Blair living the life of Riley in 2019

Blair got his hands on the Spengler Cup with Team Canada at New Year (PHOTO: Tatiana Gonzalez)

It could be a quiz question in a few years time when it can be asked ‘who won the Elite League championship and Spengler Cup in the same calendar year?’ That man would be Blair Riley.

The Cardiff Devils forward is back after a whirlwind week in Davos, Switzerland over the festive period where he realised a boyhood dream of playing for his country and left with a fantastic souvenir – a winner’s medal.

Between that and an Elite League winners medal in his pocket from his time at Belfast Giants, 2019 turned out to be a really good year for the 34-year-old.

But Riley admits his late call-up to the Team Canada squad for the Spengler Cup meant he was prepared for the possibility of not playing at all.

“I was told straight away there was an injury and because of the numbers, there was no guarantee I would play so I was fully aware of the situation when I went out there,” he said.

“I had no expectations of getting game action to be honest and was more than happy to practice and take in as much of the experience as I could.

“I didn’t play in the first game and I was fine with it so I was able to get another practice day in and get comfortable with the surroundings and my team-mates.  It was a quicker pace so I was able to get used to that as well.

“Playing in the second game was special, for sure.  It was against Davos, the home team and the atmosphere was passionate with some loud fans so it was unique to be able to be involved in that.

HIGHLIGHTS: Team Canada win the 2019 Spengler Cup

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous beforehand and probably the most nervous I’d been for quite a while.  Just being a Canadian hockey player and getting the chance to put the Maple Leaf jersey on is something every kid dreams of.

“Back home, a lot of people tune in and watch it and I remember doing it myself as a kid so to be able to set foot on the ice there was amazing.”

The call-up came late on and with the tournament starting on Boxing Day, Riley’s Christmas plans were thrown out the window when he got the phone call he definitely wasn’t expecting.

Put it this way, a quiet Christmas with some team-mates then preparation for the busy festive period with the Devils turned into something unexpected.

He said: “After the game on the 22nd, when we played Manchester Storm, Shane Doan, the assistant general manager for Team Canada called me as we were getting ready for the team’s Christmas party.  

“I had to say yes or no straight away and I spoke to the coach, Andrew Lord, to explain the situation to him.

“I then talked with Todd Kelman too and they were both excited for me and encouraging of the opportunity so I was thankful for that, bearing in mind I would be missing for four important games over the festive period.

“From there, my girlfriend and I were on a flight the day after, travelled most of the day by going to Zurich first, spending the night there then on to Davos for Christmas Eve, where I met the team and had a quick practice.

Riley (left) with Shane Doan, Team Canada’s assistant GM and team-mate Scottie Upshall (PHOTO: Tatiana Gonzalez)

“The original plans for Christmas were certainly to be more quieter than what happened and I didn’t expect that curveball.

“I didn’t have time to get excited about it, such was the quickness of it all.  It was unique in a lot of ways and a cool place to spend the holidays, but surreal as well.”

The Canadians came out on top for the fourth time in five years, beating Czech Republic side HC Ocelari Trinec in the final 4-0.

They started the campaign against the same side, winning 4-1 – the game Riley was scratched for – but he was in the team that beat hosts HC Davos 5-1.

Winning their group meant they avoided the quarter finals and headed straight into the last four, where they shut out Finnish side TPS Turku 6-0 before claiming a spot in the final, where they claimed the trophy.

Being on the winning team capped off an experience never to be forgotten for Riley as he reflected on what turned into a dream week for him.

And he ranked it highly in his own personal achievements, made more special his family back home in Canada were able to watch too.

Riley was back in action for Cardiff at the weekend in their games against Manchester Storm and Fife Flyers (PHOTO: Dave Williams)

He said: “Winning the Spengler Cup has to be right near the top for me in my career.  It’s different because you’re only with the group for about a week.  It was definitely special and any time you can win a trophy, it’s something you definitely remember.

“I was lucky to have so many friends and family following along too back home as the games were broadcast on TSN so they all got to watch.

“The way the team had progressed through the first three games, we were heavy favourites and it was a quality group Sean Burke and Shane Doan had put together.

“There was great talent and you just never know in a one-off game, the different variables such as a hot goalie, penalty trouble, injuries and as we all know, a lot of things can happen.

“The group were confident and we did have the benefit of having played a game less than Trinec so I think fatigue ended up being a factor for them.

“We had rest on our side and everything was towards a good night for Canada and the boys pulled through and got the job done after what was a tight first period.

“As for being there, I got a lot of good pictures and videos and memories I’ll cherish for a long time.

“Because it wasn’t planned, it made New Year and the celebrations all come together and it was a great experience for me.”

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