DONETSK – One year ago the Rouen Dragons wrote history when they defeated Donbass Donetsk 5-2 on home ice thanks to two goals in the dying minutes of the game to win the Continental Cup in a three-team tie. It was the first major title for a French team in international hockey.
This time Donbass Donetsk – meanwhile competing in the Russian-based Kontinental Hockey League – was chosen to host the Continental Cup Super Final and seeks revenge against the French. The two returning teams will be joined by the Bolzano Foxes and Metallurg Zhlobin, who both advanced to the final tournament after going to overtime in the third round in November.
The Continental Cup Super Final will take place 11-13 January in Donetsk, Ukraine.
Rouen Dragons (France)
There are teams in Europe that, once they become champions, go on to build a dynasty, with management and players staying for a long period. The Rouen Dragons are one of the best examples.
They won the French championship 12 times and represented France in the Continental Cup Super Final five times. Two times they even hosted the final tournament and ended up as the surprise winner last year.
The team is managed by Quebec-born Guy Fournier, who joined the club as a player in 1988. Rodolphe Garnier is in his fourth year as head coach, as is national team goalkeeper Fabrice Lhenry. Quebecers Marc-André Thinel, Julien Desrosiers, François-Pierre Guénette, now joined by Eric Castonguay, are pillars in the offensive department while former Swedish national team defenceman Johan Åkerman joined the team on the blue line.
After some changes the Dragons had a rough start into the season but got in shape later in autumn. With strong team play and core players who have been playing together for years, the French hope to be more than an underdog once again.
The team from the Normandy region showed its capability last season when it defeated Italian champion Asiago 6-0 and Donbass Donetsk 5-2 after losing the second game to Yunost Minsk, 4-2.
Donbass Donetsk (Ukraine)
Donbass Donetsk is a newcomer in hockey – but one on the fast lane. The mining city has been well known for football. But although hockey came to the city in the ‘70s, the hockey club as it is known today was only founded in 2005 with the re-opening of the ice rink.
Nevertheless, Donbass won the first Ukrainian championship in 2011 and joined the Russian second-tier league VHL the same year. One year later they went a step further and joined Russia’s top league, the KHL.
The team changed a lot to be ready at the next level and the investors aim to build a state of the art arena for its KHL team and a possible World Championship bid. Already last year the club signed former Ukrainian NHLer Sergi Varlamov. During the labour conflict in North America, it also added Ukraine’s current two NHLers, Ruslan Fedotenko and Olexi Ponikarovsky.
“I was surprised with the atmosphere because it’s mostly a soccer town, but now it’s becoming a hockey town as well,” Ponikarovsky said earlier this season. “It’s their first year in the league and they’re trying to make everything possible for the players. It’s a pretty good organization and when they reached out for me I said I loved to be there.”
Metallurg Zhlobin (Belarus)
Metallurg Zhlobin plays in IIHF club competitions for the first time this season and the Belarusians enter the stage of the Continental Cup Super Final with a 3-0 record from the preliminary round.
The club name appeared for the first time in the ‘80s when it participated in the championship of the Belarusian Socialist Soviet Republic at an outdoor rink, but the team dissolved a few years after Belarus’ independency in the ‘90s.
With the recent rink building initiative in Belarus, the city opened an indoor facility in 2006, which led to the founding of a new Metallurg Zhlobin club. It reached the quarterfinals of the Belarusian Extraliga in its first year of participation and became one of the country’s top teams step by step.
Last season Zhlobin won the regular season and made it to the playoff finals for the first time ever in which they defeated Neman Grodno. The win ended the reign of Yunost Minsk that had won the last three championships. It was the first time since 2003 that a team from outside of Minsk won the national title.
The team has another successful season in Belarus and also defeated Kazakhstan’s Beibarys Atyrau, Poland’s KH Sanok (with NHL forward Wojtek Wolski) and host Stavanger Oilers in a shootout to advance to the Super Final.
Bolzano Foxes (Italy)
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, also in the bilingual capital of South Tyrol, it became even tighter for the Italian champion. Bolzano won the “Fox Fight” 3-2 against the Herning Blue Fox before defeating the Landshut Cannibals 2-0. Against Toros Neftekamsk, the reigning champion of the Russian second-tier league VHL, it didn’t look good when the visitors scored the 2-1 goal late in the third period. But the Italians tied the game with three minutes left and scored again in overtime.
“We have an extraordinary team. We battled for this victory with our hearts, with our character and with our willingness,” said Bolzano head coach Brian McCutcheon, whose son was among the top players in the preliminary round. With physical play, some of the best Italian players and a number of imports, the Foxes hope for an upset in Donetsk.