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Canada to face Fribourg in Sunday’s Spengler Cup semi-finals

Fribourg's Julien Sprunger, left, vies for the puck with Adler Mannheim's Matthias Plachta, right, during the game HC Fribourg Gotteron against Adler Mannheim at the 86th Spengler Cup ice hockey tournament, in Davos, Switzerland, Saturday, Dec. 29, 2012.

Salvatore Di Nolfi/AP

Before Canada's rousing 5-0 win over HC Davos at the Spengler Cup earlier this week, captain Ryan Smyth got two important pieces of advice from his young family.

"I told him to bodycheck someone into the boards!" said his four-year-old son Alexander. Smyth's daughters, nine-year old Isabella and seven-year-old Elizabeth, told their daddy to score a goal.

Smyth did both, showing that family can be a motivating factor at the Spengler Cup.

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"To have my family supporting me and being here is a true blessing," said Smyth. "Being a husband and a father is the best thing in the world ... and for Hockey Canada to bring them here and treat them so well, it's obviously very special."

The 25 Canadian players travelled to Davos, Switzerland for the tournament with an entourage of about 130 people. That includes wives, girlfriends, sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, relatives and yes, even pets.

"Sometimes when you don't have a great game, to get back to your room and see your dog ... it helps," said forward Jason Williams. "He's there, he's happy, he's wagging his tail, he doesn't know what happens so yeah, it means a lot."

The Canadian team — one of six sides in the Dec. 26-31 tournament — is usually comprised of Canadian-born pros based in Switzerland along with players from other European leagues and the American Hockey League. The squad is deeper this year since several locked-out NHLers are playing overseas.

Canada will play HC Fribourg in the semifinals on Sunday after the Swiss team defeated Adler Mannheim 5-2 on Saturday to advance. Fribourg is boosted by NHL players like Max Talbot (Philadelphia Flyers), Patric Hornqvist (Nashville Predators), David Desharnais (Montreal Canadiens) and Cory Schneider (Vancouver Canucks).

Host side HC Davos outscored the KHL's Salavat Yulaev Ufa 7-5 in the other quarter-final and will next play the Czech Republic's HC Vitkovice Steel.

The Spengler Cup final is scheduled for Monday.

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The Canadians last won the tournament in 2007, while Davos took last year's crown.

"It's been phenomenal," Smyth said of his experience so far. "With the atmosphere here it's an honour to be a part of it, plus it's a little more family oriented."

Brad Pascall, Hockey Canada's vice-president of national teams, said the organization strives to make tournaments a special occasion for families because of the numerous benefits.

"It's so important to have that great support and spend your holiday with your loved ones," he said. "We do everything we can to ensure the families have activities and enjoy themselves when the players need to focus."

Jason Spezza brought his wife, two kids and his parents from back home.

"My dad knows my game pretty well, so we talk hockey a little bit," Spezza said. "Just having the whole family here in one of the most beautiful places in the world makes everything more enjoyable."

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Smyth's wife Stacey said just being present for her husband and telling him she loves him, whether he wins or loses, seems to help him during the grind of a high-pressure tournament.

"There's so much of his life that he's away from us," she said. "It's great when we have the opportunities to be together, and Hockey Canada always makes sure the families are involved."

"He puts his whole heart into it, and is very passionate about being both a hockey player and a father," she added. "He's definitely gotten better at leaving hockey problems at the rink though."

Nonetheless, Stacey remembers many occasions, such as when Smyth lost Game 7 of the Stanley Cup in 2006, where he just couldn't help his work affecting his attitude at home.

"I take my job very seriously," said Smyth. "My family has sacrificed a lot and I owe them a great deal for what I put them through."

So far in Switzerland, the Smyth family has enjoyed horse carriage rides, skating parties, great food and numerous sleigh and toboggan rides with the other families.

"I love travelling with daddy because its fun and I love my family," said his daughter, Isabella. "And when I tell him to have a good game, he does."

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