Marc Crawford prepares for new challenge as Canadian coach at Spengler Cup

Marc Crawford is preparing for his newest hockey challenge just as he did for all of those that came before it.

“You’ve got to be all in,” he said in a recent interview. “It’s the only way to do anything.”

There have been a few unexpected hurdles for Crawford while trying to ready himself to coach Canada’s entry at the Spengler Cup later this month.

For starters, he’s had a tough time getting his hands on anything more than a few Internet highlights of Czech team HC Vitkovice Steel, whom Canada faces in its tournament-opening game on Dec. 26.

“We’ve got all our crack staff all over the place trying to send us a video of them,” Crawford said with a laugh. “But it’s kind of like trying to get something in the old Eastern Bloc days, we’ll have to smuggle a tape out of there.”

It’s just one of the charms that comes with the oldest professional international hockey tournament in the world. The Spengler Cup has been held in the picturesque mountain town of Davos, Switzerland since 1923.

The competition features five European club teams and a Canadian entry comprised largely of European-based pros. The Canadian team will also feature former NHL goaltender Marty Turco and three players on loan from the American Hockey League: goalie Jake Allen, defenceman Ryan Parent and forward Brett McLean.

There won’t be much time for preparation. The team will gather for a meeting on Saturday night, practise for the first time Sunday and open the tournament the following day.

“Obviously, simplicity will be the order of the day,” said Crawford. “We’ve talked to the guys and we’ve sent them an outline of how we want to play in the areas where you need your structure. You need a little bit of structure in how you’re going to forecheck, how you’re going to defend.”

Beyond that, the coaching staff will rely on some built-in chemistry. Most of the Canadians play in the Swiss league and eight of them are returning from the squad that finished second last year.

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The 50-year-old Crawford is enthusiastic about a blue-line that features quite a bit of NHL experience, with Parent joined by Mark Hartigan, Joel Kwiatkowski, Cory Murphy, Jordan Hendry and Derrick Walser.

“Our defence is going to be a strong point for us,” said Crawford. “We’ve got a real good puck-moving D. We’ve got good experience back there and that’ll help.

“When you’ve got good goaltending and a decent defence, hopefully you can find a way to score a few goals.”

The forwards include Glen Metropolit, Rico Fata, Jeremy Williams, Stacy Roest, Joel Perrault and J.P. Vigier—all of whom have moved on to Europe after playing in the NHL.

Crawford will be joined behind the bench by assistants Doug Shedden and Trent Yawney.

“We’re really excited about our coaching staff,” said Brad Pascall, vice-president of national teams for Hockey Canada. “It’s a great blend of international experience and professional experience, which I think is going to bode well. …

“I think the coaches have a good understanding of the international game and our preparation will definitely be superior.”

Canada has appeared in nine of the last 11 Spengler Cup finals, last winning the tournament in 2007.

The format offers little margin for error. After opening with round-robin games against HC Vitkovice and host HC Davos, the tournament shifts into a sudden-death playoff round. The championship game will be played on New Year’s Eve.

Crawford has been looking forward to the event since being named coach earlier this year and will bring his wife and two children along with him. He’s been doing television work since being fired by the Dallas Stars in April and is anxious to get back behind the bench.

The Spengler Cup offers a chance to add to a resume that already includes more than 1,000 NHL games, a Stanley Cup and other international assignments, including coaching Canada at the 1998 Nagano Olympics.

“I’ve heard from guys that have been to the tournament just how great it is,” said Crawford. “It’s very well run and the Canadians are really appreciated over there. I’m looking forward to it.”