Tuesday, 31 December 2019

Happy Spengler Cup Day!

It started in the wee hours of the morning in Canada despite the game being played at noon in Davos, Switzerland, but Team Canada brought its perfect record to the Spengler Cup Final where they met HC Ocelari Trinec, a team they had played in their opening game of the tournament back on December 26. With Canada having beaten Trinec on that day, would the Czech Extraliga champions have their revenge or could Canada keep rolling en route to a gold medal?

Canada reached the final by playing stellar defence and having exceptional goaltending from the tandem of Zach Fucale and Matt Tomkins while their offence found clutch goals and used solid possession numbers to keep the puck out of their zone. Entering the final, Canada had outscored its opponents in three games by a combined 15-2 score which included the 4-1 victory over Trinec. Kevin Clark had taken the tournament by storm by scoring six goals in those three games while Kris Versteeg, Dustin Jeffrey, Adam Tambellini helped carry the offensive load. This balanced Canada team looked poised to capture its 16th Spengler Cup in tournament history if they could find a way past Trinec.

The first period saw the momentum swap between the teams as Trinec matched speed and tenacity with the Canadians. While opportunities were seen at both ends, Fucale was sharp in the Canadian net while Jakub Stepánek seemed very comfortable in the Trinec net. Despite having a 12-7 edge in shots in the first period, Canada would go into the first intermission without a goal for the first time in this tournament as the two teams remained tied at 0-0.

A Kevin Clark interview during the intermission saw Clark talk about sticking to the game plan for this game, and that's precisely what Canada did as they continued to use their speed to cause headaches for Trinec. Just as they had done in their group-stage game, Canada's speed forced Trinec into taking a number of penalties in the second period, and this would be where Canada took control of this game.

Dustin Jeffrey notched a power-play goal off a backdoor feed 9:02 into the period to put Canada up 1-0. 2:38 later, University of Denver defender Ian Mitchell fired a high wrist shot through traffic that found the top-right corner of the net past Stepánek for a second power-play goal - this time on a 5-on-3 - and the 2-0 lead for Canada. 1:29 after that goal, Kris Versteeg picked up a puck that Maxim Noreau fanned on and went shelf on Stepánek from the left post on a two-man advantage to give Canada a 3-0 lead as they scored three power-play goals in 4:09 to seize control of this game. Trinec, who looked like a different team than what was seen in the group-stage game, looked deflated as the period came to a close as Canada went to the room with the 3-0 lead and a 27-12 advantage in shots.

Canada, simply needing to hold the line when it came to their strong defence throughout the tournament, let up when it came to pressing for goals and set up a defensive shell in their zone. Trinec sent players into the Canadian zone, but they came away with nothing early on. Dustin Jeffrey, just before the five-minute mark, broke down the ice and split the defence to take a gorgeous stretch pass from Maxim Noreau for a breakaway. While the first shot aimed for the five-hole was stopped by Stepánek, Jeffrey gathered his own rebound and went high on the stick side to give Canada a 4-0 lead at 4:55, and pretty much sealed the deal for the Canadians unless there was going to be an epic collapse.

There was no collapse on this day, though, as Zach Fucale recorded his second-straight shutout with a 26-save, gold medal-winning performance in the Canadian net in backing Canada to the 4-0 victory and their 16th Spengler Cup championship! Canada, in surrendering just two goals all tournament, set an all-time mark for fewest goals allowed in a single tournament this year. Kevin Clark, Maxim Noreau, and Fucale were named as tournament all-stars as Fucale ended the tournament with a 3-0-0 record, a 0.33 GAA, and a .986 save percentage that was reflected in his 151:29 shutout streak that will now carry into next year's tournament! For the record, Fucale is 10-0-1 at this tournament over his career!

In his post-championship comments, Fucale was quick to credit the guys in front of him.

"This team was unreal," he said. "We had an awesome group of defencemen and everyone made me look good. I really did not have to do anything special because our team played great, so it was a lot of fun. I just tried to stay focused and a few times throughout the tournament I got pretty lucky, but it was such a great experience with a great team."

That now makes Canada the Spengler Cup champion in four of the last five years with last year's shootout loss being the one blemish. Five-straight finals appearances will look to become six next year when the 2020 version of the Spengler Cup - the 94th Spengler Cup tournament - kicks off on Boxing Day once again!

Congratulations to Team Canada, your 2019 Spengler Cup Champions! What a heckuva way to close out the year!

Until next year, keep your sticks on the ice!

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