DAVOS - For trivia fans, Wednesday was the worst spanking suffered by Canada at the Spengler Cup since 2005, when they were defeated 8-3 in the championship game by the Russian club Magnitogorsk. Further bit of trivia - the coach of that team was Canadian Dave King. I remember interviewing him on the ice after the game and, if memory serves correct, he was almost apologetic.
For me, the Spengler Cup is an annual, and immensely enjoyable, opportunity to have a chat with some of the veteran players whom I've had the pleasure of seeing over the years - many since their junior hockey days. Every year there will be one or two fewer "old faces" as guys retire, and two or three "new guys". Although I'm getting to know some of the guys playing in their first Spengler Cup, it's the veterans whom I've known for years that I identify with the most. This morning, I took a completely random straw poll from some of the vets who've played in several Spengler Cups about the ones they remember the most.
Domenic Pittis is playing in his sixth Spengler, and some of his biggest memories are of the team from 2007. That was the last Canadian team that won the tournament and also the year that Curtis Joseph played.
"I remember him just playing like Cujo, " recalls Pittis, "he had a big poke check late in the game… a couple of big pad saves. It was great to play with a guy like that."
Looking back, that was quite a team. Aside from Cujo, Doug Gilmour and the late Jim Koleff were assistants. Sean Simpson, now the Swiss National Team coach was the head coach for Canada and they beat an excellent KHL team (Salavat Yulaev Ufa) 2-1 in the final game.
Canadian captain Stacy Roest remembers his first Spengler in 2003. Roest was part of a veteran laden club that featured Dixon Ward as the team captain. Roest was named to the tournament All Star Team.
"That was my first one, and the only one I've played in that we won," says Roest. "I remember I played on a line with Ward and Mike Maneluk. Gary Green was the coach and there were a ton of guys with the flu and we battled back and won the thing."
J.P. Vigier is playing in Spengler number five, and, like Roest, he remembers the first one the most. I remember Vigier bagged a power play goal in his first ever game for Canada.
"In 2007 that was my first time ever getting to wear a Team Canada jersey, and we won it. It was great," remembers Vigier.
Veteran Shawn Heins still smiles when he thinks back to his first Spengler Cup, back in 1998, when he was a member of Canada's National Team.
"It was my first time in Europe and I remember the atmosphere and the whole experience was all brand new to me," recalls Heins. "We beat Davos in the final."
For me? Easy. It would have to be 2003 when my former broadcast partner and great friend Gary Green was coaching the team. I still remember, vividly, walking into the trainer's room before the championship game and seeing several players hooked up to saline drips to rehydrate because they were flu ridden. Davos scored an early power play goal and I remember my broadcast partner Doug Honegger and I looking at one another and rolling our eyes. It looked as though Canada, sick and tired, had run out of energy and was ripe for a bruising from the host club.. But that was such a character-filled Canadian team. They came right back with a shorthanded goal, and then went on to play a tough, gutsy game that they won 7-4. The smile on my pal Greener's face as he puffed on a cigar and enjoyed a glass of red wine afterwards is something that I'll always remember.
If you've followed this tournament over the years, you've no doubt noticed the Davos coach Arno Del Curto. He dresses casually (often in jeans) and often stands in front of the players on the bench, theatrically shouting and waving his arms to motivate his team. Del Curto is a legend in this city, but a divisive figure in the Swiss hockey world. Some think he's a genius, and others think he's an eccentric one-trick pony (a yeller and a motivator not a tactician). He's been offered the head coaching job with the national team on at least one occasion and turned it down (although he did coach the U20 team the year before he started his tour in Davos). Critics say he wouldn't expose himself to the international game where, his critics say, he would be badly outcoached. His Davos team was certainly embarrassed in 2009 in an NHL Premier game against the Chiacgo Blackhawks. Del Curto infamously remarked that he wasn't going to change his team's game and that Chicago would have to adjust their game. The Blackhawks apparently adjusted well and rolled to a 9-2 win. That said, you can't question the man's success in Davos. Del Curto is in his 16th season as the head coach, during which time he's won five league titles and four Spengler Cup titles.