DAVOS – The obvious standout story of this year's Team Canada at the Spengler Cup is the presence of some of the top players from the greatest hockey league in the world. Never say never (particularly when it comes to the National Hockey League and lockouts) – but, I can't imagine that we'll see such a star festooned Spengler Cup tournament again any time soon.
Patrick Kane, John Tavares, Joe Thornton, Matt Duchene, Loui Eriksson – take your pick – they've all brought people out of their seats with flashes of the skill set that is unique to those who are at the top of their field in the hockey world. Kane's spectacular game winning goal with 22 seconds remaining in Davos' semi-final win or Duchene's two-goal, one-assist display in Canada's Semi-final victory – both performances worthy of any NHL pressure situation and both delivered with the flair that only the best possess.
From a Canadian perspective, a story just as big or, I would argue, bigger in terms of a lasting impact on future participation in this great tournament was the decision of general manager Brad Pascall to appoint both a head coach and an assistant coach who make their full-time living coaching in the Swiss League (NLA). Both are Canadians, but both have coached in Europe, and more specifically in Switzerland, and, as a result, know the players and the teams far better than any coach being parachuted in from North America. It was a simple, but in my mind blatantly obvious, adjustment to make that has paid huge dividends for Canada. Doug Shedden (who coaches Zug) and Chris McSorley (Geneva) see the majority of the players on Team Canada all season long – either coaching them or coaching against them. They also coach against, and are familiar with, both of the Swiss clubs in the Spengler Cup.
This is not to disparage, in any way shape or form, the so-called big name coaches who have been at the helm the last few seasons – Craig MacTavish (2009), Mark Messier (2010), Marc Crawford (2011) – but all of those gentlemen, all highly regarded, came in not knowing most of the players or any of the teams. The Spengler Cup is a high tempo, intense six-day tournament. There is little, if any, time for a learning curve or to mould a team. You have to hit the ground running.
Two quick examples from this tournament: Canada's performance against Davos. Until you've coached against it and seen it, their high risk, high reward, run and gun offense can overwhelm you early in the game. By the time you recover, it's too late. Last year this was the case and Canada was beaten 8-1 by the host club. This year, both Shedden and McSorley were not only ready for Arno Del Curto's usual plan of attack – but had a sound game plan in their collective back pocket from coaching against Davos (and having success) during many Swiss League games.
A second example, in my mind, has been the use of a guy like Josh Holden. Holden is a player most North American coaches wouldn't be familiar with. He played 60 NHL games but has been in Europe since 2004. However, Shedden coaches him in Zug and, I think, has made exceptional use of Holden's fine two-way play and energy. He's been double-shifted at times and has provided energy and is also one of Canada's top +/- players. I don't believe a coach who doesn't see Holden play all the time would have used him the same, effective, way.
We'll all remember the 2012 Spengler Cup for the great NHL players that came to play. But the legacy may well be Pascall's change of tack in the approach to picking Team Canada's head coach.