Nitra wins Continental Cup
by Martin Merk|15 JAN 2023
The HK Nitra players celebrate after being awarded the 2023 IIHF Continental Cup winners' plate and gold medals.
photo: Theo Bariller-Krine
Slovak club HK Nitra is the new IIHF Continental Cup champion. Nitra concluded the 25th edition of the European club competition with another win at the final tournament, 3-2 against British playoff champion Cardiff Devils.

The efficient Slovak side built up a 3-0 lead after the first period and managed to withstand the pressure from the hard-fighting team from Wales.

“We were so effective, but the picture of the game wasn’t like the score was. So we kind of knew that after first period, even though we were up by three, the game was still tight. We knew that Cardiff was a good team, so we tried to play our game,” said Filip Krivosik.

“They got their power play at the end, the five-minute penalty. That was hard but I’m happy that we made it. I think that first period was a difference maker for us, that we were just so effective at the beginning of the game and then we had a good PK.”

With this win, HK Nitra has become the fifth club from Slovakia to win the IIHF Continental Cup after league rivals HC Kosice (1998), Slovan Bratislava (2004), HKm Zvolen (2005) and MHC Martin (2009).

“It's a special tournament for us. I won championships and many games but it’s a really rare fate to win the Continental Cup. It’s great that we won the games here and I hope that we can transfer this success to the Slovak league,” said Nitra head coach Antonin Stavjana. “But right now we feel like if you can win the tournament, you can win everything.”

Among the tournament winners is also 18-year-old forward Adam Sykora, who had just returned from the 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship in Canada a week ago. It was the biggest win so far for the second-round pick of the New York Rangers, who is in his third season with the pro team of HK Nitra.

“It’s big. Everybody knows the Continental Cup. It’s been the biggest success of my career up to now. Hopefully I will achieve more of these goals,” Sykora said. “I still feel a little bit tired from the jetlag because I came last Saturday to Slovakia. But I have power and energy and I want to put it into every game.”
The HK Nitra players celebrate with their fans after the 3-2 win against the Cardiff Devils.
photo: Theo Bariller-Krine
Nitra had some chances early on thanks to a power play but an escaping Joey Martin had the best opportunity shorthanded in the fourth minute of play. But later in the period, Nitra would score three goals during a span of five minutes.

After a long pass from Luke Green to the net, Devils defender Marcus Crawford unsuccessfully tried to clear the puck and Krivosik reacted fastest to open the scoring at 14:36.

HK Nitra used the momentum and doubled the margin 77 seconds later. After capturing the puck in the neutral zone, Juraj Pekarcik and Jakub Lacka were well positioned for a 2-on-1 that ended with Lacka’s top-right-corner shot.

With 46 seconds left in the opening frame, Marek Tvrdon made it 3-0 scoring on his own rebound.
Needing a regulation-time win to secure first spot, the Cardiff Devils’ task became increasingly harder as the game went on scoreless for them. Penalty calls in the second period also didn’t make it any easier for the Welsh to find back into the game. Eventually Cole Sanford put the team on the scoreboard at 13:39 of the middle frame after a giveaway in the own zone from Tomas Hrnka.

The Cardiff Devils were pushing for another goal and were rewarded at 6:25 when Trevor Cox coming from the right boards got surprisingly much space to skate his way to the net and beat Nitra goalkeeper Libor Kasik for the 3-2 goal. The Devils’ goal song “All Stand Up (Never Say Never)” from Status Quo got a growing meaning as winning the game suddenly seemed more than a mere theoretical possibility.

“We were 3-0 and then we got two goals. Before the third period, the coach told us that we need to play simple, play as one team, block the shots and we did all these things right and that’s the reason why we won this game,” said Sykora.

A major penalty for kneeing against Nitra’s Reid Duke at 12:42 gave the Cardiff Devils the opportunity to play five minutes with a man advantage but despite 12 shots in the period and outshooting their opponent 47-33 throughout the game, the Cardiff Devils didn’t manage to complete their comeback attempt.

“We won the tournament, so that’s a great feeling. Hopefully we carry this momentum going back to our league. That’s a really good team and they gave us a tough test and we like to make things interesting once again. But it’s nice to see us close out that game and win the Cup,” said Nitra forward Sahir Gill.

“We obviously knew that they’ve got two periods left to play and they’re a good team. They were obviously going to come in and push in and get some chances. We defended pretty well and we hung on for the win.”

Slovak club HK Nitra won the game 3-2 and won the 2023 IIHF Continental Cup undefeated both in the final round and in the preliminary round. In the end they celebrated with their fans who made all the way to Angers in a stick and clap ceremony. Later after the Asiago-Angers game they will receive the gold medals and winners’ plate.
HK Nitra vs Cardiff Devils - 2023 IIHF Continental Cup Final