There’s a good chance that if you’re American, you’ve either never heard of the Spengler Cup or just don’t care about it one bit unless you see a highlight clip or an article about some obscure player your team drafted seven years ago in the sixth round. That’s fine, with so much other hockey going on after Christmas, and very few American teams to ever participate in the tournament, it makes sense.
But the Spengler Cup easily creates some of the best action in the world of hockey. With five European teams and the sixth entry from Canada made up of players playing in Switzerland, Germany, Russia and even the AHL, the player showcases different hockey cultures playing in a tremendous environment in Davos, Switzerland. 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.
For some players, it’s a way of springboarding back to North America, while others use it as a way to get themselves noticed after maybe going undrafted. Here’s three players from this year’s tournament that really helped raise their stock after a very memorable tournament in Davos this year.
Cory Conacher, F (Team Canada): Cory Conacher is a Canadian hero. At least, on the ice that is. Conacher had never played for Canada in any international event, and with his slow rise to success, that isn’t surprising. But when he did put on the Canadian jersey for the first time…well, you get the idea. He was great, scoring two game-winning goals in the tournament, including the one that beat HC Davos late in the semi-final game to complete a momentous comeback for the eventual champions.
When it was all said and done, Conacher’s five-point performance in four games was good enough to earn him a spot on the tournament all-star team. While playing on a line with Matt Ellison and Derek Roy, Conacher easily made his team very strong when he had the puck and was not afraid to mix it up with his opponents despite being one of the smallest guys on the ice. Conacher’s career needed something like this, especially after such a strange, short end tenure throughout the league. Once a Junior A star with the Burlington Cougars, Conacher set the world on fire by leading the AHL in scoring with 80 points during his professional rookie campaign with the Norfolk Admirals. He’d get a chance to prove himself with Tampa Bay in 2012-2013, putting up 24 points in 35 games with the top club.
That, unfortunately, was the last great moment in his North American career, failing to ever reach those numbers again during his time with Ottawa, Buffalo and the New York Islanders. His performance at the Spengler, mixed in with a top end season in the NLA, could help him in his quest to return to the NHL and at just 26-years-old, he definitely has the chance.
Brandon Kozun, F (Helsinki Jokerit): Brandon Kozun is no stranger to the NHL, having played in 2o games with the Toronto Maple Leafs last year. Despite injuries taking their toll last year, most Leafs fans would agree that Kozun did a pretty solid job when he was used in a third line role. Kozun, a former scoring star with the Canadian World Junior team, has never really been a big time scorer in North American pro, but he has seemed to have turn things around in the KHL this year. The top scoring player in the Canadian Hockey League with 107 points back in 2009-2010, Kozun headed into the tournament with 36 points in 41 games, good to beat out Ilya Kovalchuk for 11th in league scoring.
While Jokerit played in three games at the Spengler Cup this year, Kozun was only dressed in the first two. Kozun showed tremendous chemistry with Peter Regin, finishing with two points and looking like the top forward for Jokerit on every single shift. However, the team decided to rest Kozun for the quarter-final game against Davos, which proved to be a mistake after Jokerit blew a late 4-2 lead before eventually losing 5-4 in overtime. Still, his chemistry with Regin did not go unnoticed, potentially creating a situation where a team can pick up both players at a cheap price as they both look to return to the NHL. Kozun is a dangerous goal scorer with very good speed so it wouldn’t be a bad idea to bring him back to North America, especially after learning how to utilize his skill around the net while playing in the KHL.
Anatoli Golyshev, F (Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg): With three points in four games, Golyshev wasn’t even in the top 20 of tournament scoring. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t shine in the tournament. Almost every single game, Golyshev looked to be one of the most dangerous players on the ice for a team that didn’t have any business making it past the quarter-finals.
A potential NHL steal in the future, Golyshev is the only Yekaterinburg player to score 20 goals so far this season, a pretty impressive stat considering he had just 19 points all season long in 2014-2015. And again, he’s just 20-years-old. To be leading a KHL team in scoring, while just coming off of a World Junior performance a year prior is pretty impressive. Golyshev has been in the eye of the NHL scouts for a couple years now, and it won’t be long until we see him get a crack at the professional game over in North America. Golyshev recently signed a contract extension for next season so his chance in the NHL won’t come next year, but if scouts watched him in the Spengler Cup, they know that his speed and skill are definitely not in short supply.
Steven is a junior hockey reporter for the Oakville Blades of the Ontario Junior Hockey League, and also focuses on international hockey for his website, TheHockeyHouse.net. You can follow Steven on twitter, @StevenEllisNHL.
Header image courtesy: EQ Images/Gian Ehrenzeller