Continental Cup premiere in Belgium
by Christian Pierre|21 SEP 2019
The HYC Herentals players celebrate a goal in the opening game against Bat Yam.
photo: Kurt Tops
Not often ice hockey history is written in Belgium – besides being the country that hosted the 1st Olympic ice hockey tournament in 1920 – but on Friday 20 September another feat was added to the hockey history books as a Belgian city hosted a round of the Continental Cup for the very first time. Venue of all the action from 20 to 22 September is the Ice Skating Center of Mechelen, a city located between Brussels and Antwerp. 

Host of the event is not Mechelen’s home club Golden Sharks, but current national champion, Belgian Cup winner and BeNe League champion HYC Herentals, which organizes the tournament in the recently built Mechelen venue since its own home ice rink ‘Netepark’ in Herentals – a semi-open arena – opens in October.

“When we got the invitation to participate in the Continental Cup, we started thinking why don’t we stage the tournament in Belgium,” says Bert Maes, head of the organizing committee. “Obviously, we wanted to host this event on our home ice, but the schedule didn’t allow us to do so, hence our temporary move to Mechelen.”

Logistically it was a challenge, but many are lending a helping hand.

“We have a good collaboration with the ice rink management and luckily we could count on a great number of volunteers. We have a lot of fans and many stepped up. Some 200 persons are currently helping us pulling this off. I’m very proud and happy how we tackled this as a club.” 

The Head of the OC likes the challenge that comes with organizing such a high-level event.

“You could say hosting such a big event is a never ending crisis management”, Bert Maes jokes. “Each and every day you’re solving those little glitches, but it’s still fun to do. We experience a good hockey atmosphere here and that’s what really counts. The moment all teams arrive, you really start to know who is in charge of each team and things run much smoother.” The head of the OC hopes this event will also boost ice hockey in Belgium. “Belgium is non-traditional ice hockey market, so any pinnacle event can boost the popularity of this great sport. And I hope this round of the Continental Cup really does.”

Captain Mitch Morgan can’t agree more. His team pocketed the first points after a victory over the Bat Yam Chiefs from Israel. “It’s a real honour for a Belgian club to host this event and also to play in this tournament. So far so good, however we started on a bad note. It’s always difficult to play against a team you don’t really know. We played a very sloppy first period. Nevertheless, we managed to get back into the game, bridge the gap and finally win 7-4. Bat Yam had a couple of good skaters, but we didn’t really underestimate them, we just had a hard time getting into the game rhythm. Let’s not forget the season has just started for us. Lesson learnt. We have to be focus from the very first face-off.”    

Tyler Maeya and Nathan Pancel are HYC’s Canadian imports. The latter was instrumental in HYC’s first victory over Bat Yam scoring a hattrick. Both former university players had not too much time to adapt to the European hockey style. “We recently arrived in Belgium and are living her two weeks now,” Nathan confirms. Picking Belgium as a destination to play hockey was not random for Nathan. “I knew a couple of guys who played here previously, and the coach also had a part in it. Everything seemed great and so far, it has been awesome.”

“Pretty much the same for me,” Tyler adds. “I looked at the track record of the team and I was impressed. And with being in the Continental cup, it gave me a great possibility to play on a good team and do a bit of traveling in Europe as well. With the Continental Cup as a first, we had to step right into it. Starting to play high-level hockey right away, it’s a bit different compared with back home in Canada with some pre-season games. But I’m sure we can both get used to it pretty quickly.” 

Adapting to the bigger ice surface Nathan sees as a plus. “I think it’s an advantage for us. I feel that I have a little bit more time and more options when moving the puck around. For instance on the powerplay, me and Tyler, we feel we have a bit more space. I really like the big ice so far.” 

Both Canadians are impressed with the level at the Continental Cup. “I think all four teams are on par. I watched all teams play. The level is pretty good,” says Nathan.  

“If we can get to the next round, it will add up more games for our team and the schedule will be pretty hectic. But you wanna play more games, that’s how you win championships. That’s our goal,” says Tyler. 

HYC Herentals beat the Bat Yam Chiefs 7-4. In the other game of the day, Spanish champion Txuri Urdin from San Sebastian-Donsotia overpowered KHL Zagreb from Croatia 7-1.