Veterans' play at Spengler Cup providing options as Olympic roster deadline nears
GM Sean Burke continues auditions before 25-man squad is named in January
While the Canadian men's Olympic team has utilized the 2017 Spengler Cup to audition four youngsters currently playing at the college level in the U.S., it has been a handful of veterans who have distinguished themselves through the first two games in Davos, Switzerland.
The Spengler Cup is the last of a five-tournament tryout for general manager Sean Burke's squad that will be finalized in mid-January.
The youthful and enthusiastic U.S. College players — forwards Jake Evans (Notre Dame) and Dylan Sikura (Northeastern) as well as defencemen Jeremy Davies (Northeastern) and Brandon Hickey (Boston University) — have played well in 5-3 and 4-1 wins over Mountfield HK of the Czech Republic and host Davos HC, respectively.
But they have not been as noticeable as veterans such as Zach Boychuk, Chris Kelly, David McIntyre, Jay McClement, P.A. Parenteau and Max Lapierre.
Burke has about half of his 25-player roster already selected, and most of those who have earned a spot are Canadians in the Kontinental Hockey League. But with most of the KHL teams playing between Christmas and New Year's, Burke has employed the Spengler Cup to look at some AHLers like Kelly, some Swiss league players like McClement, Lapierre and McIntyre as well as four U.S. college players.
Improved penalty kill
Kelly, McIntyre, McClement and Lapierre have been excellent in checking roles and on the penalty kill, two areas the Canadian team had been lacking in their four previous tournaments. Kelly and McClement also have been good faceoff men.
Kelly, 37, won a Stanley Cup with the Boston Bruins in 2011, and went to the final with the Ottawa Senators in 2007 and the Bruins again in 2013. He's now playing for the Belleville Senators in the AHL. After more than 900 NHL games, the 34-year-old McClement is in his first season in Switzerland.
The 32-year-old Lapierre is in his third season in Switzerland. After his brief seven-game NHL stint with the Minnesota Wild in 2011-12, McIntyre is in his fourth year in Europe.
Besides forward Andrew Ebbett, who scored twice and was a lock to make the Canadian Olympic team prior to the Spengler Cup, the 28-year-old Boychuk was the best Canadian on the ice against Davos on Thursday.
Boychuk missed Canada's first game in this tournament because his club team, Slovan Bratislava, played on Boxing Day. As a result, the native of Airdrie, Alta. arrived in time to help Canada's attempt to win its third Spengler Cup in a row.
Against Davos, he scored once and assisted on another, and caused havoc all game with his speed and willingness to go to the net. Boychuk, the 14th overall selection by the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2008 NHL draft, is no stranger to performing well in big games.
He won back-to-back world junior gold medals for Canada in 2008 and 2009 as well as a Memorial Cup with the 2007-08 Spokane Chiefs. After seven seasons shuffling back and forth between the NHL and AHL, he moved to the KHL last season. With Slovan this fall, he has checked in with eight goals and 18 points in 25 games.
It will be interesting to see how Boychuk performs the rest of the way in this tournament. With the impressive win against Davos, Canada has advanced straight to the semifinals on Saturday and gained a day off.
Could meet Swiss nats in final
Canada appears to be on a collision course to meet Switzerland in the tournament final on Sunday. The Swiss national team, also 2-0, has outscored the opposition 10-1 in its two games.
Meanwhile, Burke also will keep an eye on how the rest of the tournament develops on Friday. Canadian candidate Karl Stollery is a steady, stay-at-home defenceman who plays for Dinamo Riga, a KHL team that was spanked 6-1 by the Swiss national team in its Spengler Cup opener, but rebounded to win its second game 4-3 against Finland's HPK Hameenlinna.
Burke also will continue to scout the Swiss national team because the Canadians meet Switzerland in the men's Olympic tournament opener on Feb. 15 in Pyeongchang, South Korea.