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Guy Boucher anxious to accept challenge of coaching in Spengler Cup

12/23/2014 02:57 EST | Updated 02/22/2015 05:59 EST
Guy Boucher is anxious to face the chemistry-building challenge that is the Spengler Cup.

The former Tampa Bay Lightning head coach will be on Canada's bench Friday when it opens the annual Christmas event in Switzerland against host team HC Davos.

It begins an intense stretch for the Canadians and five other competing squads, as the tournament champion will be crowned Dec. 31.

Compounding the task for Boucher is having to build his team from scratch to compete against others that have been together this season. The Canadian squad will practise as a unit for the first time Thursday.

"Oh yes, it's a challenge but to be honest that's what I love about it," Boucher said with a chuckle via telephone from Switzerland. "It's one of those things where it's all thrown at you and you have to react to it and find solutions real fast.

"The quality of the teams in the tournament is really high and they've been together for months whereas Canada, in one day, has to come up with a roster and gameplan that's going to beat that. In that regard I think that's the toughest thing to do, getting the chemistry on and off the ice in that short amount of time . . . but my expectation is always to win at whatever I do."

It's a challenge Canada has often met, having appeared in 10 of the last 13 Spengler Cup finals and winning in '02, '03,'07 and '12. Overall, Canadian teams have captured this event 12 times since first taking part in 1984.

Canada will play in the Cattini Group with HC Davos and KHL club Medvescak Zagreb of Croatia. Defending champion HC Geneve-Servette of Switzerland, Finland's Jokerit Helsinki and Russian KHL side Salavat Yulaev comprise the Torriani Group.

Canada went 1-1 in the preliminary round last year to finish behind Davos in Group B. The Canadians beat the AHL's Rochester Americans 6-3 in quarter-final action before dropping a 6-5 semifinal decision to Geneve-Servette.

Geneve-Servette beat CSKA Moscow 5-3 to claim its first-ever tournament title. The Spengler Cup, held annually since 1923, is the world's oldest pro international hockey event.

"In Switzerland, it's like the world juniors back home," Boucher said. "It's part of the tradition of Christmas . . . it's a big thing, it's THE Christmas tournament here."

Boucher, 43, a native of Notre-Dame-du-Lac, Que., coached Tampa Bay from 2010-13 but is familiar with the nuances of European hockey on the wider, longer ice surface. He's currently coaching SC Bern in the National A League in Switzerland and has been behind the bench internationally for Canada numerous times.

Boucher served three seasons as an assistant with Canada's under-18 program, winning gold in '08. The following season he was an assistant with the Canadian junior squad that won a record-tying fifth straight gold medal.

Boucher's roster, unveiled Tuesday by Hockey Canada, features eight returnees from last year's squad (defencemen Micki Dupont, Joel Kwiatkowski, Jim Vandermeer and Derrick Walser and forwards Colby Genoway, Alexandre Giroux, Brett McLean and Byron Ritchie) and five who represented Canada at the world junior hockey championship (forwards Chris DiDomenico, Curtis Hamilton and Jeff Tambellini and defencemen Steve McCarthy and Ryan Parent ).

Canada's lineup features 14 Swiss League players, including four from Boucher's Bern squad (forwards Ritchie and Bud Holloway, defenceman Marc-Andre Gragnani and goalie Nolan Schaefer). Veteran AHLer Drew McIntyre of the Charlotte Checkers is the other goaltender.

The combination of a condensed schedule and precious little practice time forces Boucher and his coaches to formulate a gameplan that's simple enough for the players to pick up on the fly but is still effective against more established opposition.

"A key is to try and put guys in roles right away because you don't have time to change roles four, five times in the tournament," Boucher said. "You really have to make sure the same guys are out there on the power play, the first PK (penalty kill), play against the first line and are double-shifted.

"I think that's the big thing we did, working on who'd play the power play and where, who had played together before so we can create chemistry right away and keep it very simple."

Boucher said depth will be important for Canada in the tournament.

"It's a big ice surface, it's geared towards speed and is a real up-and-down game," Boucher said. "It really makes for a high-paced game that is very difficult to play if you don't go with four lines.

"You have to go with four lines, that's something I had to learn myself. As an NHL coach or AHL or junior coach back home, sometimes you play with three lines, you double-shift some guys and shorten your bench. If you do this here, your guys are dead at the end of the game."

There's also the matter of re-educating North American-based players on the European game and showing them the tricks of effectively playing Canada's brand of hockey on the larger ice surface.

"Even if you've got your systems, the gap inside defensively (on larger ice) is the most important thing," he said. "It's very difficult to get accustomed to for defencemen because with the width of the ice you have a tendency to play on the perimeter because you feel you have more time, which is a mistake.

"You really want to play inside the faceoff circles because that's the same distance as back home . . . that's one thing we need to make the players understand, that we don't want to become perimeter players. Canadians are good inside, we force ourselves in, we're shot blockers, we're a pay-the-price type of country in terms of hockey and that's something that's got to be at the top of our list regarding what we want to show."

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