The second international hockey tournament of this holiday season actually started yesterday, but Team Canada doesn't hit the ice until later today at the 2010 Spengler Cup. Each year, HC Davos of the Swiss Elite League hosts five other teams as the invitational tournament showcases some of the best teams in the world from Europe's most prestigious leagues. Last season saw the KHL emerge victorious from the tournament as HC Dinamo Minsk captured the 2009 Spengler Cup as they defeated the hosts in HC Davos in the final.
Canada started sending a team to the Spengler Cup in 1984 made up of players playing in Europe who were not playing for any of the invited teams. They also get some help from AHL clubs and free agents who want to play, but the vast majority of the roster is made up of Canadians plying their hockey trade overseas. Often there are a number of former NHL players who suit up for Canada at the Spengler Cup, so it's nice to see how these players have fared once they left the spotlight in North America. This year's squad is no exception as they have six to eight players that should be recognizable by name alone.
The Canadian nets will be guarded by Tyler Moss and Jeff Deslauriers. Deslauriers, as you may remember, played with the Edmonton Oilers for two seasons since 2008. He's currently playing second fiddle to Martin Gerber in Oklahoma City as the Oilers sent him to the AHL. Moss, on the other hand, is playing for Swiss team Langnau. Moss has literally bounced around North America during his playing career, stopping in places like Saint John, New Brunswick with the AHL Flames, Kansas City with the IHL BLades, and had a cup of coffee with Carolina for the NHL's Hurricanes. Most recently, Moss has been a KHL player as he has suited up for Spartak Moscow and Khabarovsk Amur before jumping to the Swiss League's Langnau. And those two men will be the Canadian goaltenders for this year's squad. I fully expect Moss to be the starter, but Deslauriers could surprise people.
The defencemen that Canada has enlisted for this year's tournament all play in the Swiss Elite League, and all have dabbled in the NHL and AHL during their careers. Marc Popovic (Lugano), Joel Kwiatkowski and Travis Roche (Bern), Duvie Westcott and Cory Murphy (ZSC Zurich Lions), Micki Dupont (Kloten), Brendan Bell (Biel), and Curtis Murphy (Langnau) make up the blueline for Canada, and there's some continuity for this team. The majority of these men played for Canada last year at the tournament, so there should be some familiarity with each other in terms of playing together. Having four of the players play together during their respective Swiss League seasons also helps immensely. This familiarity should be a strength for Canada in the long run as this tournament progresses.
Up front, Canada looks to be a "lunch pail" gang as they have decent speed and a solid work ethic. Again, all of the players come from the Swiss Elite League, but there are certainly recognizable NHL names on this squad. Dominic Pittis (ZSC Zurich Lions), Serge Aubin (Gotteron), Brett McLean (Bern), Josh Holden and Glen Metropolit (Zug), Mark Bell (Kloten), and Curtis Brown (Biel) are your former NHL players with some name caché, but none of them were known for their scoring exploits in the NHL. And that's fine. The large ice surface requires hustle, determination, and a doggedness that most don't give enough credit to, but these men bring that attitude to the ice. Rounding out the forwards are Pascal Pelletier, Mike Iggulden, and Brendan Brooks (Langnau), Eric Landry, Yanick Lehoux, and Martin Kariya (Ambri-Piotta), JP Vigier (Bern), and Blaine Down (ZSC Zurich Lions).
Canada's coaching staff is quite interesting. Former NHL coach Craig MacTavish guided the team to a 2-2 record at last year's tournament, but failed to reach the final as they finished in fourth-place. MacTavish opted not to return, so the search was on for a new head coach. Doug Shedden returns behind the bench, but he'll be serving as an assistant coach to one of the most intimidating men on the planet as he will guide the Canadian team through the Spengler Cup: Mark Messier.
Messier's coaching career is limited to just four international games at the Swiss Challenge and Deutschland Cup last month, and his record is 2-2 as a coach. The 49 year-old former NHL star has stated that he has a better appreciation for how difficult the job of coaching is.
"I always had a lot of respect for the coaches who do it well and I have a better appreciation now," Messier said Saturday to Shi Davidi of The Globe & Mail. “It's exciting coaching, there's a lot going on, there are decisions that have to be made and monitored continuously."
With that, Messier expressed that his team will work hard and will not tolerate cheap, dumb penalties. It sounds to me like Messier is bring his style of play to his coaching style.
"I expect the team to play with a lot of heart. I like an aggressive game, a puck-pursuit game, but I also like a very disciplined game and players who play to win.Serge Aubin has been chosen to captain the Canadian team with Josh Holden and JP Vigier serving as alternate captains. As for the goaltending duties, it appears the job will be split, but Messier gave no indication of who would start against Spartak Moscow in today's game.
"When you combine those things, we want a puck-control game, we want to have some systems in place where we can defend as a team and then hopefully let our talent work its way into the offence."
That being said, you can watch all of the action on TSN today as the broadcaster will carry the first game of the Spengler Cup on the national carrier. TSN2 will take over after the first game and have the rest of the coverage. You can find the broadcast schedule here for more information.
Canada last captured the Spengler Cup in 2007, and are looking to improve on the fourth-place finish from last year. It all starts today, and I'm looking forward to another excellent international tournament!
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!