This year marked a bit of history for the Buffalo Sabres’ affiliate team from the American Hockey League: the Rochester Americans. The Americans had the opportunity to represent North American hockey, the AHL and the Sabres organization when they were invited to participate in the Spengler Cup. However, this was not a first as it was the second time in the 90 years of the Spengler that and AHL team took part. The interesting part is that the only other team to compete in it from the AHL was the 1996 Rochester Americans.
The Spengler Cup
The first Spengler Cup was held in 1923 and the tournament is hosted each year by HC Davos, a professional hockey team in the Swiss Professional National League A. The tournament is an invitational one, comprised of six teams, that takes place between Dec. 25 and Jan.1. Over the years, the host team, HC Davos, has won the most titles with 15, followed by Canada with 12.
The tournament was founded by Dr. Carl Spengler, a Davos native, who wanted to promote contact between nations who had opposed each other during World War 1. He donated a challenge cup and his vision to create a tournament for teams to test their strength in peaceful battles became a reality.
Over the years the tournament evolved and began to include a Team Canada, who made their debut in 1984 made up of players not playing in the NHL, mostly in Europe. Then in 1996, the first American team took part in the tournament when the Americans travelled across the pond.
1996 Rochester Americans
The Rochester team that was invited to play in the 1996 tournament was a good one, coming off a Calder Cup win the season before. Rochester had finished third in their division before breezing through the first three rounds of the playoffs losing only one game. They got to the finals and beat Portland in seven games to claim their sixth Calder Cup in franchise history.
The team was lead by coach John Tortorella behind the bench and Craig Charron and Dixon Ward upfront, who scored 95 and 94 points during the season respectively. They had wily veterans like Dan Frawley and up and comers like Scott Nichol and goalie Steve Shields.
After the turn over during the offseason the team still featured many of the same names but added the likes of Terry Yake, who went on to score 101 points during that season, and rookie Vaclav Varada who put up 48 in his first pro season. With the new additions the team was atop the league at season’s end, but were eliminated in the second round of the playoffs. However, for that team it wasn’t their regular season that they remember. It was the trip to Davos.
Frawley summed up the team’s feelings heading into the tournament. “It was very exciting to be invited to go the Spengler Cup, all the players were thrilled to have the opportunity to go to Switzerland and play in such a prestigious tournament, we had a very good team and felt we would do well.”
Much like many North American players who play in tournaments in Europe, Frawley, who is originally from Sturgeon Falls, Ontario, explained that it took some time for the he and the rest of the players to get used to the large ice. “It did take us a couple of games to get used to the big ice, we lost our first two games by a large margin but we made some adjustments and won our last two games to finish in third place. In fact our last win helped Team Canada advance to the finals, which they won.”
For the Americans, the tournament turned out to be an occasion for all of the players and their families to get away during the holiday season. “Our families really enjoyed the experience, we went skiing, tobogganing and outdoor ice skating. The food and hotel were first class, the only tough part was the long travel there and back. For an AHL team to go to Davos it was an awesome break from an otherwise long grueling season in the minors.”
During the Spengler Cup, Rochester went 2-2 in the round robin and went on to finish third.
2013 Rochester Americans
On April 19, the AHL announced that the Americans had been invited back to the tournament in 2013. “The Rochester Americans are extremely honored to have been selected to play in the 2013 Spengler Cup and represent the American Hockey League,” said Americans President Ted Black in the press release. “This is a truly unique opportunity that will provide an incredibly valuable experience for our players. In addition, the chance for the Amerks to participate in the Spengler Cup for the second time will add another chapter to the great history of this storied franchise.”
Rochester joined Team Canada, HC Davos, CSKA Moscow, Genève-Servette HC and HC Vitkovice Steel. Rochester was in a group with Moscow and Genève-Servette HC. Unfortunately, they were beaten 5-0 and 4-3. Then faced team Canada in the quarterfinals but fell 6-3 ending their tournament.
Rochester Americans 2013 highlights from their 5-0 loss to Genève-Servette HC on Dec. 26.
Even though the current Americans weren’t able to win the cup, just being there is a huge step for the franchise that is quickly becoming one of the more recognizable AHL teams on the international scale. From a Sabres perspective, they have to be happy with the experience that their prospects got playing in one of the most famous international tournaments.