ROUEN, France – The Rouen Dragons had a rough start to their home tournament, but they eventually spew fire in the deciding game against the Coventry Blaze to advance to the Continental Cup Super Final in Minsk, Belarus.
It’s only the second time a French club qualifies for the final tournament, apart from the last two years when it was hosted in France, and Rouen (2009) and Grenoble (2010) received an automatic bye.
Rouen will play Belarusian host Yunost Minsk, reigning Continental Cup champion Red Bull Salzburg from Austria and Danish champion SønderjyskE Voyjens in the Super Final in Minsk, January 14-16.
In the 2003-2004 season, the Rouen Dragons also won a third-round tournament. They lost to Danish host Herning in the first game, but continued with clear wins against Vålerenga Oslo (Norway) and Unia Oswiecim (Poland) to advance. But in the final tournament, that also took place in Belarus (in Gomel), they lost all games.
Seven years later it was not much different in the third round. This time Rouen got the right to host the event on home ice at the Île Lacroix rink, but it wasn’t a smooth start for the French.
Despite outshooting Poland’s Cracovia Krakow 35-27, only Julien Desrosiers managed to find the net for Rouen when he tied the game at one. But Desroisiers had also his lowlight when he received a penalty for boarding with 44 seconds remaining in regulation time and he had to watch Polish-Canadian forward David Kostuch score the game-winning goal from the penalty box 59 seconds into overtime.
Things started to improve for the hosts on the second day when Cracovia lost to Coventry Blaze, 6-1, while Rouen defeated Latvia’s Liepajas Metalurgs, 4-1, thanks to two goals from Teddy Da Costa.
The French knew they could still win the tournament by downing the Coventry Blaze, the British team that previously not only defeated Cracovia, but also Liepaja, 6-1. The Brits had a powerful offence with Owen Fussey netting four goals and Aaron Nell three in the first two games.
2,747 fans in the sold-out, energy-charged arena saw an effective home squad in the last game on Sunday night that became a true final. Coventry took three minor penalties within three-and-a-half minutes halfway through the first period, and Rouen did well in capitalizing on these opportunities.
François-Pierre Guénette, one of five Quebec-born forwards on the roster, opened the scoring at 10:52 when Rouen had a two-man advantage. And 71 seconds later, Swedish defenceman Calle Bergström made it 2-0 with his shot from the blueline with five-on-four skaters on the ice.
Paul Thompson, coach of both the Coventry Blaze and Great Britain’s national team, was forced to take an early time-out that reached the desired effect.
Back at full strength, Russel Cowley scored the first Blaze goal at 13:21, but Guénette restored the two-goal lead two minutes later on a breakaway. The first period ended with a 3-2 lead for Rouen as Sean Selmser scored the second goal for Coventry on a rebound, after Rouen goalkeeper Fabrice Lhenry had deflected Brad Cruikshan’s short-angle shot.
In the second period Coventry came out strong as this time the French got into penalty trouble. But while the Brits had more chances, it was the French who eventually scored. Defenceman Jonathan Janil netted the puck 5:37 into the second period while his team was playing shorthanded, and five minutes later Marc-André Thinel scored another shorthander on a breakaway to make it 5-2 for Rouen.
Tthe Brits got some consolation when Jonathan Weaver scored another shorthanded goal with a slapshot from the blueline, but the French replied with two power-play goals from Desrosiers and Jens Olsson for the final score of 7-3.
With six goals in odd-man situations, the Dragons sealed the win with their fast game against the more physically playing British squad. Or as the fans chanted in the dying minutes: “If you need to be ready, Rouen is ready.”
“I thought this year was our best opportunity to succeed in this competition, but the French capitalized on the opportunities we gave them. We handed it to them,” Thompson stated after the game. “Five on five they were not a threat. But their power play was better than ours and they had a higher skill level so when they have five-on-threes, they are going to make it count.”
MARTIN MERKClick here for box scores and photos of Group D.Click here for the Super Final in Minsk.