MINSK – It is the time of the year when top teams of various national leagues leave home to find themselves in a group of champions. The Continental Cup plate will be awarded to a new winner in the upcoming weekend and later, women’s teams will play for European supremacy.
Last year in Grenoble, France, Red Bull Salzburg from Austria won the four-stage competition ahead of this year’s host, Belarus’ Yunost Minsk. The outcome was already pre-decided when these two teams played each other for the first game and the Austrians had a 5-3 comeback win trailing from 2-0.
The power plays were decisive. Jonathan Filewich, who scored two goals for the Bulls, pointed out the great feeling of beating a team of such an offensive calibre while Yunost coach Mikhail Zakharov talked about mistakes in the management.
This year, the winners from 2007 (Yunost) and 2010 (Salzburg) respectively won’t face each other before the last game on Sunday evening at the 15,000-seat Minsk Arena, which brings the two qualifiers into focus: Danish champion SønderjyskE Vojens and the Rouen Dragons.
Rouen left France on Wednesday after a 3-2 overtime win on home ice against Strasbourg to top the League Magnus standings two points ahead of Amiens. However, the French champion that hosted the Continental Cup Super Final two years ago is currently plagued with injuries of several top players. Teddy Da Costa and Marc-André Thinel were missing due to groin injuries. The Finn Juha Alen with a shoulder injury and his fellow countryman Ilpo Salmivirta due to sickness also missed the last game, as did Swede David Holmqvist.
The French delegation on the plane consisted of 96 persons including fans and media and the team appreciated the welcome by ladies in folkloric dresses and presents from the host. Some of the French attended the KHL game Dynamo Minsk vs. SKA St. Petersburg on Wednesday evening to get an impression of the atmosphere at Minsk Arena.
Also SønderjyskE that plays in the Continental Cup Super Final for the first time began its break from domestic league play with a home victory – 3-2 against Hvidovre.
“It was important for us to win this game and to stay in first place,” head coach Mario Simioni said. “It’s good the players didn’t think too much about the Continental Cup before the game was over. In Minsk we will play against strong teams and both the head and body must be fresh. The first game against Minsk will be the key match if we want to get far in this tournament.”
Same as Rouen, also the Danes will have support from the stands as 40 fans travelled to Minsk.
Salzburg, meanwhile has a clear ambition: to defend the Continental Cup title. But coach Pierre Pagé doesn’t think too far, doesn’t talk about the game against Yunost yet. “First we want a great start into the tournament against Rouen,” Pagé said. “They have much experience and they have the best Canadians playing in France. They’re going to be stronger than Grenoble last year.”
Five years ago, Salzburg defeated the two qualifiers Rouen, 6-0, and SønderjyskE, 5-4 in a shootout, in the preliminary round.
At home in Austria the Bulls fight against Klagenfurt for league supremacy and are currently ranked second. Klagenfurt leads with four points more on their account while Salzburg lost its last league game 5-2 in Zagreb.
Yunost also ended league play before the Continental Cup with a loss, but the reigning champion still leads the Belarusian Extraliga 12 points ahead of Neman Grodno. On Sunday they moved the top game against Neman into the Minsk Arena and lost 4-3 in a shootout.
After last year’s defeat against Salzburg the Belarusians want to do it better this time and not only organize a great event in the Minsk Arena, but also keep the Continental Cup plate in Minsk. Their first opponent on Friday evening will be SønderjyskE. The Danes already won a tournament on the road two months ago in Asiago, Italy, and seem to be ready to play party spoilers again.
Note: All rosters can be found here