Saturday, December 24, 2011

Vítkovice prepares for Spengler Cup

The week between Christmas and New Year's is a busy time in the hockey world, and on Monday, the oldest and most prestigious club hockey tournament in Europe, the Spengler Cup, begins in Davos, Switzerland. Though which countries are represented in the tournament changes from year to year, the Czech Republic is a constant presence at the event and this year has sent HC Vítkovice Steel to participate.

Vítkovice practicing at Vaillant Arena in Davos.
As they do during the regular season, Vítkovice will look for offense from Jíři Burger and Jan Káňa, leadership on the back end from Marek Malík, and solid goaltending from Roman Málek. Besides these players, many fans in Switzerland and television viewers around the world will get their first opportunities to see 17-year-old rookie Nathan Walker play. The Australian, who has 4 goals and 3 assists in 25 Extraliga games this season and has played the last two games on the top line with Burger, was recently ranked 6th among eligible Czech players for the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. This was mostly due to the absence of veteran Viktor Ujčík, who is injured and will miss the Spengler Cup. The club's defence, which has also been bitten by the injury bug, has been reinforced by two pickups from the Swiss National League: Franco Collenberg and Gian-Andrea Randegger.

This is the third time that Vítkovice has participated in the Spengler Cup. They went previously in back-to-back years, 1980 and 1981, around the time they were the best team in Czechoslovakia. Both years, the tournament was won by Soviet club Spartak Moscow. In 1980, TJ Vítkovice, as they were then known, finished second with a 2-1-1 record. In 1981, they finished in a three-way tie for second at 2-2. Ladislav Svozil led the team with 4 goals in 1980, including a hat trick in a 6-0 shutout victory over Swedish club BK Färjestad. František Černík, the current club president, scored 2 goals that year and 3 more in 1981.

"For Vítkovice, it is primarily a great honour to participate in this tournament," said Černík on the team's website. Concerning his team's chances at this year's event, he said, "Other than a little nervousness, I have concerns about the roster we're sending to Davos. So many injuries right now. It's unfortunate they came around the time of the Spengler Cup. But in any case, I don't want to make excuses. We've strengthened the team with reinforcements, so I believe that ultimately we should be competitive in Davos."

Besides the Vítkovice team, other Czechs competing in the tournament are Pavel Brendl, Petr Sýkora and Petr Tatiček of the host Davos club, and Vojtěch Polák of the Kloten Flyers.

Just as was the format in 2011, the six competing teams are divided into two groups. The division winners advance straight to Friday's semifinals, while the second- and third-place teams play crossover quarterfinals on Thursday. This means that every team survives at least that far. The final will be played on Saturday, New Year's Eve, at 12:00 Central European Time.

Vítkovice's first game in the tournament will be against Team Canada, a perennial participant in this tournament, whose squad is composed mostly of Canadians who play in European leagues. This year's Canadian team is being coached by Marc Crawford and features Marty Turco in goal. Turco recently backstopped EC Red Bull Salzburg to the championship of the European Trophy. Monday's game will begin at 20:15 CET and can be seen on Nova Sport in the Czech Republic. Viewers in Canada can see the game on TSN 2, live at 2:15pm ET, 11:15am PT. Their second game will be against HC Davos, on Tuesday if they lose to Canada and on Wednesday if they beat them. All tournament games can be seen throughout Europe on Eurosport.

From, here is the tournament schedule (all times Central European):

Torriani Group
26.12.Kloten FlyersDinamo Riga15:00
27.12.GA WolfsburgLoser Game 115:00
28.12.Winner Game 1GA Wolfsburg15:00
Cattini Group
26.12.Team CanadaHC Vítkovice20:15
27.12.HC DavosLoser Game 220:15
28.12.Winner Game 2HC Davos20:15
29.12.2. Torriani Group3. Cattini Group15:00
29.12.2. Cattini Group 3. Torriani Group20:15
30.12.1. Group CattiniWinner QF 115:00
30.12.1. Group TorrianiWinner QF 220:15
31.12.Winner Semifinal 1Winner Semifinal 212:00

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