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Ice hockey tops holiday sports agenda

Davos (yellow) will need excellent goalkeeping to end the tournament on top (Davos tourism)

The host team, HC Davos, will be attempting to win back the Spengler Cup – the oldest international ice hockey club team tournament – taking place this week.

HC Davos, which has won the tournament a record 12 times, and three of the past six years, got off to a flying start, defeating Eisbären Berlin 4-1 in the opener.

Every year, between Christmas and New Year, the organisers invite three of Europe's top club teams – as well as a selection of Canadian professionals – to compete head-to-head against HC Davos in the team's 8,000-seat stadium.

The home squad is competing against Russia's HK Khimik, Berlin's Eisbären and Mora IK from Sweden as well as Team Canada.

Prestige, as well as the cup's tight schedule, ensures competition is fierce.

Eleven games are played during the six-day competition – including a round-robin series in which each of the five teams plays each other once. The top two teams then face off in the final.

To win, teams must be consistent and recover fast from each clash – often after only an overnight break.

HC Davos, as in past years, has been strengthened with foreign players from other teams in the top Swiss league.

This time it has the services of two American defensemen, Barry Richter from EV Zug and Nick Naumenko from Ambri, Finnish forward Eero Somervuori also from Ambri and Russia's Oleg Petrov from Zug.

But Davos will have to contest the tournament without its captain, Marc Gianola, due to injury.

HK Khimik replaces Magnitogorsk Metallurg which won last year's tournament, soundly defeating the Canadians in the final, 8-3. The Russians will however remain the favourite.

Favourite Russians

Currently third in the Russian league, Khimik was able to woo three top Russians away from North America's National Hockey League and signed four players from the national team. It also boasts last year's leading scorer in the Russian league, Sergei Mozyakin.

The Spengler Cup has been an institution in Davos since local physician Carl Spengler donated the championship in 1923.

A team of Canadian students from Oxford University won the very first tournament. The competition was dominated by Czechoslovakian and Russian teams between 1965 and 1983.

In 1984 Team Canada - predominantly made up of Canadians playing in Europe - began participating and have since then won the Cup 10 times. This year's tournament is being broadcast in Canada, considered the home of ice hockey.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Date: December 26 –31

Winners since 2000:
2005 - Magnitogorsk (Russia)
2004 – Davos (host team)
2003 – Team Canada
2002 – Team Canada
2001 – Davos
2000 - Davos

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Carl Spengler

Carl Spengler was born in Davos in 1860. He died in 1937.

Spengler was not only a scholar and doctor. He was also an ardent sportsman who sought to bring together athletes from the nations that had been enemies during the First World War.

In 1923 he established the Spengler Cup, an international ice hockey tournament that still takes place every year in Davos.

Special invitations were reserved for the best club teams from Germany and Austria. Both nations had been banned from official international ice hockey competitions following the First World War.

The inaugural match in 1923 was won by Oxford University.

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