BASLE, Switzerland – After four titles in seven years, HC Davos is preparing for a new challenge: to play an NHL team. Two Davos players, Reto von Arx and Josef Marha, will meet their old team, the Chicago Blackhawks, where they played nearly a decade ago.
Apart from his year in the Chicago organization, von Arx has played only with Davos since he left his native Langnau in 1995. He quickly became a star in the Swiss league and on the national team, which he hasn’t played for since the 2002 Olympics due to differences with national coach Ralph Krueger.
In Davos and with coach Arno Del Curto, however, he feels at home. That’s why he left the NHL where he was going between the Blackhawks and the farm team Norfolk. Despite his two goals in his first-ever NHL game against Minnesota, the centre preferred to be a star in Switzerland than a fourth-liner in the NHL.
When Del Curto came to Davos in 1996, von Arx had his breakthrough season. He debuted in the A League as a 19-year-old. He was the top goal scorer at the 1996 World U20s, but was only drafted four years later.
“Arno Del Curto is definitely a reason why I stayed in Davos. It is a great town and we have a good team,” von Arx said at an exhibition tournament where Davos finished in fifth place. That might not be standard for the Swiss champion but the team has many new faces after several off-season transfers.
“We had more changes in the teams than usual, before we had just minimal transfers. We must work hard day by day,” von Arx explained. “Every year is different, and differently beautiful. We’ve been playing on the top for the last seven years but every title is different and every season a new challenge. Being constantly among the top teams is among the most difficult things in sport. Hard work is the recipe.”
Of all the NHL teams Davos could have faced, they will play against the Chicago Blackhawks, von Arx's former team, who will challenge the ZSC Lions Zurich for the Victoria Cup
the day after.
“For me it’s not different to play against Chicago than against any other NHL team as there are no former teammates there anymore,” he said. “But it will be a great opportunity for the young players."
Del Curto is also happy about the opportunity. Reporters asked him about the KHL during the tournament but joining the Russian league doesn’t seem to be an option. “We must build a European competition like the Champions Hockey League. Hopefully it will work out when the financial crisis is over,” he said.
Davos against Chicago, it will be a meeting between two of the most traditional teams in hockey. The Blackhawks were founded in 1926 and became one of the “Original Six” NHL teams. After some weak years, the Hawks emerged as a top contender with good attendance figures recently.
Davos is known as a winter sport destination, spa town, the highest city in Europe at 1,560 metres. HC Davos was founded 1921. In 1923, the Spengler Cup was founded – and it remains the oldest international club tournament. It was a cornerstone as the tournament proved to be a cash cow in modern hockey. The event keeps HC Davos alive and the finances in the black. And with its comeback as a top team in the last decade, the team boosted its title collection to a record 29.
But a handful of players have left for greener pastures. Andres Ambühl signed with the New York Rangers and Michel Riesen plays for the Rapperswil-Jona Lakers now.
But the player everybody talked about after the last championship was von Arx. He scored the game-winning goal in the last game of the final series, which was his 700th NLA game and he became post-season top scorer with seven goals and eight assists. His role will be essential for Davos.