HERNING/DONETSK – The teams for the Continental Cup Super Final in Rouen are determined. The Rouen Dragons and title-holder Yunost Minsk will be joined by HC Asiago and Donbass Donetsk, who won their groups on Sunday.
It will be the first time that Asiago and Donetsk will play in the Super Final and it’s the first time ever a club team from Ukraine has made it that far in an IIHF club competition.
For Donbass Donetsk it was a great success in their first ever IIHF tournament. The Ukrainians enter the final stage with an all-time 3-0 record.
The team from the East Ukrainian city known for its coal mines and steel industry impressed their home crowd in Group E with a lopsided 6-2 win over Latvian champion Liepajas Metalurgs and continued with a 3-1 victory over Poland’s Cracovia Krakow before meeting Rubin Tyumen, the champion of Russia’s second-tier league VHL.
Rubin was also undefeated before the last game after beating Cracovia 6-1 and edging Liepaja 4-3 thanks to Artyom Berzukov’s game-winning goal with 37 seconds left in regulation time.
The fans were right in expecting a tight game between two teams that play in the same league since Donbass Donetsk joined the VHL last summer. The club has big plans and dreams of a state-of-the-art arena and joining the KHL within the next few years. Rubin currently leads the VHL and Donbass follows with five points behind.
For their ambitious plans Donbass transferred more than a dozen of players including several Ukrainian internationals like former NHLer Sergi Varlamov, Olexander Materukhin and Oleg Shafarenko as well as some Russian KHL players.
While Rubin won the only head-to-head league game 2-0 back in September, Donbass holds the upper hand on the international stage. Varlamov opened the scoring on a power play at 4:31 and despite 16 shots on goal in the first period Rubin fell short of defeating Donbass netminder Yevgeni Tsaregorodtsev. On the contrary, Yevgeni Belukhin succeeded with a shorthander at 12:54 to make it 2-0.
Anatoli Vasiliev cut the lead with ten seconds left in the middle stanza, but the Ukrainians defended their lead in a hard-fought last period and Sergei Piskunov sealed the win with an empty netter five seconds before the final buzzer.
“I’m very pleased with the win and that our team made it to the final,” Materukhin said. “It’s not the first final for me, but I’m even happier now than when I was there with Yunost Minsk because it is with a Ukrainian team this time. It will be very interesting for me to play against Yunost in the final. The final promises to be very interesting.”
Group D, which was played in Herning, Denmark, ended up with tight standings. HC Asiago and Dunaujvarosi Acelbikak both ended up six points while host Herning Blue Fox had five.
Asiago entered Day 3 with the best perspectives. The Italians had a coming-from-behind win in a shootout against the Sheffield Steelers and also edged Dunaujvaros on Saturday when Sean Bentivoglio scored the 3-2 game-winning goal with 98 seconds left in regulation time and only one minute after he had missed on a penalty shot.
Dunaujvaros could still have won the tournament with their six points, but only if Herning had beaten Asiago in regulation time on the last day.
Although the Danes were out of competition they didn’t sit back. Herning outshot the Italians 34-28. Nikolaj Pagh and Marty Guerin netted two goals within 78 seconds midway through the first period, but the Danish lead didn’t last long. Mirco Presti cut the lead before the end of the period and Bentivoglio tied up the score three minutes after the first intermission.
The 2-2 score remained until the end of the third period and the Italians were all right with that because they earned the point for the regulation-time tie which they desperately needed to win the tournament. In the end the Danes had some consolation as Anders Poulsen scored the game-winner at 2:09 of the extra period.
It’s the first time in three years that an Italian team makes it to the last round. In 2009 Bolzano played in the final that was also staged in Rouen and they finished in third place, the best Continental Cup result of an Italian team. But for Asiago the participation in Rouen will be a first, which makes the success in Herning even sweeter.
The Continental Cup Super Final takes place 13-15 January in Rouen, France. Host Rouen Dragons and last season’s winner Yunost Minsk received a bye for the event.
Box scores: Group D
, Group E