There’s no doubt in my mind the best hockey tournament to watch over the holidays is the world juniors. It’s some of the best hockey on television all year long with exuberant, fast-paced action showcasing the NHL players of tomorrow.
But there’s another tournament starting on Boxing Day that’s also a pleasure to watch because of the unique European taste and the exposure of familiar players gone by.
Of course, I’m talking about the Spengler Cup, one of the oldest hockey tournaments in the world. First awarded in 1923, the Spengler Cup is a five-team, invitation-only tournament hosted by HC Davos, Switzerland.
Not only are the lively European crowds waving flags and chanting electric songs as always, but each team has at least a few former NHLers who make it all the more interesting for North American fans to check in on players they might have forgotten about.
This year is no different. Starting with Team Canada, made up of Canadian players on European teams, the tournament also includes host Davos, Adler Mannheim of Germany, Dynamo Minsk of Belarus and the Kontinental League, and Energie Karlovy Vary of the Czech Republic.
Check out Canada early Boxing Day afternoon and you’ll see the likes of former Maple Leafs Ric Jackman and Mark Bell, former 15-goal scorer Brett McLean, infamous first overall selection Alexander Daigle, backup extraordinaire Wade Dubielewicz (in the American League, but subbing for injured Brent Krahn), Boyd Devereaux and Spengler Cup mainstay Randy Robitaille. Oh, and the team will be coached by former Oilers bench boss Craig MacTavish.
Tune in to see the Czech squad take on Canada on the 26th and former 40-goal scorer Ziggy Palffy will stick out as the star of a defense-first team that won the Czech League last season and will try and bring the Czechs their first Spengler since 1982.
On the 28th Canada takes on host HC Davos, the team with the most titles (14) in tournament history. The Swiss champions in 2009 lost a few key players to other clubs and will be in tough this year, but still hold a couple interesting players. Former Florida Panther Juraj Kolnik and ninth overall pick in 2002 Petr Taticek lead the way.
The German entry starts with Fred Brathwaite between the pipes. Brathwaite, who has played in this tournament a few times, was scouted here years ago by the Calgary Flames and signed by the team a few days after the 1998 tournament. He’d go on to play 61 games for the Flames the following year and post a .905 save percentage. Stay-at-home defenseman Pascal Trepanier and power forward Colin Forbes are among a few other former NHLers on the squad.
Finally, the Canadians take on Dynamo Minsk, the early favorites in the tournament, on the 30th. The Belarussian players on this team have a great shot at being on that country’s Olympic team in February, led by international star Andrei Mezin in goal, who the Belarussians describe as the best netminder not in the NHL. Former NHLers Ossi Vaananen, Ville Peltonen, Byron Ritchie and Duvie Westcott round out this entry from the Kontinental League.
After the round robin there’s a one game final on New Year’s Eve for all the marbles. While Davos is the all-time power, Canada has taken part every year since 1984, appearing in 17 of the 23 finals and winning 11 of them.
It’s surely a year-end gem that can easily get buried beneath the glamor of the WJC, but for the hardcore fan, it’s worth checking out at least one of these matches over the lazy holidays.
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