During this holiday season, the one tournament that gets plenty of headlines is the World Junior Hockey Championship. While that is the big moneymaker for the IIHF and has some minor league connections like William Nylander of the Toronto Marlies playing for Sweden, when it comes to veteran minor leaguers, the Spengler Cup is the tournament to watch.
Personally, the Spengler Cup is the one tournament I prefer to watch during the holidays. It pits HC Davos, the host of the tournament, against five other teams whom they invite each season. While they not only play in what could be consider the cathedral of hockey, HC Davos is a team that has quite the heritage. Davos is a 31-time National League champion in Switzerland and has hosted the Spengler Cup since 1923, winning the title 15 times.
The selection of teams has changed most every year during the Spengler Cup, but since 1984, there has been one consistent team: Team Canada. With the amount of Canadians playing in Europe, Hockey Canada felt it was a good way for players to keep playing during the winter break of European club hockey, as well as a chance for players who may not normally get the chance to represent their country the ability to do so. The Swiss people have taken a shine to the Canadian team with many Davos fans picking them as their second favorite to their hometown club.
The tournament was started by Dr. Carl Spengler, who believed that this would be the best way to promote German-speaking European hockey clubs who may have felt ostracized after the events of World War I. It has been called the longest running invitational hockey tournament in the world with teams coming from Russia, Germany, Sweden, Japan (as a way to promote the 1972 Olympics that were held in Sapporo), and two teams from the United States. The trophy has only not been awarded four times– 1939, 1940, 1949, and 1956. The tournament used natural ice until 1958 when they switched to artificial ice, and then in 1979, the Spengler went indoors for the first time as the Vaillant Arena became the host arena for the tournament.
As the only professional team coming over from North America, the Rochester Americans have participated in the Spengler Cup twice. The first time was in 1996, as the Amerks were invited after winning the Calder Cup the season before. The team finished with a 2-2-0 record in the Spengler, placing third behind Team Canada and HC Davos. The Amerks returned to the Spengler in 2013, losing both games in the round-robin play and then losing to Team Canada in the quarterfinals. However, one Amerk in the 2013 Spengler was able to carry on after the team was eliminated. Goalie Matt Hackett was loaned to Team Canada for their semifinal match against Swiss-based Geneve-Servette after Canada’s goalie Chris Mason went down due to injury and Allen York was pulled after just after letting in four goals in 23 minutes of play. (The other American teams to participate were the USA Select team that won the tournament in 1988 and the University of Minnesota in 1981. The USA Select team was much like Team Canada is now, a group of players in European leagues with U.S. citizenship.)
This installment of Team Canada will get seven representatives coming over from the AHL. Manny Malhotra of Lake Erie, Dan Paille of Rockford, Aaron Johnson of Stockton, Mark Cundari of San Jose, Keith Aulie of Springfield, Trevor Carrick, and Drew MacIntyre of Charlotte were all loaned out by their AHL teams to play for their country from the 26th until the 31st. This will be the second consecutive Spengler Cup for MacIntyre, while everyone else coming from the AHL will experience the Spengler for the first time. MacIntyre played in the 2014 Spengler going 2-1-0 with a 2.86 GAA and .899 save percentage. The rest of the line-up features many Canadians playing in the Swiss league, with some familiar names who have played in the AHL and NHL, like Cory Conacher, Alexandre Giroux, and Kris Foucault to name a few.
In the past, many AHL players were loaned out to the Canadian club for this tournament. Since 2005 and excluding the seven this year, the AHL has loaned out 26 players for the Spengler Cup and has been represented by at least one player each year except in 2012 when the NHL lockout was happening and Team Canada loaded up on NHL stars for their roster. In the 2014 installment, the AHL had six players from their clubs representing Canada, which was the highest output from the AHL until this year’s tournament. Those players were MacIntyre, Ryan Martindale of San Antonio, Jerome Samson of Syracuse, Curtis Hamilton of Oklahoma City, Ryan Parent of St. John’s, and Brendan Mikkelson of Toronto. Also, the ECHL has had three players play in the Spengler since 2005, all of them goalies: Andy Chiodo of Wheeling and Morgan Cey of Johnstown played in 2005, while Devan Dubnyk went over in 2006 when he was a member of the Stockton Thunder.
Granted, this is a tournament that does get overshadowed by the World Juniors, but it provides a special atmosphere all its own. Aside from the normal “Oh, that’s where they guy went off to” reaction when some names come up during the game, the crowd that attends these games are very lively and loud, bringing a soccer atmosphere of chanting and cheering, especially when host HC Davos are playing. While TSN’s alternate channels are able to carry the games, most people in the US will be unable to find a way legally to watch it. However, if an opportunity does present itself, people should do themselves a favor and take in a game.
The style of hockey is much more wide-open, as European hockey is, but the pacing, the crowd, and the skill of many of these players will give a nice alternative to people not willing to watch junior hockey powerhouses beat up on weaker teams in the early rounds.
Plus, referees in cow jerseys.
That alone should want you to find a stream at any cost to watch.