Team Canada will look to claim its first Spengler Cup title since 2012 next week in Davos, Switzerland. Led by head coach Guy Boucher, the Canadian team boasts seven current AHL players, 13 players plying their trade in the Swiss league, and two KHLers. Recognizable NHL names include forwards Cory Conacher, Manny Malhotra, and Derek Roy, along with defensemen Keith Aulie and Marc-André Bergeron.
Goalies: Canada’s goaltending duo of Drew MacIntyre and Jeff Glass certainly isn’t short on experience; MacIntyre is a veteran of ten AHL seasons while Glass has appeared in 244 KHL games with a myriad of teams over the course of the last five seasons. While MacIntyre started three of Canada’s four games at last year’s Spengler Cup, he was yanked in the team’s 6-5 semi-final loss against Geneve-Servette. That fact, combined with Glass making his Spengler debut in the midst of a solid season with Dinamo Minsk, means the goaltending situation will likely develop into a string of ‘game time decisions’ for Guy Boucher. While Glass has the advantage of having spent the majority of his pro career on the big ice — something MacIntyre struggled with in last year’s semi-final — MacIntyre has last year’s experience playing in Davos on his toolkit. Boucher will probably give both goaltenders a start in the round robin before making a decision when things get serious in the knockout round.
Defense: Make no bones about it, Team Canada has the deepest defensive corps of any team in this year’s Spengler Cup. Alex Picard, Aaron Johnson, and Marc-André Bergeron have over 1,000 careers NHL games between them, and while all three are on the wrong side of 30, they still have all the tools to contribute offensively. AHLers Keith Aulie (6’6, Springfield) and Mark Cundari (5’9, San Jose) will be looking to catch an eye stateside and return to the NHL. Toronto-born Swiss-Canadian dual citizen Daniel Vukovic, a key player on last year’s Spengler-winning Geneva team, will don the red-and-white this holiday season and could be the most underrated pickup for Guy Boucher’s team. Lastly, 21-year-old Trevor Carrick appears to have rediscovered his offensive touch in his second pro season; in 28 games with AHL Charlotte, Carrick has registered 20 points. A plus showing in Davos over the holidays might help open up opportunities at the NHL level stateside for the former Mississauga Steelhead.
Forwards: By Spengler Cup standards, Guy Boucher has an embarrassment of offensive riches at his disposal for the 2015 tournament. Beyond the bright-light names of Derek Roy, Dan Paille, Matt Lombardi, and the aforementioned Conacher, the Canadian entry in this year’s tournament features some under-appreciated names that have blossomed on Europe.
Former Detroit Red Wing Cory Emmerton has put up 25 points in 30 games with Switzerland’s HC Ambri-Piotta in his second season overseas, and could play a key two-way role for Boucher’s team. Chris DiDomenico, a star at the 2008 World Juniors, is a point-per-game player in his first season in the Swiss league with newly-promoted SCL Tigers, and uses the extra room afforded by the big ice to his advantage. With 394 career games on his resume, James Sheppard will be fun to watch in a grinding — call it ‘pest’ — role; the former San Jose Shark has already picked up 45 penalty minutes in his first 19 games with Kloten in his debut European season.
Dan Paille, a former World Junior captain (Canada, ’04) and Stanley Cup champion (Boston, ’11), heads to Davos with plenty of question marks in his future; the 31 year-old checker has been relegated to the minors full-time this year and will likely entertain lucrative offers from European teams going forward.
Next week’s tournament could very well be a swan song for NHL journeyman and general superb guy Manny Malhotra. The 35 year-old has been limited to eight games in the AHL this season, and while he remains a top-end centre in the circle, it’s not ludicrous to think the curtain is soon to come down on his respectable career.
One final player to keep an eye on offensively for Canada is 32-year-old Matt Ellison. In his eighth season in the KHL, the ex-Blackhawk has adjusted superbly to life overseas and is currently third in the KHL in goals (20) and fifth in the league in points (39). The Dinamo Minsk forward could excel on Team Canada’s powerplay if Boucher is willing to look beyond NHL experience when assembling his special teams units.
Projection: It’s difficult to predict tournaments that see teams play five games in six days, as there are simply so many variables (goaltending, special teams, discipline, line chemistry) which can factor into a team’s performance. Canada has the deepest and most talented roster in this year’s tournament by some distance, but that is far from a locked-up tournament victory.
Team Canada will battle the same challenges it’s faced with every year in Davos; the seven AHL players will have to adjust to the International ice surface, Boucher will have to juggle and mould his lines carefully, and the team must gel enough to compete against professional teams that have been together since August.
Can they do it? Well, with over 3,000 games of NHL experience on the roster, the Canadians are certainly the odds-on favourite in my books. Whether or not they can come together and cap off the week-long festivities in Davos with a tournament victory remains to be seen.