Nitra in pole position
by Martin Merk|14 JAN 2023
photo: Theo Bariller-Krine
HK Nitra enters the last day of the 2023 IIHF Continental Cup Final in pole position after edging host Angers Ducs 3-2 on Saturday night. The Slovaks blew a 2-0 lead but beat the French in a shootout.

Thanks to the win, Nitra leads the standings with five points ahead of the Cardiff Devils with four and Angers with three. Nitra and Cardiff will meet tomorrow afternoon at 14:00 local time (13:00 GMT) to determine the Continental Cup winner with a marginal change alive for Angers. The game will be streamed live on

Jozef Balaz and Sahir Gill scored in regulation time for Nitra and Gill also succeeded in a shootout where Nitra scored on three of four occasions.

“It was a cool experience to play them at their rink with their fans. It’s not ideal to throw a two-goal lead away that late in the game but it’s good to get that win for us. They were really coming hard and we were not able to hold on there but it’s good to get the win,” said Gill.

“We had it in our hands. It was a tough game and our players showed character after already a tough game yesterday. But that’s sport,” said Angers head coach Jason O’Leary. “I’m proud of our team but it hurts. I feel bad for the guys, for the club, for the city. It’s so many highs and lows.”

It was the game between the two undefeated teams of the tournament – one that was to make a preliminary decision for the tournament win. HK Nitra entered the game with a clean 4-0 record in this season’s Continental Cup. The Angers Ducs had just lost one game in Cardiff but avenged it by beating the Cardiff Devils 2-1 in shootout last night.

Both teams also won thanks to their goalkeepers on Friday and going head to head, the game was very much like a goalies’ game again with the better end for Nitra’s Matthew O’Connor.

Angers and Nitra both had their scoring opportunities in the first period with a statistical advantage for Nitra (12-11 shots on goal) but Angers having more quality chances.

Nitra had its best opportunity to take the lead when Phillipe Halley was sent to the penalty box for four minutes after a high-sticking incident. But the Slovaks could neither convert this man advantage that continued in the second period nor another one later when Maurin Bouvet hooked an opposing player entering the offensive zone. But the goal came for the Slovaks, and it did so with just 13.9 seconds left in the middle frame. Filip Krivosik sent a back pass from the end boards to Balaz in the left face-off circle and the latter scored from a sharp angle with a high shot.

Angers and its fans at the IceParc hoped for more luck in the third period but a counter-attack ended with the 2-0 goal for HK Nitra. Gill received the pass but couldn’t score from the left side, went behind the net and found his way to shovel the puck in from the right side with Angers goalkeeper Evan Cowley’s view disturbed after two of his teammates had collided in front of him.

“I just came out from behind and just saw some net and shot in there,” Gill said about his goal.

Angers got a ray of hope in the dying minutes of the game when Krivosik was sent to the penalty box. Jonathan Charbonneau scored the long-awaited first goal for Angers on the power play with 2:07 left on the game clock.

The atmosphere in Angers erupted and the Ducs seized the momentum. Goalkeeper Cowley was pulled for an additional skater and with 88 seconds left the home team tied the game at two. With a lot of traffic in front of the Nitra net, Brendan Harms in front of the net side-passed to Gints Meija, who scored the 2-2 goal.

“With the way we came back into the game, we hoped for a better result. Now it will be very, very difficult to win the tournament, it will need lucky circumstances for us. There’s not much we can do tomorrow except winning the game, that’s our plan,” said Angers captain Robin Gaborit.

After a scoreless five-minute overtime period with few shots at both ends the game, same as Angers’ game last night, went to a shootout.

Penalty-shot shootout:
Halley – save, Gill 0-1.
Charbonneau 1-1, Krivosik 1-2.
Harms – missed, Lacka 1-3.
Torquato 2-3, Elmer – save.
Giroux – save.

“I talked a bit with the goalie coach and kind of got a read-on of what he likes to do as a goalie and it I know what he was going to do and it worked out,” said Gill, who looks forward to the upcoming game against the Cardiff Devils.

“It’s cool that it comes down to us and them and that it’s a bit of a championship feel. We got out fate in our hands here and go to take care of business and win the tournament. We saw them play last night, they’re a good team. I expect a pretty good game tomorrow.”

Nitra needs to win the game in regulation time or in overtime or shootout to secure first place. An overtime loss may be enough in a three-team tie scenario in which Nitra scores at least one goal and Angers beats Asiago in regulation time.

The Cardiff Devils need a regulation-time win against Nitra to secure first spot. An OT/SO win will only be enough if Angers doesn’t beat Asiago in regulation time in the late game.

The Angers Ducs only have a marginal chance to win the tournament in a three-team tie. They would not only need a regulation-time win against Asiago but would also need the Cardiff Devils to beat Nitra 1-0 in overtime or shootout.

More information about the tournament format including the tie-breaking regulations can be found here.
Angers Ducs vs HK Nitra - 2023 IIHF Continental Cup Final