Since the beginning of the holiday season, I’ve been binge-watching hockey like a recovering puckaholic that just fell off the Zamboni. I’ve heard so many hockey clichés in the past two-and-a-half weeks — “play a full 60 minutes,” “get pucks deep,” “take it one shift at a time” — and been so ensconced in hockey dialect — snipe, sauce, celly, dangle, sick mitts, flow — that I am no longer able to communicate with anyone that doesn’t speak hockey-ese.
For a puck glutton like myself, the holidays are a glorious time. The NHL is preparing for the Winter Classic, and the World Junior Championships are showcasing the best young talent the sport has to offer. But, while the Winter Classic and World Juniors get the majority of the media and fan attention, there are a number of smaller tournaments in the college and professional ranks that are often overlooked. And they shouldn’t be.
If you don’t really follow college hockey or only do so casually, you likely aren’t aware of the sheer number of tournaments that take place over the holidays. There are a ton of them. This year featured the Great Lakes Invitational, Three Rivers Classic, Florida College Hockey Classic, Catamount Cup, UConn Hockey Classic, Ledyard National Bank Classic, and Mariucci Classic. With a few exceptions, all of them pretty much follow the same format: two teams play one day and then the winners play the next day (a couple of tournaments have the teams play a set schedule and then decide the champion based on goal differential, which is dumb).
Although the World Juniors features more talented players, these college tournaments provide something the World Juniors never really does: unpredictability. Since 2002, only five different countries have won the gold medal at the World Juniors — and if you take out Sweden’s lone victory in 2012 and Finland’s lone victory this season it’s only three. So, going in to the tournament, you know there are only a few teams that really have a shot at winning the whole thing, which makes everything up until the semifinals a bit uneventful.
Since the college tournaments are such tiny sample sizes, however, almost any team can win, no matter whom their opponents are. For example, Air Force, a solid but unranked team, knocked off (all pre-tournament rankings) No. 16 Northeastern and No. 5 Providence to win the Ledyard Classic. At the Great Lakes Invitational (which was hosted outdoors at Comerica Park), Western Michigan stunned No. 3 Michigan on Josh Pitt’s spectacular OT goal before beating Michigan Tech 1-0 in the final.
Of course, in some tournaments the best team still comes out on top. No. 6 Boston College crushed Penn State 8-2 to win the Three Rivers Classic and No. 13 Cornell snuck past Maine in a shootout to take the Florida College Classic. But, unlike the World Juniors, the results of the college tournaments are tougher to predict, making for more consistently exciting hockey.
For my money though (and to be clear I didn’t pay to attend this because I’m broke), the Spengler Cup might just be the best event of the holiday season. For one thing, it’s the OG holiday outdoor game. The Spengler Cup has been played since 1923 and was played outdoors until 1978. Since then, it’s been played in Valliant Arena (which literally looks like a hockey cathedral) home to HC Davos of the Swiss National League A, who are also hosts of the tournament.
Perhaps the best part of the tournament is the divergent styles of the teams each year. In almost no other tournament can you see squads from the NLA, KHL, AHL, NCAA, Czech Extraliga, Swedish Elite League, Deutsche Elshockey Liga face off against one another. In terms of a variety of styles, its only real rival is the new European Trophy.
While seeing the clash of hockey philosophy might be its most appealing aspect, it isn’t the Spengler Cup’s only draw. If you love goals, please allow me to introduce you to an average of 7.36 goals scored per game. What’s that? You hate the ungodly amount of commercials during a hockey game? Well, there were about two per period that lasted for no more than 15 seconds. As an added bonus, the crowds are electric — well, about as electric as a bunch of incredibly polite Swiss people can be (I kid, Switzerland! I kid).
So, when next year’s holiday hockey feast rolls around, hold off on stuffing yourself on the World Juniors. Wait till the semis and save the Winter Classic for desert. Find the Spengler Cup on TSN 8 The “Ocho” if you’re in Canada or scour the internet for it if you’re in the States. Take in a college tournament or two. You’ll be glad you did.
Charlie Crespo (@Little_Utopia) is the editor-in-chief of Little Utopia.
Previously from Charlie Crespo:
♦ Viral Video of the Week: This is What Your Animals are Doing While You’re Away
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♦ Don’t be a Menace to New York City While Drinking Your Adult Bevarage at SantaCon
♦ Viral Video of the Week: Don’t Let Your Cat Decorate the Christmas Tree