Canada has won the Spengler 12 times, with the most recent championship coming in 2012 following a 7-2 final victory over Davos. Additionally, the team has been in the final in 10 of the last 13 years, which followed a four year stint as champions back in the late ’90’s.
Despite the success the team has achieved, fan interest back home is almost non-existent, leaving many of the heroic efforts achieved by Canada’s best players competing in Europe left almost unnoticed. A big portion of that has to do with Canada also competing at the World Juniors in Toronto and Montreal, but the lack of TV coverage and featuring players people would rather forget also play a factor into that. The tournament brings some of the most exciting hockey games of the year to our faces, but many people would rather forget it exists.
With that out of the way, let’s take a look at Canada’s 2014 effort, shall we?
Last year, Chris Mason and Allen York split the job between the pipes, with Matt Hackett getting called for action near the end of the tournament after his Rochester Americans team were eliminated. This year, former NHLers Drew MacIntyre and Nolan Schaefer will tend the pipes in Canada’s effort to return to gold. MacIntyre, 31, posted a 8-11-1 record in his first 20 games with Charlotte this season. Additionally, he has yet to record a win in six career NHL games with Vancouver, Buffalo, Toronto and Carolina. He was previously named to the Canada Atlantic U17 team at the World Under-17 tournament back in 1999, but never saw any action with the team. Schaefer had more success in the NHL, posting a 5-1-1 record in seven games with the San Jose Sharks during the 2005-2006 season. The former Ambri-Piotta goaltender had a 2.11 and .938 SP in 50 games with the NLA based team last year, good enough to earn top save percentage honours for the entire league. This year, Schaefer has seen limited action with SC Bern, but has posted a 1.21 GAA and .954 in five games with the team. Both goalies are capable of being starters at this tournament, something the team has struggled with in the past.
Canada’s defense isn’t all too bad. Returning for what seems like the 55th time is Micki Dupont, one of the longest serving players on the Canadian Spengler team. Dupont has represented Canada at one World Championships, two Deutschland Cup’s and six Spengler Cup’s between three different teams. His experience is going to be key in this tournament, as the former Calgary Flames prospect has played through triumph, failure and heartbreak over the past few seasons.
Also manning the blue line are three names North Americans likely remember in Brendan Mikkelson and Marc-André Gragnani. Mikkelson currently plays in the American Hockey League with the Toronto Marlies, hoping to somehow find a way onto the Toronto Maple Leafs roster at some point this season if injuries occur. Maybe, a good performance could help his career that hasn’t gone far after some promise during his days with the Anaheim Ducks.
Gragnani moved overseas last year to play in the KHL, but after his club team HC Lev Praha folded due to financial issues, he signed with SC Bern in Switzerland for the current season, where he is averaging nearly a point per game. The 2010-2011 leader in points by an AHL defenseman, Granani will likely be counted on as a top two-way defenseman for the Canadians.
Offensively, this team is all over the place. A potential line combo could include former Edmonton Oilers prospects Alexandre Giroux, Marc-Antoine Pouliot and Jeff Tambellini, with the latter two playing together with Fribourg-Gotteron. Additionally, two other former Oilers AHL’ers, Ryan Martindale and Curtis Hamilton, gives the team a strong connection with the Alberta based NHL team that could spark a few goals while the actual Edmonton NHL team battles for the Connor McDavid sweepstakes.
Another potential line could include SC Bern forwards Byron Ritchie, Bud Holloway and Chuck Kobasew. The three have been pivotal in the offensive category for Bern, currently sitting at second, third and seventh in the scoring charts for the Swiss club. Kobasew has been hindered by a concussion this season, but if one player is going to turn it up and bring a fascinating, out-of-nowhere performance, expect the former NHLer of over 600 games to have an impact. If all three could connect for the Canadians, they could truly put together a line that shows fluid chemistry, something the team desperately needs. Besides, Ritchie did come fourth in tournament scoring last year, after all.
Will this team be strong? Well, maybe. They do have some promising options at every position, but they’ll need someone to step up for the absences of Darren Haydar and Glen Metropolit. The team will be in a tough group with HC Davos and Medveščak Zagreb this year, and they’ll already be at a disadvantage due to just having the team put together a week before the tournament. They’ve been able to take mediocre teams in the past and turn them into gold medal contenders, but is this year’s team good enough for that? An early answer would have to be no, but if the Spengler Cup has taught us anything, be ready to expect the unexpected.
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