Wranglers’ Pascall leading Canada into Spengler Cup

Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Patrick Williams, TheAHL.com Features Writer

Christmas looks quite different this year for Brad Pascall.

Pascall is in Davos, Switzerland for this year’s Spengler Cup, where he is serving as co-general manager for Hockey Canada’s entry at the international club tournament. The Spengler Cup is held each December in the picturesque ski town in the Swiss Alps, and Team Canada has won the tournament 16 times, most recently in 2019.

Pascall, who is the GM of the AHL’s Calgary Wranglers, spent 18 years with Hockey Canada before joining the Flames organization in 2014.

“In hockey, the Spengler Cup is a bucket-list item,” he said.

Swiss club HC Davos hosts the six-team tournament each year between Boxing Day and New Year’s Eve. Eisstadion Davos, their home rink, resembles a ski chalet as much as it does a hockey arena.

As always this year, there is a strong AHL flavor to the tournament. Pascall worked his deep base of contacts to put together a roster that includes Belleville Senators captain Dillon Heatherington as well as fellow defensemen Nicolas Beaudin from Laval and Ty Smith from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, a pair of first-round picks from the 2018 NHL Draft working their way to find full-time NHL roles. Manitoba Moose rookie goaltender Thomas Milic is also on the squad.

“We wanted to have a good mix of size, speed, and leadership,” Pascall said.

Leading the club is head coach Bruce Boudreau, an AHL Hall of Fame member. Former AHL coach Jim Playfair is one of Boudreau’s assistants.

A long cast of AHL alumni dot the clubs’ rosters as well. While Team Canada always has a strong base of AHL alumni, the European clubs have plenty of recent AHL names as well. Gustav Rydahl is with Frolunda. Pardubice features Libor Hajek, Tomas Hyka, and Martin Kaut while Ambri-Piotta has Laurent Dauphin and Michael Spacek. Davos counts two-time Calder Cup champion Tomas Jurco among its talent.

Pascall and Team Canada are facing deep competition. The players made the trek to Switzerland late last week; in fact, Smith dressed for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton last Friday at Laval before flying overseas. So first on the itinerary is getting loose to shake off some of the jet lag and then relaxing. The Christmas Day itinerary featured an outdoor practice in Davos followed by a holiday feast for the players, staff and families.

Now it’s time for hockey. Team Canada is matched against Frolunda today. Depending on that game’s result, the team will play again Wednesday or Thursday. The second- and third-place teams in each group play again Friday, followed by the semifinals on Saturday and the championship game on Sunday.

It’s a hectic week of hockey in the middle of a busy season, but Pascall’s phone calls to teams and players are well-received.

“I have strong relationships with all the assistant GMs in the [NHL] and in the American League, so I had some good discussions,” Pascall said. “And at the end of the day, we have a number of AHL players, and I’m just absolutely thrilled to have them. I think it’s going to be a great experience for them.”

Heatherington, who won the Calder Cup as a rookie with Lake Erie in 2016, now is in his eighth pro season. With 442 AHL games to his name and having captained both Texas and Belleville, going to Davos is an opportunity to don a Team Canada jersey again; he represented Canada at the under-18 and under-20 IIHF World Junior Championship tournaments before turning pro.

“He’s over-the-moon excited,” Pascall said of Heatherington. “Those are great calls to make. The guys are pumped.”

Smith was a member of the NHL All-Rookie Team in 2020-21 with New Jersey before a trade to Pittsburgh. The 23-year-old, who is tied for second among AHL defensemen with 22 points (four goals, 18 assists) in 27 games, won a gold medal with Canada at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship. Beaudin, 24, won gold with Canada in 2021 at the IIHF World Championship. He has six assists in 13 games with the Rocket this season. Milic, who is just 20, has appeared in four games with the Moose this season.

Pascall, who was with Hockey Canada when they won the Spengler Cup in 2012, says that players new to the tournament can expect a special atmosphere. The walk from the hotel to the arena through the ski village will take players past beer tents, music, food, and fans from across the hockey map.

“You get the excitement from blocks away,” Pascall said. “It’s a really unique experience.”