After Solik Kyiv sprang a surprise against the host team on Saturday, a three-way tie was possible. For the Hungarians, victory over Olimp was essential to join the Latvians on six points. However, to avoid relying on a huge favour from outsider Tartu Valk in the evening game against Sokil, Ferencvarosi needed to win by at least three and ideally score at least four in the process.
Olimp would progress regardless of the evening result if it could do better than a regulation loss against Ferencvarosi. A two-goal defeat or better would give the Latvians the edge in a three-way tie, but if Tartu pulled off a shock against Kyiv – and Olimp had to recover from 0-2 to defeat its near neighbour from Estonia – a two-way tie at the top would send the Hungarians through.
Ferencvarosi wins – but not by enoughOlimp arrived in Budapest as the tournament favourite. The Riga-based club was only formed in 2018 and has quickly established itself as a force in the Latvian championship. This year’s roster includes experienced former Latvian Olympians Georgijs Pujacs, 40, and Mikelis Redlihs, 37, while Brahmanis, 37, also represented his country in exhibition games. However, after a Pujacs hat trick set up a 4-1 win over Sokil in game one, the Baltic battle against Tartu Valk was more challenging. The Estonians jumped to a 2-0 lead before Riga rallied to 3-2. Even then, a Tartu team that came to Budapest by qualifying in a first-round tournament, tied it up before allowing two late goals to fall to a battling 3-5 loss.
Ferencvarosi TC, meanwhile, began with a rollicking 8-1 win over Tartu only to hit a bump when it lost 1-4 to Sokil, complicating the picture around qualification for three of the four teams. There was a further problem when Finnish forward Rasmus Kulmala, the team’s scoring leader this season, was ruled out after suffering a concussion in the game against the Estonians.
The Hungarians knew a big win was essential and got off to a good start when Gergo Nagy opened the scoring midway through the first period. Cody Fowlie broke down the right and, after his first attempt to get the puck to the slot was blocked, he spotted Nagy joining the rush. The second pass picked out his team-mate, and the Hungarian international made no mistake in front of Andrey Bonch-Bruevich’s net.
However, a goalless second period left the home team with work to do and it wasn’t until the team from Budapest scored twice in three minutes at the start of the third that Hungarian hopes really came to life. Neither goal was a highlight reel contender, both were forced home amid crowd scenes in front of the Riga net, but Juhani Tamminen and Balazs Somogyi picked up a goal and a helper apiece to push Olimp to the brink of elimination.
Ferencvarosi TC then had a great chance to go 4-0 up when it spent 71 seconds playing 5-on-3 after a needless offensive zone penalty on Pujacs. But Olimp survived that scare and the clock was running down.
At this stage, it was advantage Sokil. A 3-0 victory set up a potential three-way tie with all three contenders having a neutral goal differential. However, the Ukrainians had the edge on goals scored and would advance with a regulation win over Tartu.
That picture changed dramatically in the closing moments. Adrian Toth took a hooking penalty on 56:33 and Olimp took its chance on the power play. Pujacs and Redlihs combined to set up a Brahmanis one-timer from the left-hand dot. The most experienced players on the team produced the goal that put their team in pole position. Now, in a three-way tie, Olimp would be first; only a Tartu victory over Sokil could deny the Latvians a place in the next round.
A 53-year-old goalieEverything depended on the evening game. Sokil could no longer qualify, but if the Ukrainians defeated Tartu in regulation, the three-way tie would send Riga to the next round and there would be silver medals to take back to Kyiv. If Tartu pulled off a shock, Ferencvarosi TC would be the beneficiary in a two-team tie between them and Olimp Riga.
This time, though, there was little intrigue. Sokil fired home four unanswered goals in the first period, chasing Andrei Bunin from the Estonian net. It was an unhappy end for one of the characters of this season’s Continental Cup: born in Soviet-era Sverdlovsk (now Yekaterinburg) in 1968, son of forward Anatoli Bunin, who played extensively in the Soviet second tier, Bunin is still playing at the age of 53. That’s older than Gordie Howe when he made his final NHL appearance and four years ahead of Jaromir Jagr, still turning out for Kladno in the Czech league. However, neither Bunin nor his understudy, Juri Bahturin, could do much to slow the Sokil offence as it powered to a 9-4 victory.
Latvians dominate the individual chartsAmong the individual achievements, the two experienced Latvians Pujacs and Redlihs led the scoring. Both finished with five points, although unusually it was the defenseman Pujacs who had 4+1, while forward Redlihs mirrored him with 1+4. Juhani Tamminen of Ferencvarosi matched Redlihs’ tally.
Pujacs was also the leading goal scorer in the tournament, ahead of Gergo Nagy on three. Two Sokil players also potted a treble: veteran former KHLer Andri Mikhnov and 24-year-old former Avangard Omsk prospect Anton Ruban, who moved to Ukraine after playing senior hockey in Kazakhstan and Russia’s VHL. Olimp’s Bonch-Bruevich was the leading goalie, stopping 94.03% of the shots he faced for a GAA of exactly two. The veteran Bunin had a tougher time of it, struggling to handle the huge workload he faced in goal for the qualifier.