ROUEN – In a final-worthy game full of drama the Rouen Dragons claimed the first-ever Continental Cup title for France in a three-team tie after downing favourite Donbass Donetsk 5-2. It was exactly the goal margin needed for the French.
The Rouen Dragons won the event with six points, as many as silver-medallist Yunost Minsk and bronze winner Donbass Donetsk. The points, goal differences and eventually the goals scored in the head-to-head games decided about the final ranking between the three teams, while HC Asiago was last with zero points.
The game between the hosts and the Ukrainians was as exciting as was the pre-game plot. Three different teams could have won the four-team event prior to the decisive game's dramatic finale.
Donbass was in pole position, needing just one more point, but when Rouen gained the lead, Yunost Minsk seemed to win the event on goal differential as Rouen needed a three-goal margin at least.
However, three minutes before the end of the game, when Donbass was close to tying the game, Rouen scored two goals on counter-attacks to make the Continental Cup-clinching margin of three goals perfect in a 5-2 victory, in a game that was definitely not for the faint-hearted.
Another fabulous performance of French national team goalkeeper Fabrice Lhenry, who saved 35 shots for a 94.59% save percentage, and five goals from the French-Canadian forwards were Rouen’s key to the triumph. Marc-André Thinel scored two goals and had four points.
“It’s unbelievable and very emotional. We knew the scenarios and that it would be very tough for us, but we played well and worked hard for 60 minutes,” said Lhenry.
“To score the two necessary goals with three minutes left, that’s unbelievable. That’s hockey. It’s never over until the final buzzer. I’m really happy to be part of this team that won the Continental Cup the first time for Rouen and the first time for France in front of our supporters.”
It didn’t look like a French win at all after 20 minutes. The Ukrainians outshot Rouen 15-6 in the first period that ended scoreless.
The French had a strong start into the middle stanza and had the puck close to the goal line during an early man advantage. But eventually they scored when Donbass' Yevgeni Dubrovin was on his way back from the penalty bench. François-Pierre Guénette netted the puck with his point shot after a pass from Julien Desrosiers.
Suddenly Donbass seemed like paralyzed while Rouen had the better scoring opportunities. Midway through the period Anthony Rech missed on a breakaway as did Jimi Santala.
The turn of events didn’t seem to change and at 31:55 Thinel made the Rouen fans chant even louder. He skated behind the net and succeeded with his semi-wraparound to make it 2-0.
Rouen’s dream about winning the Continental Cup – the French would need to win by a margin of at least three goals – suddenly became more realistic thanks to a strong period of the Dragons’ offence and Lhenry’s great performance in the net.
“It was an unbelievable game. It’s not self-evident to score that many goals, but we made it an open game and scored the goals in the end. It’s sensational,” said Thinel. “To win with such a scenario was not a dream, but tough realism for us. It was two great teams on the ice, but we had more energy and I’m happy we did it.”
However, Lhenry lost his bid for a shut-out at 15:48. Being screened, he let in a low shot from the blueline from Donbass' defenceman Valeri Dydykin.
Almost unbelievable, but with 1:23 left in the period Thinel tried the same trick again and scored the 3-1 goal with another semi-wraparound.
Obviously feeling too confident after their two opening wins, Donbass was suddenly threatened to lose the Continental Cup winners’ plate.
The Ukrainians tried to surge back with a hurricane of offensive action at the beginning of the third period, but the Rouen Dragons were able to withstand the pressure - until Denis Kochetkov scored on a power play at 9:52.
It was 3-2 and it seemed like the CC title would go to neither of the two teams, but to Yunost Minsk.
With 2:44 left Rouen gained new hope when Carl Mallette made it 4-2 after shooting the puck from behind the goal onto netminder Yevgeni Tsaregorodtsev’s pads and into the net.
Donbass reacted with a good scoring chance, but the Dragons defended the cage and Desrosiers escaped for a breakaway, deked Tsaregorodtsev, shot… and scored the 5-2 goal!
The arena exploded in jubilation. With only 2:22 left in regulation time, Rouen reached the three-goal margin they needed to win the tournament for the first time.
Shell-shocked Donbass had nothing more to give, and the French wouldn’t allow another goal. The 2012 IIHF Continental Cup champion is Rouen Dragons.
The players celebrated the win in a huge pile of joy and tears, and never-ending chants of fan songs and, finally, with La Marseillaise, the French national anthem from the stands.
The party was complete when the black-and-yellow-dressed Rouen fans jumped to the ice to celebrate with their players and the Continental Cup’s winners’ plate.
It was an upset of major proportions, a success which will be remembered for a long time in the hockey-crazy Normandy city.
More: Scores & Stats, Photo Gallery Rouen-Donbass