Looking for the 25th Continental Cup champs
by Martin Merk|13 JAN 2023
Angers Ducs players celebrate on home ice - the French city will host the four finalists of the 25th IIHF Continental Cup.
photo: Theo Bariller-Krine
In Angers in the west of France the 25-year anniversary edition of the IIHF Continental Cup enters its final stage as the four finalists will determine the new Continental Cup champion.

All games will be shown live and for free on IIHF.com as well as in France on Fanseat and Sport en France.

Here’s what you need to know about the four club teams:

HK Nitra (Slovakia)

HK Nitra made it to the final with a 3-0 record on home ice in the third preliminary round. However, the national champion of 2016 runner-up of the Slovak Extraliga in 2014, 2017, 2019 and 2022 is having a difficult season back home. With 11 wins in 34 games they are currently 11th in the 12-team league.

In the last round Jozef Balaz stepped up for Nitra with four goals and seven points in three games including a 5-2 opening-day win against Asiago. Balaz returned from Czechia in early November and leads the team in points per game in the Extraliga (6 goals, 6 assists in 19 games). Filip Krivosik leads the team in absolute numbers (5 goals, 10 assists in 26 games) ahead of Latvian forward Filips Buncis and defender Frantisek Gajdos.

Four goalkeepers have shared ice time in the net. Canadian Matt O’Connor was the started in the last Continental Cup round but Czech goalie Libor Kasik, who like Balaz came from Karlovy Vary during the season, has also gotten ice time recently.

Cardiff Devils (Great Britain)

The Cardiff Devils are Great Britain’s playoff champs of 2022 and they are currently in third place in the regular season, same as last year. Like Nitra they won their home tournament in the preliminary round on home ice with a 3-0 record and the Welsh team hopes to repeat the success across the Channel in Angers.

The Devils had the top-four scorers of that tournament in defender Marcus Crawford and forward Trevor Cox, Brodie Reid and Ryan Penny. Also back home in the Elite Ice Hockey League the team counts on the goals of its mainly Canadian imports. Among the best known British players are long-time British national team goalkeeper Ben Bowns, who shares ice time in the net with almost equally with Canadian Taran Kozun, English-born forward Joshua Waller and of course the local hero, Ben Davies, who represented Great Britain in six men’s senior World Championship tournaments.

Asiago Hockey (Italy)

Asiago Hockey was last year the champion not only of Italy but also in the cross-border Alps Hockey League. The club won three championships in a row and for this season moved up the latter in its region to join the Austria-based cross-border ICE Hockey League. One of the promoted teams in the league, Asiago is currently in 11th place of the 13 teams.

They had to battle through two preliminary rounds to get to the final, first winning on home ice in October and the finishing second in the November round in Nitra. Allan McShane and Bryce Misley were two of the top players offensively in Nitra while Justin Fazio led the goalkeepers with a 94.74% save percentage and a 1.5 goals-against average. The first lines and the offence is led by Canadian imports. McShane is also the team’s scoring leader in the ICEHL with 18 goals and 42 points in 34 games followed by Canadian-born players with Italian heritage: Giordano Finoro, Anthony Salinitri and Randy Gazzola. Forward Michele Marchetti and veteran defender Stefano Marchetti are among the most famous Italian-trained player on the team.

Angers Ducs (France)

With a 2-1 record and a    7-4 goal record in the last round, the hosts are the last-seeded team. But never underestimate a host. The Angers Ducs will be cheered on by passioned fans in their brand-new IceParc, and the runner-ups from last year’s French playoffs will come with confidence. Currently they are ranked third in the Ligue Magnus and part of a troika dominating the league with Grenoble and Rouen. With Jonathan Charbonneau and Tommy Giroux they have the number two and three in league scoring – Charbonneau is also the top goal scorer in France.

Their top offensive players are from Canada and also goalkeeper Evan Cowley, born in Canada but having played mostly in the U.S., is from North America. The French players best known to international hockey fans are veteran defender Antonin Manavian and forward Nicolas Ritz.

Same as Asiago, the Ducs – named after the eagle-own – had to succeed in two rounds to make it to the final. They hosted a second-round tournament in October and won. And then they finished second behind the hosts in Cardiff.