ROUEN – Continental Cup newcomers Donbass Donetsk got their first win of the final tournament on the opening day. 230 enthusiastic Ukrainian fans came to France to cheer on the 2-1 victory against reigning champion Yunost Minsk.
The team from the east Ukrainian mining city gained a 2-0 lead after two strong periods in a hard-fought win and surrendered when its Belarusian opponents tried to fight back with limited success.
Russian forward Yevgeni Belukhin, a former KHL player for Lada Togliatti and Metallurg Novokuznetsk, scored both Donbass goals.
It was a kick-off for the 2012 IIHF Continental Cup Super Final with one of the most anticipated games. It was not only a neighbourly rivalry, but a game that included players who don’t see each other for the first time.
While Donbass acquired – among others – five former Yunost players in their ambition to join the KHL in the next few years, Yunost had Ukrainian national team player Oleg Tymchenko on its roster.
It was the newcomers, who had the better start. Donbass outshot Yunost 7-4 in a scoreless first period. The numbers reflected the on-ice action and Donbass continued to be the team with more puck possession and scoring opportunities in the middle stanza.
Eventually the efforts paid off at 3:41 of the second period when Belukhin escaped for a breakaway to bring the red-and-black team on the scoreboard for the first time.
Five minutes later the Ukrainians enjoyed a four-minute power play after Alexander Syrei’s stick had hit Alexander Vasiliev’s face, but Donbass didn’t capitalize on its chances.
However, just 20 seconds after the penalty had expired, another penalty was called against Yunost for too many players on the ice. 19 seconds into the power play Belukhin defeated Yunost’s Finnish goalie Mika Oska with a shot from the face-off circle.
“I really regret the mistake we did with the line change that led to the penalty,” Yunost coach Mikhail Zakharov said. “But I’m happy with the way reacted in the third period and that the players worked hard.”
After the second marker the direction of the game started to change. Yunost’s offensive lines became more and more active. Only the goal post prevented Andrei Bashko from cutting the lead in the middle stanza.
The Belarusians did it better in the beginning of the third period when Vitali Donika was sent to the penalty box for high-sticking. Yunost didn’t capitalize on the man advantage, but seven seconds later Maxim Slysh put the puck in for the 2-1 goal after a pass from Latvian national team player Armands Berzins.
However, the Belarusians weren’t able to achieve more than a goal and suffered a major blow on Day 1 of their title-defence campaign while Donbass Donetsk is now 4-0 in Continental Cup play this season including preliminary-round tournaments.
“It was great to win the first game,” said Donbass Donetsk head coach Sergi Shakurov. “We played really well throughout the game. Now I need to watch the evening game to know more about our next opponents.”
The Rouen Dragons will host HC Asiago in the evening game at 20:00.