Coupe Spengler © Keystone

Davos: ice hockey capital for 90 years

In the final week of the year, the resort of Davos is traditionally in thrall to the Spengler Cup. 29 teams have now added their names to the role of honour of this legendary Swiss ice hockey tournament, which celebrates its 90th anniversary in 2016. Fierce competition, famous personalities, a fabulous atmosphere generated by passionate fans, a superb programme of fringe events, as well as winners and losers on the ice itself, all make for a unique ice hockey festival.

Spengler Cup in party mood

The Spengler Cup celebrates its 90th anniversary this year. The event was founded by the eponymous Carl Spengler, the son of a German doctor who played a vital role in the development of Davos from 1853 onwards. The first Spengler Cup match ever played saw Wiener EV take on Berliner SC. The objective of the competition was to provide young people with a wholesome challenge after the traumatic experiences of the First World War. By all accounts it was an auspicious start, with the Viennese team in particular showing off its speed and dexterous combinations. But the inaugural 1923 tournament was actually won by the Oxford University Ice Hockey Club, who saw off competition from the Berliner Schlittschuh-Club, Wiener Eislaufverein, the Hockey Club Davos and the Cambridge University Ice Hockey Club. Owing to heavy snowfall and avalanches in the run-up to the tournament, the final was not actually played until New Year’s Day in 1924.

First Spengler Cup (1923)
First Spengler Cup (1923) © Spengler Cup

 

2015 Final © EQ Image

Artificial ice and TV audiences

The 1960s in particular was a crucial era in the tournament’s history. In 1960, the matches were held on artificial ice for the first time, and television transmitted the spectacle into the living rooms of the sports-mad Swiss. A year later the games were then broadcast in six other countries via Eurovision.

The Spengler Cup in the sixties
The Spengler Cup in the sixties © Keystone

Just five years later, the first Russian team took to the Davos ice in the form of Lokomotiv Moscow. They went on to win the tournament despite their maiden status, beating Canada’s Kingston Aces 8-4 in the final. For the next couple of decades, duels between the top Soviet and Czechoslovakian teams ranked among the highlights of the tournament.

Entering the modern era with the new guise

Almost 80 years on from the inaugural event, the Spengler Cup acquired a new look in 2010. The number of teams competing in the event was raised from five to six. It was a bold step that bordered on the risky, but one that nonetheless had to be taken as an investment in the future of this historic Swiss ice hockey tournament, as it ensured that the competitive tension over the ultimate victors would be increased further. Tension is a crucial factor in modern sport, and the public is the ultimate beneficiary of this decision. Previously, a team’s exit from the tournament had been a certainty after two defeats or in some cases even one.

Vaillant Arena Davos
Vaillant Arena Davos © EQ Images

New Organising Committee chairman

After 20 years as chairman of the Organising Committee, Fredi Pargätzi handed the baton over to Marc Gianola in 2016. Gianola, from the Engadine, first came to Davos in 1993 as a 19-year-old ice hockey player. He was a key figure in the success of the local outfit, helping Hockey Club Davos to four Swiss Championships and the same number of Spengler Cups. Gianola describes victory in the 2000 Spengler Cup as a pivotal sporting achievement for himself and for the team as a whole. This was the first tournament success for Hockey Club Davos after a drought of 42 years, and laid the foundations for further club successes.

Top teams will continue to contest the Cup

90 years on from its inception, the Spengler Cup remains reliant on top teams from a number of different countries that play ice hockey at an international level. Despite the packed schedule of the ice hockey calendar in leagues such as the Champions Hockey League and the Swiss Ice Hockey Cup, and the competitive appeal of the Christmas/New Year period generally, the Spengler Cup continues to draw famous and attractive ice hockey teams to Davos.

Team Canada vs. HC Lugano (2015 Final)
Team Canada vs. HC Lugano (2015 Final) © EQ Images

High quality field assembled for 2016

The victors of the 90th Spengler Cup will have achieved no mean feat: five European teams in the form of Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg, HC Lugano, HK Dinamo Minsk, Mountfield HK and hosts Davos will take on reigning champions Team Canada in what promises to be a fierce competition with some spectacular matches. HK Dinamo Minsk appear well suited to the demands of this competition, as the Belarus team were the overall winners of the Spengler Cup in their very first appearance back in 2009. KHL league rivals Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg will be keen to confirm a number of promising previous performances as they contest their second Cup in succession. Mountfield HK from the Czech Extraliga will be appearing for the first time, and all eyes are likely to rest on Captain Jaroslav Bednár, whose stellar career encompasses more than 100 games in the Swiss National League A. Team Canada have been Spengler Cup stalwarts since 1984, and together with hosts Hockey Club Davos set the benchmark. For good measure, they are hugely popular with the public. As well as HC Davos, Switzerland will also be represented at this year’s event by HC Lugano. This will be the second year in succession and the third year overall that the team from Ticino will be targeting Spengler Cup victory: an ambitious goal, but one that is nonetheless realistic for the seven-time Swiss champions.

Further information: Spengler Cup Davos.

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