An odd thing has happened at the 2009 Spengler Cup. After four days of competition, here are the standings:
|5||Energie Karlovy Vary||4||0||4||10:22||-12||2|
The top four teams have all beaten Karlovy Vary, and split their first two against each other. With the tournament doormats from the Czech Extraliga now done, Wednesday's games among the four contenders are effectively a pair of semi-finals. Canada plays the first of these against Dynamo Minsk, live on SportsNet East at 07:00 MST, or on tape delay on SportsNet Ontario at noon or SportsNet Pacific at 15:00. For whatever reason it doesn't seem SportsNet West is carrying this one game.
Canada has had wildly mixed results the last two days, thumping the hosts from Davos 6-2 in yesterday's late game before turning in a desultory performance in today's early game, dropping a 5-2 decision to Fred Brathwaite and the Mannheim Eagles.
An otherwise fine performance against Davos was marred by a serious injury to Boyd Devereaux, who suffered what was termed a benign (?) spinal fracture after a vicious head shot from a Davos defender. Very disappointing on a number of fronts, especially since Devereaux is a personal favourite who was the one former Oiler skating for Canada this time around. I hate head shots at any time, but was particularly disturbed to see this one against a gentlemanly player whose NHL/Oiler career was severely curtailed by concussion. I remember all too well the vicious hit by noted headhunter Dallas Drake which saw Boyd carried from Coliseum ice on a stretcher during his 20-year-old season. Yesterday's hit rang a few bells, Leaving one's feet to land an elbow into a vulnerable opponent's head crosses pretty much all the lines, especially in a "friendly" tournament like Spengler.
Today's Mannheim loss was just a brutal effort by Canada who had neither legs nor heads after last night's inspired performance. The short turnaround was surely a factor, one which will work against Minsk tomorrow. One of the stars of the show was another personal favourite, goaltender Fred Brathwaite, who stymied Canada early and often with a first-rate performance. It was great to see Freddy all these years later, still sharp at 37, coming off a great first season with Mannheim where he copped MVP honours in the Deutsche Eishockey Liga in 2008-09. The long road that has been Brathwaite's career wound through Edmonton where he started his NHL career backing up Bill Ranford in the mid-90s, appearing in 40 games over 3 seasons. He joined Canada's national team where he turned his career around at the 1998 Spengler Cup, winning tournament MVP honours between the pipes for the victorious Team Canada. In the process he caught the attention of Calgary Flames, and before season's end was ensconced as the Flames #1, a spot he held for two more seasons. Brathwaite was to play 2 more years as a solid backup in St. Louis and another in Columbus before finding his way to Russia during the lockout. That Brathwaite played primarily on struggling teams at the NHL level can be seen in an NHL career that spanned 254 regular season games and 1 minute of playoff action.
Looking ahead to tomorrow's game, Minsk is currently ranked first based on goal differential after today's 8-0 blowout of Karlovy Vary. The Czech squad was surely disheartened after a tough shootout loss to Mannheim yesterday eliminated them from contention, not to mention playing their fourth game in four days. Fortunately, goal differential means nothing tomorrow, nor do loser points. Whoever wins that game in whatever fashion is through, the loser is out. Same goes for the Davos-Mannheim game that wraps up the round robin. The two winners will play in Thursday morning's final.