Starting today, Rouen, the centre of ice hockey in the French Normandy region, will host the IIHF Continental Cup Final for the fourth time after 2009, 2012 and 2014.
Four teams are qualified for the final tournament and will battle for the winners’ plate and the chance to play in the Champions Hockey League next season.
The tournament will start on Friday with the Herning-Tychy and Asiago-Rouen games. The organizer offers a live stream for all games. Click here for the 2016 IIHF Continental Cup Final website.
The Rouen Dragons finished the preliminary round with the best record when they hosted one of the two semi-final tournaments, and compete for the Continental Cup championship plate on home ice.
French national team forward Sacha Treille shone with three goals and Dany Sabourin had a 94.12 save percentage in the Group E semi-final . Treille has been a big acquisition for Rouen, after years in the top Czech and German leagues he joined Rouen as did his brother Yorick joining from league rival Grenoble. 40-year-old former NHLer Jason Krog has also been a big addition, leading the team in scoring in the French Ligue Magnus. He joined other Canadians such as Marc-Andre Thinel and Francois-Pierre Guenette, who have been core players for the Dragons for many years.
In December Rouen signed former NHL forward Joel Perrault and Canadian defenceman Mark Matheson as it pursues its quest for the Continental Cup plate it last won in 2012.
After a mediocre 2014/2015 season the team is now coached by long-time national goalie Fabrice Lhenry. The Dragons sit at 11-5 and in third place six points behind leader Gap Rapaces. Rouen also won the French Cup final on Sunday against Grenoble, which was the first hockey game held in the Paris Bercy arena after its renovation. The Dragons also reached the final of the League Cup against Gap.
Herning Blue Fox
The Herning Blue Fox won the other semi-final tournament in Asiago and are the other unbeaten team in Continental Cup play this year although it had a tough start in domestic play. Herning started in the Metal Ligaen with five losses in six games but has meanwhile recovered and moved up to fifth place with a 16-13 record.
While the team from the host city of the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship (together with Copenhagen) had an okay performance on defence with 64 conceded goals – second-lowest in the league – it lacked in scoring with only 76 goals and no players in the top-10 in point and goal scoring.
American forward Jordan George comes closest with 16 goals and 26 points in 24 games and three goals in the Continental Cup semi-finals followed by former Finnish World Junior medallist Tomas Sinisalo.
Herning’s strentgh is on the blue line with national team experience from home-grown players Daniel Nielsen, Kristoffer Lauridsen and Rasmus Nielsen as well as Steffen Frank, who joined in October.
Italian champion Asiago Hockey also qualified for the final tournament, finishing its Group D home tournament in second place thanks to a strong showing of its Italian-Canadian players. Goaltender Christopher Carrozzi had a tournament-best 95.35 save percentage while Anthony Luciani, who joined the team in November, Anthony Nigro and Layne Ulmer were among the top-10 in scoring. Another Italian-Canadian, Sean Bentivoglio, who is in his fifth season in Asiago, leads the team in scoring in Serie A play with 10 goals and 33 points.
Unfortunately it hasn’t been enough in domestic play, as Asiago is in fourth place in the league with a 14-14 record and 27 points behind leader Ritten Sport.
The team has several players with national-team background such as Daniel Sullivan, who was joined this year by his brother Mike, Stefano Marchetti, Diego Iori, Andreas Lutz, Andrea Ambrosi, Enrico Miglioranzi, Matteo Tessari, Lorenzo Casetti, Federico Benetti and up-and-coming 20-year-old Asiago native Marco Magnabosco. A CHL berth would go a long way towards marking this season a success for the Italian club.
Polish champion GKS Tychy marched to the final through the preliminary round winning the second-round event on home ice edging the Coventry Blaze from Great Britain and then finishing the semi-final tournament in Rouen behind the host but before Shakhtyor Soligorsk from Belarus and Ukrainian champion HK Kremenchuk.
Efficient scoring and strong goaltending from Czech netminder Stefan Zigardy have been the keys to success for this Continental Cup Final contender, the first Polish team to advance to the final tournament.
Tychy is currently in second place in the PHL behind Cracovia Krakow with a 24-9 record and is a high scoring team in the league. The offence is led by national team players Mikolaj Lopuski, Marcin Kolusz and Czech forward Josef Vitek, who moved from the second Czech league to Poland eight years ago.
Given the short history of Polish clubs at the Continental Cup, Tychy will return to Rouen as the underdog but that’s a role the team feels perfectly comfortable with.