DAVOS – I love calling play-by-play for international hockey games, but the one dilemma that you face with the international game, that isn't much of a factor when you're calling NHL games, is that, once Canada is out, so too is much of the interest in whatever event it is. The games can be great, but, clearly, it's not the same for a Canadian hockey fan if Canada's not playing.
That hasn't happened very often in the ten years I've been coming to the Spengler Cup. Canada hasn't won the championship since 2007, but they've still managed to make the final twice since then so you can avoid that awful "Hello everyone, welcome to the big Sparta Prague – Davos final…" in the very early hours of the morning back home.
This tournament is a tough one to win. The schedule is always intense. To win, you will end up having to play a minimum of four, and quite easily five, games in six days. Last year Canada made it to the final having played five games in five days (actually five in four and a half as the final game is always a Noon start). But the schedule is the same for all the teams.
What is the unique challenge for Canada is that they have a team made up of guys who don't play together running up against club teams that are in the middle of their seasons. Where this typically shows up the most is in special teams. Good special teams – power play and penalty killing – rely on hours of practice and game experience. Davos, a team that has a core of players who've been with the team for years, has the best power play and the best penalty killing in the tournament. Canada finished with a power play that went 3/13 and the worst penalty killing in the tournament (5 goals against in 14 PP attempts).
People often ask me whether I enjoy covering the Spengler Cup as much as I loved calling games during the World Junior Championship. My answer is always: "You can't compare them. They're completely different experiences." Here's an example for your consideration: Despite how they look, many over six feet tall and north of 200 pounds, the players in the World Junior Championship are not seasoned professional "adult" hockey players – they are young men and they have the emotional maturity of young men. We've all been there.
I remember, on several occasions, walking into the Canadian dressing room after a loss that knocked them out of the World Junior Championship, and seeing several players unable to speak, in tears, absolutely inconsolable. This was, in their mind and for them, the worst thing that had ever happened in their very young lives. The pressure we (and I include myself in that group) put on them was/is immense. And when they failed it was tough to deal with for some. That's always stayed with me.
I contrast that to standing around with a few of the Spengler Cup players after losing in the final or being eliminated from the tournament. Wearing the Canadian sweater means every bit as much to them as it does to any player on Canada's National Junior team. But what they have that many of those players lack, because of their young age, is perspective. Typically, the players here are bitterly disappointed at how things turned out – but, they'll have a beer and reflect and move on. That's a lot easier to do when you've been in the pro game for a while, won a few big ones, lost a few big ones and experienced personal ups and downs.