Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Spengler's special too

'Tobans named to lower-profile team

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WHILE all of Canada and most of the rest of the hockey world will be riveted on Ottawa for the World Junior Hockey Championship starting Dec. 26, Manitoba's Kirby Law will be donning a Canadian uniform in comparative obscurity in Switzerland.

The world juniors -- this year featuring Winnipeg goaltender Chet Pickard and the best young prospects from across the planet -- have become perhaps the single biggest hockey event on the global stage.

But for most of those days that Ottawa will be abuzz with budding teen superstars, aging NHL cast-offs like Law, 31, will be wearing the Maple Leaf for Canada in the annual Spengler Cup in Davos, Switzerland, Dec. 26-31.

"The first thing you feel is very honoured," Law said Wednesday in a phone interview from Switzerland, where his wife and three children are visiting over the Christmas period from their home just outside Winnipeg.

Law, who plays for Fribourg in the Swiss League, was named to Canada's team this week along with fellow Manitoban J.P. Vigier of Notre Dame de Lourdes, a 32-year-old who plays for Geneva. The pair played on the squad that won the cup last year.

"I've been (to the Spengler Cup) the past two seasons and I've lost one and I've won one.

"Obviously winning's a totally different feeling from losing, so I'm very excited to go back and try to repeat and to see some friends that I haven't seen in awhile," said Law, a McCreary native.

Law knows Canada's eyes will be focused on the world juniors and on the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge going on in Port Alberni, B.C., in late December. The Spengler Cup won't be No. 1 on anyone's radar in North America.

But for teams from Russia, the Czech Republic, Germany and, yes, Canada -- as well as for local puck fanatics in Switzerland and neighbouring European countries -- the Spengler Cup is a big deal.

"Especially here in Switzerland, it's a very big tournament," said Law, who had one point -- an assist -- in eight career NHL games with the Philadelphia Flyers over three seasons before heading to Europe.

"I don't know if people back in Canada or North America even realize how big a tournament this is and how much pressure there is when it comes to the Spengler Cup, but it's a great feeling to be a part of it."

While there won't be crowds of close to 20,000 packing the arena in Davos, the atmosphere is electric and a bit different.

"It's very hard to get a ticket," Law said. "It's sold out every game. Canada's probably the No. 1 drawing team. The atmosphere... when hockey's on, it's the No. 1 thing in the town."

The fans can be fanatical, he said, standing and chanting and beating on drums for most of the games.

"You enjoy it," said Law.

"I think the No. 1 thing is we are foreigners over here, so to get a chance to spend it with 20 other Canadian hockey players instead of sitting at home away from your friends and family back home... it's a great experience if you're going to be over here during Christmas time."

 

chris.cariou@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 18, 2008 C1

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