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Romanuk: Canada readies for stiff competition at Spengler Cup

Paul Romanuk

12/22/2011 10:36:37 AM

DAVOS – Despite being in one of the most beautiful villages in Europe, the Spengler Cup is never much of a vacation for any of the players - Canadian and otherwise - who spend the Christmas season there trying to win a championship.

You can catch Canada's opening game against HC Vitkovice,  Monday at 2pm et/11am pt. on TSN2.

If you win a couple of key games and things go well, you'll play at least four games in six days to win the title. If you take a tougher road to the final - as Canada's entry last year did - you will play five games in six days.

After that, it's right back to your regularly scheduled league, be it in Switzerland, Russia, the Czech Republic, Austria or North America.
In Canada's case, it takes a particularly dedicated and unselfish type of individual to want to put himself through that kind of test. This isn't a club team and none of these players has to play. They're there because they want to play. For most of them, this is their chance to wear a Team Canada sweater (advertisement-covered though it may be at the Spengler) and they consider it to be an honour.

Marc Crawford will be Canada's coach, and he continues a now established tradition of "coaches looking for a shot at the NHL or with NHL experience currently between jobs" looking to impress prospective employers and win a title that they'll not likely get another shot at (others in recent years have included Mark Messier, Pat Quinn, Craig MacTavish and Marc Habscheid). 

Former NHLer and Canadian National Team member Trent Yawney will be one assistant. Former NHLer and present head coach of Zug in the Swiss League, Doug Shedden, will be the other assistant.

If Crawford is wise, he will utilize Shedden's knowledge of both the tournament (he's been an assistant the last two years) and most of the players on Team Canada as well as the teams Canada will be facing.
Canada is looking good as far as goaltending.

Veteran NHL free agent Marty Turco was added to the team just a few days ago, after Nolan Schaefer (Ambri – Swiss League) bowed out of the tournament. Turco is coming off of a brief stint with EC Red Bull Salzburg (Austrian League) where he backstopped them to a tournament win.  Jake Allen (on loan from Peoria – AHL) has played for Canada at both the U18 and World Junior level.

If you like veterans, you'll like Canada's blueline corps. Joel Kwiatkowski, Travis Roche (both with Bern), Cory Murphy (Zurich) and Shawn Heins (Fribourg) have all played for Canada at the Spengler.
Ryan Parent is on loan from the Vancouver Canucks organization and has played for Canada twice in the World Junior and also at the World U18. Keep an eye on Kwiatkowski and Roche, who both play big roles with Bern, one of the top teams in the Swiss League.

Up front, Byron Ritchie, J.P. Viger (both Bern), Brett McLean (Rockford – AHL), Stacy Roest, Brandon Reid (both Rapperswill), Rico Fata (Geneva), Glen Metroploit (Zug) and Blaine Down (Zurich) have all played in the tournament before. Ritchie leads his team in scoring and is in the league top ten and Metroploit is the 3rd leading scorer on his club and one of the team's top power play threats.

In terms of who won't be there for Canada – there are at least two players who will be sorely missed:  Micki Dupont is the top scoring defenceman in the Swiss League but, unfortunately for Canada, plays for Kloten. He will be suiting up against Canada this year, as Kloten is one of the club teams in the tournament.

Jeff Tambellini and Domenic Pittis would have helped Canada up front, but both play for Zurich and the Lions were playing politics with the tournament this year in terms of releasing players to participate.
There is a chance that Zurich may have a change of heart and free up one of the players, but it's a guessing game at this point.

A quick look at the other teams:

HC VITKOVICE STEEL

The Steel are in the middle of the pack in a 14-team league, flirting with the .500 mark. Their goalie – Roman Malek – is one of the best goalies in the Extraliga. He's a seasoned pro who has also played in Russia and Sweden. Jiri Burger, the captain and team's best forward, is leading the league in scoring.

HC DAVOS

This is THE event of the year for the host club, and they enter this year's tournament as defending Swiss League champions. Czech veteran Petr Sykora is their top offensive threat, along with fellow Czechs Petr Taticek and Josef Marha. Davos is coached by Swiss legend Arno Del Curto. He's been the head coach in Davos 1997 and has five league titles to his credit – making him one of the most successful club team coaches in the world.

KLOTEN FLYERS

Kloten were finalists for the league championship one year ago and are making their Spengler Cup debut. As mentioned, Canadian Micki Dupont is one of the best defensemen in the league and will face the strange situation of playing against Canada. Fellow ex-pat defenseman Duvie Westcott is another player to keep an eye on.

DINAMO RIGA

This team has been inconsistent this year in the KHL, where they are in the bottom half of the overall league standings, playing around the .500 mark. You'll recognise several names on the roster, namely: former NHLers Sandis Ozolins, and Ville Nieminen and Canadian ex-pat Jamie Lundmark. The team is coached by former Finnish National Team star, and NHLer, Pekka Rautakallio.

EHC WOLFSBURG

They are one of the top four teams in the 14 team Deutsche Eishockey League (DEL). NHL fans may remember defenseman Blake Sloan, who suited up for almost 300 games for Dallas, Columbus and Calgary. The team's top player is German National Team stalwart Kai Hospelt.