Five BCHL alumni in action at this year’s Spengler Cup

I’m not sure why, but I’ve always been drawn to watching the Spengler Cup. Maybe it’s the majestic imagery of the tournament being held during the magical holiday season in a gorgeous Alpine resort in the Swiss Alps. Maybe it’s the fact that the tournament doesn’t attract the same stakes or attention as the World Junior Hockey Championship, which is on at the same time.

Regardless, there’s a romanticization of the Spengler Cup for me, and it’s also a tournament that has seen many British Columbia Hockey League alumni participate. The six-team, invitation-only event has been presented since 1923 and heralds itself as the oldest invitational hockey tournament in the world.

Over the years, there are a significant number of former BCHL players who skated in the Spengler Cup – and not all for Team Canada either. Often, Canadians playing pro hockey in Europe wind up competing against their compatriots as their club teams are invited to the tournament.

This year, the clubs competing are Team Canada, Swiss teams HC Davos and HC Ambri-Piotta, Sweden’s Frölunda HC, Finnish squad KalPa, and HC Dynamo Pardubice out of Czechia. Five BCHL alumni are taking part — all of them as part of Team Canada’s roster.

Derek Grant

Hailing from Abbotsford, B.C., Grant is playing his first career season in Europe after 13 seasons of professional hockey in North America, including 427 National Hockey League games. So far in 2023-24, the 33-year-old has 11 goals and 24 points in 31 games with the ZSC Lions in Switzerland’s National League, which is the top tier of hockey in the Swiss league system.

Grant played two seasons in the BCHL with the Langley Chiefs from 2007-09. He had 49 goals and 123 points in 92 games with the Chiefs before moving on to NCAA Division I hockey at Michigan State University in 2009. The 2008 Ottawa Senators draft pick also chipped in with six goals and 13 points in 16 career Fred Page Cup playoff games in the BCHL.

He’s an alternate captain for Canada at this year’s Spengler Cup. Grant previously played for Canada West at the 2008 World Junior A Challenge.

Jordie Benn

Like Grant, Benn is also skating in his first season in Europe following a lengthy NHL career that saw him get into 607 games. The 36-year-old defender from Victoria, B.C. is with Brynäs IF of HockeyAllsvenskan, the second tier of professional hockey in Sweden, this season. In 17 games for Brynäs thus far, Benn has a pair of goals and eight points in 17 games.

He played parts of four seasons in the BCHL, starting as an affiliate player for the Victoria Salsa in 2004-05. Benn was a regular in Victoria from 2005-06 through 2007-08, compiling 24 goals and 114 points in 172 games during his BCHL career. He elevated his game in the Fred Page Cup playoffs and finished with four goals and 24 points in 39 games.

Benn was named captain of Team Canada’s entry at the Spengler Cup on Christmas Day. It’s the first time of note that he’s represented Canada at a major tournament.

Joey LaLeggia

LaLeggia is in his first season in Switzerland in 2023-24 after playing three years in Sweden. He signed with HC Lugano last June and has eight goals and 22 points in 30 NL games. The Burnaby, B.C. product got into 113 games in the Swedish Hockey League from 2020-21 to last season split between Rögle BK, Timrå IK, and HV71, tallying 29 goals and 81 points.

The 31-year-old started his BCHL career as an affiliate for the Penticton Vees in 2008-09 before making the jump as a full-time player in 2009-10. As a rookie, LaLeggia posted 13 goals and 65 points in 54 games to lead all blueliners in the league in scoring. He leveled up in 2010-11 with 20 goals and 82 points in 58 games en route to being named BCHL Most Valuable Player and Best Defenseman.

LaLeggia, who was drafted by the Edmonton Oilers in 2012, played for Canada West at the World Junior A Challenge in both 2009 and 2010.

Tyler Morley

Along with Grant and LaLeggia, Morley is another member of Team Canada playing in the Swiss National League this season. The 32-year-old has six goals and 14 points in 22 games with EHC Kloten and signed a two-year extension with the club on Dec. 13. Morley, from Burnaby, B.C. has spent the last six seasons in Europe, playing in Croatia, Finland, Sweden, and Germany after getting into one American Hockey League season with San Diego in 2016-17.

Morley, who’s a Surrey Eagles alumnus, was a Coastal Conference Second Team All-Star in the BCHL during the 2011-12 season after notching 28 goals and 65 points in 58 games. The forward played four full seasons in Surrey and tallied 67 goals and 156 points in 208 games, adding 11 goals and 19 points in 34 BCHL playoff games.

The Spengler Cup is the first time on record that Morley has worn the red and white maple leaf of Team Canada.

Massimo Rizzo

Rizzo is the lone BCHL alumnus on Team Canada at the Spengler Cup who is playing in North America this season. The 22-year-old from Burnaby, B.C. is a junior at the University of Denver with seven goals and 31 points in 18 NCAA Division I games. He has 29 goals and 113 points in 95 games with Denver over the last three seasons, winning back-to-back regular season conference championships earlier this year and in 2022.

He debuted in the BCHL with Penticton as a 15-year-old affiliate in 2016-17 and scored his first goal in the league during the playoffs. Rizzo was a regular for the Vees over the next two seasons, including as captain in 2018-19, and finished with 24 goals and 79 points in 87 games. Traded to Coquitlam in 2019, he tallied 19 goals and 44 points in 42 games with the Express before joining Chilliwack for the COVID-19-affected 2020-21 season.

Rizzo, a 2019 NHL draft pick of the Philadelphia Flyers, played for Canada Black at the 2017 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in addition to playing for Canada West at the World Junior A Challenge in 2018 and 2019.