A coincidence? Maybe, but the fact that he presented a stellar performance on the ice in Mechelen where Group B of the 2020 IIHF Continental Cup was played made him definitely one of the strongholds keeping the Spanish team in the tournament with a consistent performance each game. Txuri-Urdin beat KHL Zagreb 7-1, Herentals HYC 5-2 and Bat Yam Chiefs 5-4 earning a spot in the next round.
The 27-year-old Alcaine is not your random goalie. Besides wearing the blue and white jersey of Txuri-Urdin, he dons Spain’s national team colours since 2005/2006 and was invited by the Toronto Maple Leafs for their 2012 training camp. In 2015 while at university – he graduated as a dentist – he defended the net for Spain at the Winter Universiade in Granada, while this is his 4th consecutive Continental Cup, one with his hometown club Jaca and three with Txuri-Urdin now.
“The last couple of years Txuri-Urdin has progressed a lot and put together a great team,” Alcaine commented. “The level here at the Continental Cup is quite similar with the other teams in Spain but in our national competition, the imports make the difference.”
After their two victories versus Zagreb and Herentals, the Spanish were struggling in their last game. Trailing behind with a 0-3 on the scoreboard, Txuri-Urdin came back from almost a disastrous second period. “It’s not that we were slacking, but we made some changes in the team this year. We rejuvenated. Facing Bat Yam after playing two though games earlier in the tournament was not easy, but in the end, we pulled through and won the game,” Ander says.
Preparing for the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division II Ander finds more strenuous than the Continental Cup. “The Continental Cup is actually an awarding for your past season. So if your team changes over the summer things can be different. For the Winter Universiade, it was not the best team of the country but a team of the best students who play ice hockey. The preparation for the Worlds are the most important. The objective is getting to a higher level, so for me I think it is the most difficult and also the most stressful,” the dentist says.
“I really like the Continental Cup,” says Txuri-Urdin’s teammate and Czech import Petr Machacek. “Last year we went to Riga for the second round. We faced really good teams, professional ones. Coming here and playing against teams from Belgium, Israel and Croatia is really a great opportunity for me. I’m glad we can move to the second round once more. However, the second period against Bat Yam it seemed we almost fell asleep on the ice. Luckily we got a wake-up call from our coach.”
Indeed, Txuri-Urdin equaled the numbers after a 0-3 deficit on the scoreboard and managed to get the lead via Gabor Matyas. Bat Yam’s Aaron Spivak matched the score, but the Spanish were able to set things straight with Luis Gimenez scoring the winning goal with 40 seconds ticking on the clock ending a perfect run with three consecutive victories and pocketing a spot for the next round.
“All games were played with a high intensity,” says Txuri-Urdin team captain Imanol Lasuen. “We came prepared and started to practice early August with three sessions per week. We are happy with the result and looking forward to go to the next round.”
“It was the first time we played these teams. However, I recognize some guys from the IIHF Worlds. It was exciting to meet some players again and I’m confident we will face them once more at the next World Championship,” the team captain says. “So this was a good rehearsal in some way. In comparison with previous editions I think we had a pretty decent team. We played some good games, growing in the tournament. Our last match we took the lead but unfortunately, we lost in the last minute of the game. That’s experience. Or rather, lack of. You make a mistake which you cannot afford at this level of play. But on the brighter side, that’s also what success is all about. You learn from your mistakes. Ice hockey is making progress in Israel,” adds Kozhevnikov. “More rinks are going to be built and many kids wanna start playing hockey. The fact that we can participate at this level is a good sign.”
Croatia’s KHL Zagreb started the tournament on a bad note. Losing the first game 7-1 to Txuri-Urdin was not how team captain Igor Jacmenjak had predicted their start. Nevertheless, he’s satisfied with the final outcome: a second place in the final ranking. “We had some shifts in the team, so this was our first match with this roster. The loss against San Sebastian was actually our first game of the season. Note also that we traveled to Belgium missing six players who had to cancel their participation due to professional work commitments,” the captain explains. The team indeed improved its on-ice performance throughout the tournament pocketing victories against Bat Yam and Herentals. “We only started to practise ten days ago. Moreover, this is a young team. The majority of the players are young and lack the experience. I’m one of the few old guys on the squad,” Jacmenjak laughs. “Overall, I’m happy with the result. It’s the start of the season. I’m confident this team will get better over the next months.”
HYC team captain Mitch Morgan has mixed feelings about the performance of his squad. “Proud to be playing in the Continental Cup, but also disappointed with the final outcome. We’d expected more than a third place,” Morgan commented after the last game of the tournament. HYC won their first game 5-4 in a thriller versus Bat Yam, lost their second being dominated by Txuri-Urdin while the final match against Zagreb ended in a close thriller as well. Until the Croats took the lead in the last period scoring two consecutive goals by Domen Vedlin and Renato Platuzic in hardly 20 seconds creating a gap HYC could not bridge anymore.
“We dominated the game against Zagreb and then we gave it away in the third period,” a disappointed Mitch said. “It’s early in the season, we started three weeks ago, same as we did last season. The majority of the team are young promising players. Already last season we took all possible awards with this young team. That’s also the reason we are playing in the Continental Cup right now. Without any doubt, playing in this tournament has been a great experience and it tastes like more. Now we have some adjustments to make and work some points, but I look forward to the season and hopefully next year we play on this European platform again.”
It was HYC’s first participation in the Continental Cup. However, the club from Herentals went even a step further than participating; HYC hosted the group tournament, a first one on Belgian soil. HYC Herentals President Frank van Reeth is satisfied.
“When it was decided to that our club was going to host the Continental Cup, you start to contact volunteers and get everything going. But when it finally starts, you come across a number of practical problems that you then have to solve on the spot, so it’s been quite a challenge, but I think we pulled it off,” says a happy Club President.
“Once the competitions start you witness your team winning the first game and then of course you start dreaming a bit and checking out where the next round will be”, van Reeth jokes. “At this stage, what really matters in the end is that HYC has been given the opportunity to organize an IIHF event, and we did. Not only for HYC, but for Belgian ice hockey in general. We really saw it as something beyond club boundaries, the big picture, you know. Making the next round would have been great, but we remain realistic and humble. Promoting ice hockey in our country in a good way was also important to us. We would have liked to have staged the tournament in our home rink, but we had no ice yet and we have nets on the boards behind the goals instead of glass. Also with the temperatures of last weekend it might have caused problems in our half open ice arena. Saturday, we witnessed a 27 °C in the shadow, that would never have gone well. So a good thing that we organized it in Mechelen,” says van Reeth.
He’s grateful for all the helping hands. “We could not have organized this unless we had the cooperation of our fans and volunteers. Transport of the players, catering, security etc. We have also received many compliments for our medical aid post setting. As president of the club, I am very proud that everyone in the club cooperated to achieve this. Frank van Reeth is a happy man,” he ends.