DAVOS, Switzerland – Derrick Walser admits at 35 years old he won’t be able to play hockey forever and that he didn’t know if he’d have the chance to play this year in his fourth Spengler Cup.
Team Canada’s Derrick Walser, right, celebrates his goal with teammates Tyler Seguin, left, Patrice Bergeron, second from left, Ryan Smyth, and Jason Demers, second from right, during the 2013 Spengler Cup final in Davos, Switzerland. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
After taking a puck off the hand during a penalty kill during a preseason game, Walser was sidelined for 17 regular season games with Rapperswil-Jona of the Swiss Elite League. At first he thought it was a broken hand, but he had ruptured a tendon, which needed surgery.
He was back on the ice the next day with no problems, but the swelling hadn’t gone down.
“It was one of those stupid injuries that you have to bite the bullet and get it done (surgery),” he said. “Because it’s an Olympic year it ended up costing me 17 games. (Coming back) it wasn’t the hand that was the problem, it was my wrist and the strength in my wrist. I can also feel it in the cold like anyone with aches and pains is affected by weather, but after a few drills to warm it up it feels good as new.”
In his third time at the Spengler Cup with Team Canada, one of seven players returning from the 2012 championship team, he said it will be tough to repeat this season. With the NHL work stoppage last season there were more NHL players playing in Europe, which deepened the pool of players to choose from.
“It’s going to be more of a grind because we aren’t going to have the skill that we had last year or the payroll I guess you could say,” said Walser. “It’s almost a small version of the Olympics is what we’re walking into. They have four groups there and we have two groups. If you win your games you’re fine, but if you lose a game or two it’s going to come down that crucial game and who gets the bounces at the right time.”
Team Canada opened the tournament with a 5-4 victory over the Vitkovice Steel, with Walser scoring the game-winning goal. The win means they play the host HC Davos on Saturday.
Walser was unable to be reached for comment after the game about their play against the Czech Republic based team.
Before the game they had one practice to prepare, which means they have a basic system for specific situations and special teams according to Walser, while they allow their skill and creativity to do the rest.
“We have skilled players, so it’s just trying to find the combinations that work,” he said.
He believes their D-core and former-NHL goaltender Chris Mason will be among the best in the tournament on the back end, while he’s unsure what they will be able to do up front compared to last year.
Walser added the entire event is a great experience regardless of the final result. With it falling in the middle of their regular season it’s a great opportunity to take a break from worrying about points and play with different players.
“It is and it’s not (odd playing the Spengler Cup in the middle of the season) because you get to hear stories from other teams, teams that are struggling or things going on around the league and it sort of lightens the mood,” said Walser. “My team this year has struggled all year, but we’ve played well of late. We know that, when you go back you almost feel alive again. It almost recharges you because you get to play a Canadian-style of hockey, it’s broadcast back home and puts you a little bit back in the limelight to say you aren’t washed up or not just playing hockey to play hockey.
“It’s the perfect time of the year because you take hockey at its pure moment. It’s fun. It is serious, but more strictly it’s fun.”
Not only is he representing the country, but he’s representing Nova Scotia and his hometown of New Glasgow.
“I’m proud to be over here representing Nova Scotia being the only guy over here in the Swiss league,” said Walser. “One of these years – I’m not going to be able to do this forever – so I just want to enjoy it with my family. Of course I want to be home with everyone else, but I hope everyone has a safe Christmas and maybe tune in and enjoy some great hockey.”
On Twitter: @NGNewsChris