24.12.2017 11:04

Tournament win for Switzerland’s comeback?

 

At 3pm on Boxing Day Switzerland faces Dynamo Riga to launch the 91st Spengler Cup. Together with defending champion Team Canada, the Swiss National Team - returning after 38 years - is a favorite to win. Aside from Riga, the remaining club teams Mountfield HK, HPK Hämeenlinna and Davos are considered underdogs.

It’s been a long time. The last time Switzerland participated in the Spengler Cup was 1979 where they left a bad impression. They placed dead last behind the tournament winner Krilija Moscow, the Düsseldorfer EG, Dukla Jihlava and AIK Stockholm. Since that time, Swiss ice-hockey has changed immensely and definitely improved. The National Team is presently placed 7th in the world rankings behind the “Big 6” (Canada, Russia, Sweden, Finland, USA and the Czech Republic).

Switzerland returns to the Spengler Cup ice after 38 years! The upcoming Olympics in February being the decisive factor. The Swiss team plans to use this last week of the year in Davos as the optimal preparation for the Winter Games facing the best possible opponents at the Spengler Cup. Soon after the traditional tournament, National Coach Patrick Fischer will be selecting his Olympic squad. In Davos, the players will have their last chance to make the cut. Essential is not only the individual performance, but also their collective behavior as well as how they implement Fischer’s tactical instructions in the games. Following Switzerland’s 6th placing at the World Championships last May and the possibility of an Olympic medal, the Swiss team is definitely a favorite to win the Spengler Cup.

Team Canada with a “Swiss” framework

Team Canada will also be appraising the players for their Olympic selection in Davos. Since the National Hockey League (NHL) does not allow their players time-off to participate in the Winter Games, Canada will be selecting their Olympic short-list primarily from the professionals in the European league. The most recent tournament - last week in Moscow - at the the Chanel One Cup was disappointing. Following their first win against South Korea (4:2), they lost against the Czech Republic (1:4) and Russia (0:2). The Team Canada in Davos is however not exactly the same as it was in Moscow, since the KHL-teams did not give their Canadian players time-off. Head Coach Willie Desjardins finds himself in the evaluation phase for his Olympic squad. Many Canadian players presently in the Swiss league form the framework of the Spengler Cup Team. Such as Maxim Noreau, Andrew Ebbett, Mason Raymond (all from Bern), Nick Spaling, Daniel Vukovic (both Geneve-Servette) and David McIntyre (Zug) – six players who won last year’s traditional tournament with a 5:2 final win against Lugano.

Bednar to lead Mountfield

One of the club teams - Mountfield HK representing the Czech Republic – is presently placed 2nd in their national league and will be travelling to Davos with high expectations. Head Coach Vaclav Sykora has proclaimed the tournament win as their defined goal. Mountfield’s Captain Jaroslav Bednar became Swiss Champion with HCD in 2011. Also on the team is World Champion Petr Koukal as well as other Czech and Slovakian National Team players. Best Scorer in the on-going championship is presently Rudolf Cerveny, who plays for Hradec Kralove, followed by 40-year-old Bednar. Mountfield will face Team Canada to start the 91st Spengler Cup (evening game on Boxing Day).

HPK as the only newcomer

The newcomer at this year’s Spengler Cup is Hämeenlinnan Pallokerho, named HPK for short. The team from the South Finnish city Hämeenlinna has made their motto “young and strong”. The team, under the leadership of Head Coach Antti Pennanen, has the youngest average age (23) in Finland’s top league while also leading the statistic of tallest average size (186 cm). No fewer than 9 team members were born in 1995 or later- all drafted by an NHL club. Nonetheless, this young team is presently struggling in the Finnish Championship.

This also applies to Dynamo Riga, representing the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) at the Spengler Cup. Roughly half of the Latvia National Team play for Riga. Both HPK and Riga are hoping to gather momentum at the Spengler Cup for their respective national rankings as was the case for Mountfield last season.

Important to HCD from a sports perspective as well as financially

The Spengler Cup is not only a sports seasonal highlight for the host team HC Davos but also financially an important source of income. In the past 4 years HCD has failed at this momentous event, reaching the semi-finals each time. Their 15th and most recent Spengler Cup title was in 2011 with a 3:2 win against Dynamo Riga. HCD has signed defender Sam Lofquist (USA/presently with Biel) as well as both forwards Tomi Sallinen (FI/Bern) and Jeremy Morin (USA/Bern) for their Spengler Cup squad.