at the Ufa blue-line and former Montreal Canadiens forward Alexander Perezhogin broke in on his off-wing and snapped a shot past Joseph to the tie the score.
Canada got it back when Keller’s wide shot on a rush rebounded off the end boards, hit Eremenko and went into the net for the game-winner. Keller, 23, is a Saskatoon native now playing for Espoo in Finland.
Another break came in the opening minutes of the third period when Perezhogin senselessly boarded Mark Giordano – who plays for Dynamo Moscow in Russia – to cut Ufa’s two-man advantage to only one.
Joseph, a free agent, joined the Canadian team to stay sharp while looking to catch on with an NHL club.
Among several strong saves, he stoned Michal Mikeska on a second-period breakaway and made a quick pad save on a dangerous shot from Oleg Tverdovsky in the third.
“We worked very hard toward this,” said Joseph, a member of Canada’s 2002 Olympic gold medal team. “Any time you win it becomes a fond memory and this is one of my fondest memories.
“It’s a really nice tournament at a great time of year and you can’t get a better setting than Davos.”
The Keswick, Ont., native said he’s ready to return to the NHL.
“I know in my own heart that I can play at the high level I expect and that’s important,” he said.
Former Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Sebastien Caron started two of the four games in the round robin portion of the tournament, including a win over German club Mannheim on Sunday that allowed Joseph to rest up for the final.
What irked the Canadians was that the Swiss crowd clearly sided with Ufa in the final, whistling derisively when calls went against the Russian club.
“That offends me totally,” said Simpson, who coaches Zug in the Swiss league, a rival to the local Davos team. “I had to bite my lip not to say anything because I work here in Switzerland, but it disappointed me that the Davos crowd would cheer for the Russians.”
He said Canadians have played in Switzerland and helped develop Swiss hockey for decades and “we just deserve a bit more respect than that.”
Simpson had former NHL star Doug Gilmour as well as Jim Koleff as his assistants.
Former NHL players on the team included Yannick Tremblay, Domenic Pittis, Marty Murray, Ramzi Abid and Yves Sarault, while Gamache was on loan from the AHL Toronto Marlies and defenceman Danny Syvret from the AHL Springfield Falcons.