ROUEN – The IIHF Continental Cup Super Final comes back to Rouen after three years. Common and new faces alike battle for the winners’ plate in the picturesque Normandy city this weekend.
After Yunost Minsk had won the Continental Cup one year ago on home ice in Minsk, the final tournament goes back to France where it took place in Rouen 2009 and in Grenoble 2010.
“It’s the third time the Continental Cup comes to Rouen and the second time Rouen hosts the Super Final,” said Hans Dobida, the IIHF Life Member and Chairman of the tournament. “It was always exceptionally well organized with a full arena. And we will also have fans coming from the other countries here.”
France is looking forward to hosting the event. “I want to thank the IIHF for believing in our capabilities to host the event,” Luc Tardif, the President of the French Ice Hockey Federation, said at a press conference. “We like challenges. Rouen is a strong hockey city in France and we hope to give our recommendations as we apply to host the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship together with Germany with Paris as the French venue. We will have strong competition with Latvia and Denmark.”
Belarus’ Yunost Minsk aims for the third Continental Cup title in four final participations, having won the event in 2007 and 2011 while missing it out in 2010 vs. Austria’s Salzburg.
Long-time coach Mikhail Zakharov can rely on a Yunost team composed of veteran players that have been with the club for ages and – as the club name (“Youth”) indicates – fresh talent. Apart from Zakharov himself, defenceman Andrei Karev and forward Vladislav Klochkov will take part in the Super Final for the fourth time in the Yunost jersey.
The coach’s son Konstantin Zakharov is among the top youngsters on the team while most of the top players are national team mainstays such as Sergei Zadelenov (Belarus), Oleg Tymchenko (Ukraine) and Armands Berzins (Latvia), and many of them already in their 30s.
The opening game between Yunost and Ukrainian champion Donbass Donetsk will be highly anticipated, not only by the teams. Not only will Tymchenko play against many fellow countrymen, but the team from the eastern Ukrainian mining city includes many former Yunost players: Former Belarusian national team goalkeeper Stepan Goryachevskikh, Belarusian defenceman Alexei Shagov, Belarusian forward Alexander Borovkov, former Russian KHL forward Denis Kochetkov and Ukrainian national team players Olexander Materukhin and Oleg Shafarenko.
The Ukrainian clubs is a real up-and-comer. After ambitiously recruiting players to the mining city, Donbass Donetsk became Ukrainian champion for the first time in 2011 and joined the VHL, Russia’s second-tier league, with the objective to build a major arena in order to join the KHL and bid for the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship together with capital city Kyiv.
Joining the VHL meant another summer of signings. Most of the players are new on the team, among them another international player, former Ukrainian NHLer Sergi Varlamov (Calgary, St. Louis), who is one of several KHL signings.
Donbass takes part in the Continental Cup for the first time and had to go through a qualification tournament, which it won on home ice vs. Rubin Tyumen (Russia), Cracovia Krakow (Poland) and Liepajas Metalurgs (Latvia).
While Yunost and Donbass will meet in a Slavic clash Friday afternoon, the evening game will see another neighbouring rivalry when host team Rouen Dragons will be fired up for Italian champion HC Asiago.
France has been represented on five occasions in the Super Final, four times by the Rouen Dragons. The eleven-fold French champion achieved the best result when it hosted the event at Patinoire Île Lacroix, on the city’s island of the same name in River Seine. In 2009 Rouen won the silver medals, ranked only behind Slovak winner MHC Martin.
Similar to Yunost, the team is built up on consistency. The team is managed by Quebec-born Guy Fournier, who joined the club as a player back in 1988, and Rodolphe Garnier, who is in his third year as a head coach with the team, same as French national team goalkeeper Fabrice Lhenry.
The offence is led by Quebecers. Carl Mallette, Marc-André Thinel, Julien Desrosiers (who has represented France internationally since 2005), François-Pierre Guénette and Jean-Philippe Paré have notched more than 20 points each in 15 games in France’s Ligue Magnus.
The blueline is boosted by French returnee Antonin Manavian and Darcy Werenka, the Edmonton-born Austrian national team player.
The Frenchmen will face a team that made it to the Super Final for the first time. HC Asiago defended the Italian championship in 2011 for the club’s third “scudetto” after 2001 and 2010.
It’s the fifth time an Italian club plays in the final tournament, but it is a first for Asiago, a 6,500-soul hockey town 100 kilometres upslope from the region’s famous capital, Venice.
The Italians ended up first in the third-round group in Denmark that included Dunaujvaros (Hungary), Herning (Denmark) and Sheffield (Great Britain).
Currently only ranked sixth in the Serie A, the team is also built up on Canadian-trained players in the offence, many of them with Italian family background.
Michael Henrich leads the team in scoring with 30 points in 31 games, followed by Layne Ulmer, John Vigilante, Sean Bentivoglio, captain David Borrelli, Jason Pitton, Matt MacDonald (who played in last year’s Super Final with Danish entry SønderjyskE Vojens), Ralph Intranuovo and Drew Fata.
Most of them had stellar years in the AHL, some even played a couple of NHL games. At the same time the team includes several home-grown players including 12-time World Championship participant Michele Strazzabosco and the current or former junior national team players Matteo Tessari, Mirko Presti, Enrico Miglioranzi and Federico Benetti.
Four teams with a totally different background meet in Rouen Friday to Sunday. Four teams with one goal in mind: the plate for the Continental Cup winner.