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'Odds are against us:' Canada preparing for Spengler Cup challenge

Canada doesn't enter many international hockey tournaments as an underdog, but Guy Boucher says that's just the reality for Canadian teams competing at the Spengler Cup.

The six-team event is a yearly showcase in Davos, Switzerland, that sees a group of Canadian professional players from outside the NHL come together in a short time frame for games against established clubs from Europe and Russia.

"Odds are against us," said Boucher, who will coach Canada for a second consecutive year. "That's where this tournament is different. We aren't favourites."

The Canadians will have a practice, a morning skate and a few meetings before hitting the ice at the Vaillant Arena against Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg of the KHL on Saturday.

"Their fine-tuning is done by this time of the year and ours hasn't begun," said Boucher. "That's where our fight-level, our commitment, our discipline has to be impeccable.

"You always look at the roles players are going to play, but experience tells me whatever I put on paper now will change 10 minutes into the first game."

Canada, which hasn't lifted the Spengler Cup since 2012 but has won the event 12 times, finished 1-1-0 with Boucher in charge last year.

"Our lineup is more complete and has more versatility," Boucher said by phone from Switzerland. "Last year was a tougher year. A lot of guys had to turn it down. There were injuries, but I thought our guys battled really hard.

"We want to see what we did well last year and what we want to improve. That's exciting to be honest ... getting a second shot at something."

Where Boucher also wants a second shot is in the NHL. The 44-year-old from Notre-Dame-du-Lac, Que., took the Tampa Bay Lightning to the Eastern Conference final in 2011, but was fired midway through the 2013 season with the club languishing near the bottom of the standings.

Boucher decided Europe would be a good place to hone his skills and he coached parts of three seasons with Switzerland's SC Bern before getting fired last month. Despite that setback, he said he's grown behind the bench since leaving the North American ranks.

"I'm an offensive guy," said Boucher. "There's a few ways that (European) teams transition that I wouldn't have dared do in the NHL before, but now seeing how they did it, there's some of that I'm pretty sure I can incorporate."

Apart from tactics, Boucher said his biggest change overseas has come in his dealings with European players.

"I had some over the years in junior or the AHL or the NHL," said Boucher. "But until you come over here and you see where they come from and how they train and what their philosophy is about their offensive or their defensive game, I don't think you can really grasp it until you live it.

"To come here and to understand their culture and their way of doing things certainly gives me a lot more tools."

Not surprisingly, Boucher wouldn't say if he was in contact with either the Columbus Blue Jackets or Pittsburgh Penguins after those teams fired coaches earlier this season. But he made it clear he's ready to come back to the NHL.

"I'm watching so many games it's not even funny," he said. "I watch more games now than when I was coaching Tampa. I watch the teams that are having success and the teams that are struggling.

"The only thing I can control right now is my preparation. The opportunity will come and when it comes one thing is for sure, I'll be very ready."

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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press

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