The Spengler Cup

This is the oldest Ice Hockey “Club” tournament in the world, hosted annually by Hockey Club Davos in Switzerland, it dates back to 1923 and takes place between the 26th and 31st December, the tournament is held at the Vaillant arena in Davos. There are 6 teams involved. In addition to HC Davos there are 5 other teams by invitation. At the latest event these teams were HC Lugano (Swiss), Jokerit Helsinki (Fin), Adler Mannheim (Ger), Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg (Rus) and Team Canada (these are mainly Canadian import players from around Europe with a few from the AHL being added).

The 2014 winners were Chris McSorley’s Geneve-Servette, strangely enough a team from the UK has won the competition 3 times – Oxford University Ice Hockey Club, I am guessing this team had a few Canadian students included, this was apparently back in the 1920s, yes when I said this was the oldest tournament I was not kidding, 2015 was the 89th Spengler Cup.

My wife (Karen) and I have always wanted to go and see a few games at this event. Like many of you we have seen live coverage in the past on Eurosport and the atmosphere always seems electric, also the standard of Hockey is top quality. So we made rather a late decision to go for a few days. Unfortunately this did not give us much flexibility on flights and accommodation. The main issue though was match tickets. We managed to secure these for 4 games including both semi-finals – the only catch was that there was only standing places available. We would not be deterred, however, and set off for Davos on the 28th December.
We caught an early evening flight to Zurich and with a 10pm arrival we stayed right on the airport at the Radisson, it is just a few minutes walk from collecting your bag and highly recommended, this put us in a good position the following morning to take the train to Davos.

Now just like British Rail if you spend time and book several tickets you save money. I managed to get our fare down to £40 return. The journey takes you into the Zurich main station, change there for the Inter-City to Lanquart, another change puts you on the mountain train, the scenery now starts to look like Switzerland, at one point there appears to be a sheer drop on one side, snow was now all around as we passed through the fashionable ski resort of Klosters, finally on to Davos Platz, the trip is 2hours, 40minutes.

We booked in at the Europe hotel, it is only a 6-7 minute walk but all up a very steep hill. A first look at the town gives you an immediate impression that this is an upmarket Ski resort, I counted 5 watch shops on the way to the hotel, this would not be a cheap few days as we had already anticipated. The hotel is one of the older ones in the centre but not without character. The room had a sitting area and a good view of the cable car and skiers at the top. It was expensive to stay at £100 per person per night so it was a good job we had got a half price deal on the previous night, it did though include a very good breakfast and all local transport.

After a quick lunch from the Co-op, we set out for the Vaillant Arena at 1.30, this is only a 10-minute stroll from the hotel, downhill this time; the town seems to be built in layers. The first game is at 3pm so plenty of time or so we thought. The arena is an odd shaped building that probably needs updating. We headed for the fan tent, this was by far the largest I had ever seen, food stalls from just about everywhere, long bars, a stage and massive screens to see the games and it opened 12 hours a day. At 2.15 we decided to go into the arena but what a shock we got with the large queues, security was tight so it took 40 minutes to get in. The next problem was finding a place to stand, we are only 5’8” tall so tip toes seemed the order of the day, quite clearly too many tickets had been sold for the area.

We managed to get a reasonable view from a side position as HC Davos took on the Jesters from Helsinki for a place in the semi-final and the atmosphere and game lived up to the billing. It did not take long before the noise moved up a level when local boy Portmann (just 18) fired Davos ahead. The Finnish side, who now play in the KHL, are full of talent and hit back to equalise with a penalty shot through Daine Todd. It then became an end-to-end game with each side trading goals. The Jesters seemed to have the edge when they took a 4-2 lead. At this stage Karen commented that she thought Davos were still the best side. I disagreed feeling the last period would see the hosts eliminated. Its obvious after watching this game for 30 years I know very little as Davos piled on the pressure and levelled the game with 3 minutes left through Walser, overtime was required and the new NHL format of 3 on 3 was adopted. I have to say this is all about puck retention; Sciaroni brought the house down when he put Davos through in the final minute. We retired to a rather charming chalet for a few wines after this one and boy was it good to sit down.

We returned for the evening game via the fan tent. It was now one giant bierkeller as everyone was up singing and dancing and the place was positively rocking. We felt a little out of place – I mean this was a fairly young crowd and we had clearly not had enough to drink. We took our place early for the game Mannheim against Yekaterinburg. We stood lower down on the side and we had an excellent view this time. I spoke to a group of Adler fans who were quick to inform me they had a friendship with fans of the Ayr Scottish Eagles, this was after the two sides met in a European game but unfortunately when they visited Ayr for a later game the Eagles had gone bust. The group still found hockey though as they went to see the Paisley Pirates – it seems they are always welcome there. On this occasion though their team found it tough going against the KHL Russian side and waves of pressure during the first period would see the Germans fall 3 goals behind. Despite a late marker from Raedeke they were knocked out of the tournament losing 3-1. We returned to the hotel and went for a quiet drink in the piano bar, no chance, live music and everyone was up dancing and singing again, this is the place to be we were told, after a couple of drinks though we just had to retire, following Ice Hockey is tiring.

After a top breakfast we strolled around Davos for a closer look. Unfortunately we did not have the time to go up in the cable cars, one thing we did find out quickly though was to avoid these skiers. They walk in the town with their skies on their shoulders and any quick turn they make will see you swaying to avoid getting a ski up your nose, even those who carry the snowboards need to be given a wide berth. Seriously Davos seems a lovely place, it is actually one of the highest cities in Europe at over 4500 feet, the world leaders gather here for the economic forum and of course apart from skiing they host the Spengler Cup, which I now realised was a huge tournament. I was actually fascinated by the language spoken here. I thought it would be mainly German for this area but Mannheim fans informed me it was a different kind of German than they are used to. We spoke to some lovely fans from Lausanne who were speaking French. They tried to explain how it all seems to work with German, French and Italian spoken in different areas, there is even a 4th language from older times called Romansh, personally I stick to English it works for me, well most of the time anyway.

So, following the previous day’s experience we decided on a different tactic for the semi-final games. The first game would be Team Canada against Davos. We did not have a pre-game beverage, we made sure of a toilet visit prior to taking our place on the kop at 2pm, and we would not leave this spot until 5.30pm. I am not usually a fan of watching from behind the goal but the view we got was excellent, fans piled in around us – if you are claustrophobic in anyway or have a weak bladder this was the time to leave, health and safety here, it has to be said, is non existent. There are no gangways just several thousand people crammed together. If you needed to exit in a hurry you had no chance. The beers were still flowing all afternoon though, you pass your money down to the front and the beers come back, at one point I felt like a waiter. We watched the full pre-game warm up and we never do that. Now if you want to try a different approach to get the fans involved before the start then this was superb. Everyone was invited to download the Spengler Cup App, the arena then goes dark, the music builds up when everyone holds up their phone and all you see a mass of colour changes, it looks incredible. Finally onto the game and what an afternoon treat this was. Davos came out flying and peppered Jeff Glass in the Canadian goal, both posts had become his best friends until Sciarone and Ryser put the hosts 2 ahead. Following on they had a power play and were threatening to run away with the game; however, a petulant moment by Enzo Corvi (Davos) changed the game. He did get his head slammed into the boards to be fair but the referees only saw the retaliation, which was an elbow to the same opponent. The momentum was lost and it did not take long for Team Canada to reduce the arrears through Pyatt. The 2nd period would see Davos get up another head of steam and they extended their lead through Picard and Du Bois to 4-1. At this point the Canadian coach changed tactics and went for the physical approach. He also replaced Glass with Matt Climie and all this worked to perfection. They seemed to target the host keeper Genoni and it was Conacher who jabbed away at a loose puck the keeper thought he had and Ellison scored; cue Genoni and the crowd going nuts, beer was thrown from the back and we took a shower. It was obvious now the Swiss were rattled and it was not long before the Canadians were level. The final period carried on in the same vein and again Davos took the lead. Unfortunately for them the previous day caught up with them in the latter stages and goals in 56 and 57 minutes would put the Canadians in the final – that man Conacher with the winner. Picard of Davos, at one point, had quite enough of Conacher and flattened him with a punch to the face, after rolling around the Canadian was told to get up and carry on by the referee, no penalty – if only teams from GB that compete in Europe could get these kind of officials. At this stage more beer rained down towards the front, yet another shower, Karen and I then looked at each other when someone suggested it might not all be beer. Time to leave except after standing for so long we could hardly move and we still had another game to watch.

We decided on a stroll back into the town. A nice relaxing meal and a few glasses were called for, Ice Hockey dictates though and we soon headed back for the second semi-final. It was the Russians against another top Swiss side, HC Lugano. Actually back in 2003 I watched Lugano when they co-hosted the IIHF Continental Cup (Final stage). That tournament was actually won by the Helsinki Jesters. Also playing in those finals were the Belfast Giants. I thought they and their fans were a credit to the British league (ISL). Back in real time though and again we are struggling to see the game, arriving a little later than planned left us at the back yet again, we needed one of those little stools like kids used to take to the football years ago. It was a tight defensive game but again quite a physical affair, the Swiss edged it though and finally won 3-0, Tim Stapleton (USA Import) with one of the goals. To be quite honest we left after the first period and watched the rest of the game in the Swiss chalet via at least 6 screens, there was a log fire and a waitress to top up your wine, I guess the older you get the more comfort you enjoy, I know what everyone will be thinking… it’s a poor effort from an Ice Hockey fan.

Lugano stepped off the ice at 10.45 pm and got right back on it for the final at 12 noon the following day. For us though it was a New Year’s Eve travel day, back on the train to Zurich airport for the flight home. We managed to catch some of the later stages outside a shop at the station, it was the 3rd period and Lugano levelled the game at 3-3 but despite the Swiss hitting the post 4 times it was Canadian Matt D’Agostini that found the winner for Team Canada to secure the 89th Spengler Cup.
So, would we go again to the tournament? A resounding YES to that question but only if our tickets had Sitzplatz on them, I have to report though that seat prices are at a premium, £68 per game opposed to around £25 for standing. They could, I am certain, sell many more tickets if the arena was larger. The capacity is reported at 6,300 however, at a guess, there were probably at least 2,000 more viewing from the fan tent. This is seriously a huge event. I must comment on the fans overall, many were drunk over the days we were there, however, we did not see one problem. Also apart from security going in to the arena, there seemed very few stewards elsewhere. Our biggest issue was trying to get away from a drunken fan from Austria, he found it fascinating that we were there from Britain and insisted on buying us a beer. Unfortunately, although he meant well he became rather overbearing, one of those times you do not want to be rude but please go away.

The Davos arena is the 118th world wide that I have visited. I cover most of the others in a book I have written, Ice Hockey “A Fans View” which comes out very shortly, the e-book version is already available, I hope other fans will take the opportunity to read it.