The Arosa Challenge is a very unknown tournament to most people around the world. A two day tournament in the middle of December, four teams, Switzerland, Belarus, Norway and Slovakia battle with players looking for a spot at the upcoming World Championships in May. The tournament is set to take place from December 19th-20th in Arosa, Switzerland, with the team with the most points being crowned champion at the end.
To get you started, here are five players that you may have actually heard of that will participate at the tournament this weekend.
5. Štefan Ružička, F (Slovakia): Who? Yes, Ružička’s career as a scoring winger didn’t exactly materialize during his time in the NHL, but he has crafted out a solid career elsewhere. The 29-year-old Slovak winger was drafted in the third round of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft by the Philadelphia Flyers and would spend a few seasons with the club. In his 55 games with the club, Ružička only had 13 points to go along with his 125 AHL points. The former U18 World Junior silver medalist was a member of the 2014 Nadezhda Cup champions, Avangard Omsk, awarded to the team that wins a playoff series against other teams that failed to make the playoffs. He didn’t have his contract renewed at the conclusion of the season despite leading the Nadezhda Cup in scoring, eventually landing with HC Slovan Bratislava after a short NLA stint. Ružička likely won’t do much in terms of blowing away fans at the Arosa Challenge, but considering the fact that he hasn’t played internationally in almost three years, it will be good to see him get a chance to represent Slovakia once again.
4. Dan Fritsche, F (Switzerland): Forget about Fritsche? You probably have, and I don’t blame you. The Parma, Ohio born forward had a lotgoing for him after getting drafted 46th overall in 2003. Fritsche won a gold medal at the 2004 World Junior Hockey Championships, but at the time, he was participating with the American junior team. That was the second time Fritsche played for the Americans, having scored 11 points in 13 games over two years. The 2005 Memorial Cup Champion with the London Knights, Fritsche recorded 76 points in 256 career NHL games with the Columbus Blue Jackets, New York Rangers and Minnesota Wild. Unable to secure a contract in the NHL for the 2010-2011 season, Fritsche found himself playing with the NLA’s Genève-Servette club, getting named to the Spengler Cup All-Star team during the 2010 tournament. Currently a member of the Zurich Lions, Fritsche has recently become eligible to participate in international tournaments with Switzerland, with the Arosa Challenge being his first tournament with the country. Will the 29-year-old play well enough to convince the federation to invite him to the World Championships in May?
3. Ole-Kristian Tollefsen, D (Norway): Nicknamed the “Norwegian Nightmare”, Ole-Kristian Tollefsen recorded 12 points and 296 PIM in 163 career NHL games with the Philadelphia Flyers and Columbus Blue Jackets. However, it wasn’t his NHL career that will likely leave a lasting impression on hockey fans. In 138 games while representing Norway in some form over his career, the 30 year-old defenseman has racked up a whopping 311 penalty minutes, some of which have caused him to earn suspensions. In a shocking turn of events, Tollefsen didn’t get suspended in the four Olympic contests he played in Sochi this year, and didn’t even have to sit in the box! Don’t let his tough guy image fool you, Tollefsen is actually a star defenseman for the Norge and will easily be one of the most effective players at the tournament. While his NHL career never really got off the ground, Tollefsen has proven to strive with Färjestad BK, and with the SHL regular season, Champions League tournament, EIHC, Arosa Challenge and World Championships all in the same year, Tollefsen will have a lot of chances to prove just that this season.
2. Tobias Stephan, G (Switzerland): Stephan caught the attention of the NHL scouts during the 2000-2001 U18 WJC in Finland where he’s consistent strong performance contributed heavily to the surprising silver medal. Of the 220 shots he faced he turned away 204, a save percentage of .927, good enough to be named the top goaltender of the tournament. After a stellar performance at the U18 WJC again the next season, he didn’t perform up to expectations at the 2001-2002 U20 WJC. Once again, he had another disappointing U20 WJC showing the next season, possibly due to fatigue after playing in many of Kloten’s games that season in the NLA. The second round, 34th overall selection of the Dallas Stars in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, Stephan went 10-15-0 in his first professional North American season with the Stars’ AHL affiliate in Iowa. One of his most magnificent performances internationally came at the 2013 Spengler Cup in Davos, when, while competing with Geneve-Servette, he earned the top goaltender award while winning the tournament championship. He didn’t play any games at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and didn’t even get named to the 2014 World Championship team, but this tournament will be a good chance for him to prove his worth again before the next WC’s in May.
1. Patrick Thoresen, F (Norway): Thoresen’s NHL career may have fizzled as quickly as it began, but there’s no denying he’s one heck of a hockey player. Currently listed fifth on the all-time KHL scoring chart, Thoresen has represented his country of Norway on the Norwegian national team numerous times. A two time Olympian with Norway, Thoresen is just six points behind Morten Ask for Norway’s all time World Championship scoring record, despite having played 21 less games. Internationally, Thoresen has been quite the asset for his country, but during his two year NHL career, he was anything but spectacular. In 106 career games with the Edmonton Olilers and Philadelphia Flyers, Thoresen had just six goals and 24 points in a bottom six role. Thoresen excels in big time offensive situations and the two-time nominee for the Norwegian team sports athlete of the year award will surely be one of Norway’s best players in the international tournaments to come.
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