DAVOS - Another year, another Spengler Cup tournament.
This one will be the tenth that I've been lucky enough call and, honestly, it never gets tired for me. I love the two-hour train journey you take from Zürich up into the mountains to get here. I like the village and the holiday vibe that surrounds the tournament and, of course, I enjoy watching some very good hockey. This year should be the best Spengler Cup ever. The absurdity of the NHL lockout will be this tournament's gain.
Here is a very brief, top line look at the teams:
Without a doubt, the best team Canada has ever sent to the Spengler Cup. Locked out players Tyler Seguin (Boston, playing in Biel), John Tavares (NYI – Bern), and Jason Spezza (Ottawa – Rapperswil) are all enjoying good seasons in the Swiss NLA and give Canada more offensive options than the team has had in years. On the blue line, locked out players Carlo Colaiacovo (Detroit) and Cam Barker (Edmonton – playing in AHL this season with Texas) make their way over from North America to boost a seasoned Swiss NLA contingent that features Travis Roche (Bern) and Micki Dupont (Kloten). San Jose's Jason Demers is playing in Finland and has also joined Canada for the tournament. This is all capped by the presence of locked out Edmonton left winger Ryan Smyth. There is barely a team with a Canadian flag on it that the veteran forward hasn't been named to – World Junior (1995), 8 World Championships, two Olympic Games and one World Cup. If there is a player worthy of being billed as “Captain Canada,” it's Smyth.
The host club are also the defending champions. They're not having a great season in the Swiss NLA – entering the break in seventh place in a 12-team league. Veterans Petr Sykora and Petr Taticek have both missed numerous games with injuries and Jan Von Arx has been lost for the season with a hip injury. Rick Nash has also missed a number of games with a hip injury (as of this writing, his status for the Spengler Cup is still a question mark although he is on their roster). That said, Davos will still contend in this tournament with a line-up that will feature locked out players Joe Thornton and Loui Eriksson. Davos will also add (teams are allowed to add up to three players from other teams) league-leading scorer Damien Brunner (from Zug) and locked out NHLer Patrick Kane (currently playing with Biel in Swiss NLA).
This is the top team in the Swiss league right now. They are led offensively by a couple of Canadian ex-pats, Christian Dube and Simon Gamache. Also featuring up front is locked-out Montreal centre David Desharnais. Three defensemen to watch are Joel Kwiatkowski and Shawn Heins – both of whom have represented Canada at the Spengler Cup - and locked out Philadelphia Flyer Bruno Gervais. Additional players added are locked out Philadelphia Flyer Maxime Talbot (playing in Finland) and Nashville's Patric Hornqvist (playing in Sweden). This is a very good team.
This team is in ninth place in the 14 team Czech Extraliga and will be in tough this year. Of all the teams in the tournament, the Steel have probably benefitted least from the NHL lockout. The only lockout player on the team is St. Louis Blues defenseman Roman Polak. Vitkovice have added Swiss league defenseman Thomas Wellinger from Bern. You might also recognise defenseman Marek Malik, who played 691 NHL games with Carolina, Vancouver, the Rangers and Tampa Bay. Also noteworthy is 18 year old left winger Nathan Walker – born in Cardiff, learned the game in Australia and is holding his own in the Czech Extraliga against much older and much more experienced players. As a 17 year old in the Spengler Cup last year he managed 2 goals and an assist in 4 games.
Salavat Yulaev Ufa
Any team from the KHL is going to be competitive. It's the second best pro league in the world, after all. Salavat Yulaev is in fifth place in the 12 team Eastern Conference of the KHL. The most notable development for the team heading into the Spengler Cup is that they fired their coach, Vener Safin, on December 23. Vladimir Yurzinov Jr. slides into the breech to guide a team that many feel has underperformed this season (thus, the firing). They are led up front by career Russian league player Igor Mironov and former Columbus first round pick (Sixth overall in 2008) and sometime Ottawa Senator Nikita Filatov.
This team is the best in the German DEL right now - first place in a very good 14-team league. They are backstopped by German national team goalie Dennis Endras and a deep blue line corps that features lockout players Dennis Seidenberg (Boston) and Luca Sbisa (Anaheim, playing this season with Lugano). Up front, Mannheim has added locked out Anaheim centre Nick Bonino (playing in Italy this season) to go along with two locked out players already there - centre Marcel Goc (Florida) and Jason Pominville (Buffalo). Watch out for Canadian ex-pat Yanick Lehoux, who leads the DEL in scoring with 38 points (12-26) in 32 games. Lehoux played for Canada in the recent Deutschland Cup and also for the 2010 Spengler Cup team.
Enjoy it. We may never see a Spengler Cup like this one again.