With a good part of its Olympic roster already set, hockey players looking for a spot Team Canada will get one final chance to prove themselves at the Spengler Cup.
Canada, a two-time defending champion at the annual event in Davos, Switzerland, open the tournament on Tuesday against Czech-side Mountfield HK.
"We’ve had five events up until now, we’ve used a lot of European guys numerous times, we’ve got a real good handle on that level, but we wanted to see how the other levels would compare and this tournament affords us the opportunity to do that," Canadian general manager Sean Burke said in a phone interview.
The Canadians will have a different look to their roster than when they suited up earlier this month at the Channel One Cup in Russia. With Kontinental Hockey League players unavailable for selection, the Spengler Cup roster consists mostly of Swiss players with an assortment of American Hockey League and NCAA players as well.
Burke says it’s a nice opportunity to evaluate this crop of players and that Canada’s performance at the Channel One Cup — where it lost two of three games — didn’t have an impact on the Spengler Cup roster decisions.
"Actually, the final game against the Russians was probably the best evaluation game we’ve had and, if anything, I think that tournament was a real positive for us," Burke said. "Even losing the two games I think we learned a lot of good things about our team and some of our players.
"And of course those games, they eliminate some players as well, unfortunately. That type of game, the Czechs, the Russians, they really made it clear to us that there’s a number of guys that can play and we’ve got a good handle on them, but there’s also some guys that it was just a little too much for."
Returning players on Canada’s Spengler Cup roster include Andrew Ebbett, Maxim Noreau, David McIntyre, Mason Raymond and Nick Spaling. Chris Kelly, who played last season with the Ottawa Senators, along with Jeff Schultz, Cody Goloubef and Christian Thomas are all Canadians on the roster that have played in the AHL this year.
Thomas is the son of longtime NHLer Steve Thomas and is getting his second look at the Canadian roster after scoring once in three games at the Karjala Cup in Helsinki in November.
"I knew that coming into the year that there might be a chance and I got my first look at the Karjarla and I was really excited to play and it was a great tournament," Thomas said. "And now I get another chance here to show them what I can do and hopefully earn a spot on the roster, which would be a dream come true."
Burke said that Thomas is a player "that’s knocking on the door for a job," but that he’s also looking to add a shutdown defenceman.
"I think all four of these guys will give us a real good handle on what the level in the AHL is for us compared to when we play the Swiss national team," Burke said. "That’s a team that’s in our pool in the Olympics. That will give us a real good handle on where these guys fit in."
Canada will start to finalize its roster shortly after the Spengler Cup and plans to have an Olympic announcement around Jan. 11 before the February Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Burke cautions that he and his staff will still be watching games, including the world junior championship, after this tournament and that junior players are still in the mix to be evaluated.
The Canadians face HC Davos in their second game on either Wednesday or Thursday — depending on the result from their first game — with the semifinals set for Saturday and the final on Sunday.
Burke said that the other squads at the six-team tournament have an advantage because they’re club teams and play together all year.
"Last year, we learned our lesson after Game 1. We took a pretty good spanking and the guys bounced back," Burke said. "But you do have to expect that these guys not only play together but they get up for Canada. There’s no easy games no matter who you’re playing and I think our guys know that."