BELGRADE – Estonian champions Viiking Sport Tallinn will go through to the second round of the Continental Cup undefeated but with plenty still to work on.
"Each and every player in the team needs to be focused to the maximum. Once the focus was on there was a result," said head coach of Viiking Sport Tallinn Dmitri Medvedev after his team posted a clean record during the first round of the 2013-14 Continental Cup, Group A played in the Serbian capital Belgrade.
Behind the eventual runaway winners from Tallinn, the other three participating teams notched up one win each. Spanish champions Bipolo Vitoria-Gasteiz ended the tournament in second place following a lopsided 10-1 final day win against an undisciplined Partizan Belgrade team that finished at the bottom of the standings. CSKA Sofia was third thanks to a fine 4-1 opening day win against Bipolo Vitoria-Gasteiz before the Bulgarians came down with a bang the next day, losing 5-3 to the Serbian hosts.
Featuring seven players who earlier this year represented Estonia at the World Championship Division I Group B, Viiking Sport Tallinn's Continental Cup debut was an 8-3 rout of Partizan Belgrade during the opening day of the tournament.
A tougher test awaited in their next match against Bipolo Vitoria-Gasteiz. Following a sloppy Estonian power-play, the Spanish champions took a surprise lead at 15:32 thanks to a score from Venezuela-born Adrian Sosa.
Following the goal Viiking Sport Tallinn's head coach Medvedev loudly aired his dismay against his players, and it appeared to be the wake-up call the Estonians needed. Rallying back to score four unanswered goals, the Tallinn-based team then put the final nail in the coffin right at the end of the second frame with an Andrei Lukin strike finishing off the scoring in a hard-fought tie that in the end saw the Estonians prevail 5-2.
Going into the final round of games on Sunday, only the Spanish champions stood without a chance for progress to the next round. Undefeated after two games, Viiking Sport Tallinn was very much in the driver's seat with fate as they took on CSKA Sofia, who had strengthened their roster ahead of this season with the recruitment of Andrei Mukhachev, a 33-year old Russian defenceman who played in the KHL for the past five seasons.
The Bulgarians champions came out flying against Viiking Sport Tallinn as Stanislav Muhachev broke the deadlock after 2:50, then doubled the lead when newly recruited Russian youngster Maksim Subotin hit home the Bulgarian's second goal at 16:54.
"Our team was not very focused in the first period," said Viiking Sport Tallinn head coach Medvedev. "We had seen in CSKA Sofia's defeat against Partizan Belgrade the night before that they looked very tired towards the end of the game and only played with a few defensemen, so we knew we had to be more focused and play faster," he continued.
But less than two minutes into the middle frame saw the Estonians tie the game thanks to goals from Pavel Karpukhin and Maksim Borivikov.
A string of fine saves from Konstantin Mihaylov, the veteran goaltender with 24 senior World Championships for Bulgaria under his belt, fept CSKA Sofia’s chances alive. As the Estonians kept on pressing for more goals, CSKA Sofia once again took the lead thanks to another new recruit, Sweden's Anders Johnsson whose fine finish against the run of play put the score at 3-2 for the Bulgarians going into the second intermission.
In the end however, the Estonian offence proved to be too much to overcome. Their onslaught in the final frame saw them win the shots 18-4 and scoring three unanswered goals. Valeri Bobkov tied the game after 42:18. Less than four minutes later, Vadims Vabiscevics rounded the net and picked out Pavel Karpukhin in front of Mihaylov for the 4-2 score. The Latvian Vabiscevics finished off the proceedings as Lukin picked him out on a 2-on-1 which sealed the win 5-3 for Viiking Sport Tallinn.
"For the next round we will be needing a lot more focus and more speed. We will also be having three new players in our team who did not get transfer registered on time" said Medvedev.
Viiking Sport Tallinn will travel to Nottingham in the Great Britain for the second round of the Continental Cup, to be played between 18-20 October 2013. The other teams in Group B will be Nottingham Panthers (GBR), HYS The Hague (NED) and Juniors Riga (LAT).
1. Viiking Sport Tallinn (EST) 9 (through to the next round)
2. Bipolo Vitoria-Gasteiz (ESP) 3
3. CSKA Sofia (BUL) 3
4. Partizan Belgrade (SRB) 3
Individual Awards as selected by the Tournament Directorate:
Best Goalkeeper: Konstantin Mihaylov, CSKA Sofia
Best Defenseman: Roman Romanenko, Viiking Sport Tallinn
Best Forward: Pavel Karpukhin, Viiking Sport Tallinn