The return of the Spengler Cup was cause for celebration, with the tournament returning to Davos, Switzerland, for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Before then, Canada’s success is well-documented, winning four of the past five tournaments, and reaching at least the semi-finals every year since 2011.
This time around, however, Canada made history for all the wrong reasons. For the first time since they started playing in the tournament in 1984, Canada lost all three of their games, capping it off with a loss to Örebro HK. Losses to HC Sparta Praha and HC Davos in the preliminary round were close, but overshadowed by Canada’s lack of ability to score goals. That issue persisted into their quarter-final match against Örebro, scoring just once.
Canada managed just four goals all tournament long, with three coming from Brett Connolly, a veteran of over 500 NHL games, who currently plays with HC Lugano in Switzerland. It took until the final handful of minutes in Canada’s final game to find a different scorer, with Chris Didomenico scoring to bring the margin down to one. Unfortunately for Canada, that was as close as they got, ending their defence campaign.
“It’s disheartening. Going into the tournament and looking at our roster, I didn’t think scoring was going to be a problem, and ultimately, it was,” said Canadian head coach, Travis Green. “We scored two goals, one goal and one goal and it’s hard to win.”
One of the problems consistently mentioned by pundits during the tournament is the nature of the tournament itself. An invitation tournemnt, the Spengler Cup invites five clubs from around Europe, along with Team Canada to compete, meaning everyone, besides Canada, has familiarity playing with one another. For many Canadian players, this was the first time being teammates, and simply put, they never got on the same page.
While certainly a valid reason to see some misfires, this hasn’t been an issue for Canada at many of the past tournaments, and as such, doesn’t hold much water when it comes to being a good excuse. Still, all of the games were close, and Canada came up just short, and with a couple of bounces, things could have been exceptionally different, both in the quarterfinal, and in the tournament as a whole.
“The guys battled back hard tonight; I felt like the last two periods we had control of the game, but we just couldn’t score and that seemed to be the issue every night,” Green said. “Looking at all three games, we could have won all three. It’s a fine line between winning and losing and it never feels good when you lose.”
Despite the complications with putting the puck in the net, Canada’s overall effort at the tournament was solid. Former Winnipeg Jets and Toronto Maple Leafs’ goaltender, Michael Hutchinson, backstopped the Canadians for a pair of games, and while there will always be frustration on behalf of the goaltender when his or her team can’t find a goal, he says that the tournament was a good experience.
“The guys battled so hard tonight, we had penalty trouble at the start, but guys were blocking shots and working hard,” said Hutchinson. “That’s one of the nice things about playing Canadian hockey is you never have to question the effort with guys doing the dirty work and grinding away. It was unfortunate we couldn’t put a couple more pucks in the net, but guys played hard and it was fun to play behind them.”
Without Canada, the Spengler Cup continues, with the semi-finals getting underway on Friday morning. Örebro is set to continue their quest to lift one of the most historic trophies in hockey, taking on Sparta Praha, and in the other semi-final, Davos clashes with HC Ambri-Piotta, the Swiss side that has gone 2-0 in their first two games.
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