BOLZANO/STAVANGER – It was an exciting day of deciding games in the third round of the Continental Cup on Sunday. The Bolzano Foxes and Metallurg Zhlobin secured their berth in the Super Final, the former needing overtime and the latter a shootout to advance.
The Bolzano Foxes overcame Toros Neftekamsk, while Metallurg Zhlobin spoiled the party for host Stavanger Oilers. The champions from Italy and Belarus will now join defending champion Rouen Dragons from France and Ukrainian host Donbass Donetsk in the Continental Cup Super Final, to be played 11-13 January 2013.
For Metallurg Zhlobin it was the team’s first international competition after claiming the Belarusian league title for the first time last spring.
The Bolzano Foxes qualified for the Continental Cup Super Final for the second time. Four years ago the team from South Tyrol won the third-round tournament on home ice in a tightly contested final game, 1-0 against the Coventry Blaze from Great Britain.
This time it was even tighter since the Foxes needed the extra time to defeat Russian opponent Toros Neftekamsk.
“We have an extraordinary team. We battled for this victory with our hearts, with our character and with our willingness,” Bolzano head coach Brian McCutcheon said.
In the opening game Bolzano won the “Fox Fight” 3-2 against the Herning Blue Fox. Lasse Lassen gave Herning the lead after just 39 seconds of play, but the Bolzano Foxes turned the game with three unanswered goals, including two third-period markers from MacGregor Sharp.
In the 2-0 victory over the Landshut Cannibals it was the McCutcheon family that had extra reasons to celebrate. Long-time Buffalo Sabres assistant coach Brian McCutcheon, who joined his son in Bolzano in March, watched from the bench as Mark McCutcheon scored the game-winning goal at 8:05 of the third period and the second goal into an empty net.
Toros Neftekamsk, the defending champion of Russia’s second-tier league VHL, also had a good start. They edged Landshut 2-1 with Sergei Salnikov’s game-winning goal 22 seconds before the end of regulation time and defeated Herning 3-1 thanks to two third-period markers.
On the last day Herning secured third place by blanking Landshut 4-0. All that was left was the big final between the host club Bolzano and Toros.
Italian national team player Marco Insam opened the scoring on a power play at 15:06, but Toros replied with a Sergei Sentyurin goal midway through the second period and the Russians seemed on the way to Donetsk when Vitali Kamenev gained the lead for Toros at 12:50 of the third period.
However, the Italians didn’t give up. After passes from Anton Bernard and NHLer Niklas Hjalmarsson, Markus Gander capitalized on a power play with 3:02 left in regulation time to force the extra period.
Both teams had a couple of shots in overtime, but 25 seconds before the buzzer is was McCutcheon who scored the game-winning goal and opened the celebrations before 4,300 fans at the Palaonda ice rink.
Click here for box scores from Group D in Bolzano.
In the other group in Norway it was the host Stavanger Oilers and Belarusian champion Metallurg Zhlobin, who marched in lock-step with two wins through the first two days.
The Oilers defeated Poland’s KH Sanok 7-4 in an opening game full of action but needed overtime to beat Beibarys Atyrau from Kazakhstan 3-2 on Saturday. Alexander Dolishnya tied up the game for Beibarys with just four seconds left in regulation time, but Tim Kunes scored the winning goal at 2:11 of the extra period.
Metallurg Zhlobin kept pace with Stavanger, blanking Beibarys Atyrau 3-0 before defeating KH Sanok 5-3 after the Poles had earned a 3-1 lead midway through the game.
Despite featuring Polish-born NHLer Wojtek Wolski on its roster, who scored three goals throughout the tournament, the Poles lost all games including the one on the last day, 5-1 against Beibarys Atyrau.
In the deciding game on Sunday evening Metallurg Zhlobin shocked the home crowd with a strong opening period. Dmitri Igoshin and Konstantin Nemirko made it 2-0 with two goals within a 24-second span after less than seven minutes of play.
However, the Stavanger Oilers came back with two unanswered goals. Dan Kissel’s marker cut Zhlobin’s lead in the first period. Midway through the game Christian Dahl Andersen tied the game at two.
35 seconds into the third period Martin Strandfeldt capitalized on a power play giving the Norwegians the lead. During its comeback attempt in the third period Metallurg Zhlobin had three power plays. The third time was the charm for Metallurg as Dmitri Igoshin tied the game with 40 seconds left in regulation time.
After a scoreless extra time, a shootout was needed to decide which team would be going to the Super Final. Dmitri Milchakov stopped the first two attempts from the Oilers while Metallurg forwards Konstantin Baranov and Valeri Khlebnikov scored for the Belarusian team to put the game away.
“The win is not only a gift for Zhlobin, but for Belarusian hockey as a whole. I’m very happy that we managed to win the tournament,” Metallurg Zhlobin coach Vasili Spiridonov said. “After the 2-0 lead we unfortunately didn’t capitalize on our chances, but I believed in the team until the end.”
The Belarusian newcomers will go into the Super Final in neighbouring Ukraine with a clean 3-0 record in international club competitions.
Click here for box scores from Group E in Stavanger.