If you know me, by now you’ve probably heard about my love for the Spengler Cup. I’m an international hockey nut and this tournament really helped grow my love for the game. Funny enough, I used to laugh at it. What was with all the ads? Why is Marty Turco playing? Who the heck is Metallurg Magnitogorsk?
In recent years, I’ve grown to love the tournament. A lot of my hockey focus on the year actually revolves around it. There’s something about it that just makes it special. So, with me being one of the few who religiously follow the event, I tend to get asked a lot of questions to help people understand the great tournament. Here are the questions I always seem to answer every December in an attempt to show people how much fun the Spengler Cup actually is.
What is the Spengler Cup?
If you don’t live in a country where the Spengler Cup is televised, there’s a very good chance that you don’t know a single thing about the event. That’s OK, with the World Juniors going on, many people forget that the tournament even exists.
But did you know that the Spengler is actually the oldest invitational ice hockey tournament in the world? Hosted by HC Davos in Davos, Switzerland, the 2015 tournament is the 89th running of the event, with it happening almost every single year since 1923. Originally formed by Dr. Carl Spengler, the tournament was played outdoors for a good portion of the lifespan of the tournament, even prompting the very first tournament to see some delays. Oxford University would go on to win the inaugural tournament, winning it twice more in their life span.
Typically a five or six team tournament, the tournament grew to 15 teams for it’s second running. Now, the tournament only has six teams competing each year, keeping the competition hot and exciting every December 26th-31st. Every Spring, tournament organizers announce the six teams that will participate in the event, with Canada and Davos always be the constants, while the rest are usually invited based off of team strength and even diversity.
Where do Canada’s players come from?
While the rest of the tournament features club teams that play together all season long, Canada brings a roster of players that, for the most part, are getting a chance to skate with each other for the first time. Some of them may already play together in Europe, or some others may have actually played against each other in the NHL, but as a full team, getting in a practice or two around Christmas is all the team has time for.
With the tournament taking place in Switzerland, a lot of Swiss teams lend out players to the event to help build a good portion of the roster. German teams typically follow suit and in recent years, we’ve seen the KHL send a few players, most notably Keaton Ellerby and Jeff Glass this year. The AHL has also been kind when sending a few players each year, typically sending a goalie to help steal a few wins. For 2015, seven American Hockey League players made the trip over to Davos, with the Charlotte Checkers leading the way with two by sending over Trevor Carrick and Drew MacIntyre.
Why are there so many ads?
If you don’t follow European hockey, you may not know that almost every team tends to have a lot of ads on their uniforms. Skoda, Wurth, UBS, you name it. You see it everywhere overseas now, and there’s a good reason why. Unlike NHL teams that can make hundreds of millions of dollars a year, teams in Switzerland and Germany don’t have that same luxury. Money isn’t poured into the nations in bucket loads like you see in North America, so teams have to get creative when it comes to funds.
In short, the advertisements are a way of allowing teams to survive. Look at it like you would for NASCAR: without companies like Pepsi and Target putting money into the system, how could teams continue to pay for million dollar race cars? Simple, they couldn’t, and that’s exactly why hockey teams need to the same. It may not look great, but it does add a sense of uniqueness when you pick up a Canadian Spengler Cup jersey, something most people in the country don’t have.
What makes this tournament important?
Besides its long history, the Spengler Cup is truly a special event. With a capacity of over 7000, there are very few arenas that have the same impact that Vaillant Arena has when it comes to atmosphere. No matter who is playing, the arena will always be sold out with fans coming out to cheer any team that’s on the ice, refusing to quiet down even in the most lopsided of the contests.
Before the Champions Hockey League took the world by storm a year ago, there weren’t a whole lot of high-level international tournaments pitting together some of the best teams in European hockey. The Spengler Cup has always done that, showcasing different cultures, styles and skill levels of hockey. Just because the KHL considers themselves to be the best league in Europe doesn’t mean they’ll go out there and put a pounding on a German club. In fact, KHL teams have struggled in recent years. But that’s what helps make the tournament so great: the parity is strong, allowing teams from all over the world a solid chance at competing for the title before the event even begins.
What’s with the “reinforcements”?
Every year, the club teams in the tournament are allowed to bring in up to four “reinforcements”, players playing on other teams around Europe that are brought to play at the tournament. Sometimes, it’s to help give the team an advantage by bringing in players from around Switzerland who aren’t playing due to a break in the schedule. In other cases, teams need help filling in for injuries or giving key players a rest in the round robin.
In some situations, teams releasing players may not want them to skate in every game just in case of injury. That’s why you’ll see some key players sitting out games as healthy scratches every year. Typically, teams would have to pay others to loan their players for the week-long event, which typically sees some solid players come over and play key roles with their temporary squads.
What’s the format?
With just six teams in the tournament, the round robin only lasts a few days. Each team plays two games in the preliminary round, facing off against the teams in their own division. From there, the second place teams in each group will face off against the third place teams in the opposing group before forming semi-final match-ups with the two teams that won the preliminary round. From there, they create a final game and a Spengler Cup champion is formed. I already did a full breakdown on the rules and format here.
All I see are a bunch of has-beens. Why should I care?
If you like watching good hockey, you should care. It’s always one of my favourite tournaments due to teams utilizing the bigger ice surfaces so well, and even some of the washed up NHLers put up great performances. For some people, it’s a way of springboarding back to North America, while others use it as a way to gain an illustrious award in their trophy case.
If you skip out in the event just because of the ads or lack of big time stars, you’re missing out on some of the best action you’ll see any time of the year. Period.
Follow me on twitter, @StevenEllisNHL.