Liege and Kaunas advance
by Henrik Manninen|25 SEP 2023
photo: © International Ice Hockey Federation / Miguel Ramón Henares
Liege Bulldogs and Kaunas City celebrate memorable triumphs in Round 1 of the 2024 IIHF Continental Cup. Belgium´s reigning champions Liege Bulldogs silenced the home crowd in Jaca, Spain to finish top of Group A. In Lithuania, Kaunas City marked their maiden appearance in the competition by sweeping the field in Group B. Both teams sealed historical progress in the competition and can now look ahead to Round 2 of IIHF Continental Cup staged between 13-15 October 2023.

Liege Bulldogs unstoppable in Jaca

Trailing by a goal against the Spanish hosts, Liege Bulldogs bit back scoring half a dozen unanswered goals in a memorable 6-1 win against HC Jaca in Round 1 of the Continental Cup Group A

Liege’s success earns the team a place Round 2 of the Continental Cup where it will compete in Group C. The Belgians travel to Latvia, where they will face hosts Zemgale Jelgava, Slovenia´s HK Celje and CSM Corona Brasov from Romania in a round-robin contest played from 13 to 15 October 2023.

The reigning Belgian champions will be heading there on merit. In the decider for top-spot in Group A, Jaca´s Alfred Encinar got the home crowd inside Jaca´s Pabellon De Hielo on their feet when booming home a slapshot to open the scoring at 15:03.

Having squandered an earlier opportunity to convert his penalty shot, Liege´s Milan Jurik soon redeemed himself at 26:59 when tapping home a Bryan Henry feed to tie the game. At 36:53 the Belgians were 2-1 up when Kurt Sonne went for glory on a two-on-one rush to score past Spain´s national team netminder Raul Barbo.

Having competed in the inaugural edition of the IIHF Continental Cup back in 1997/98, HC Jaca returned to the competition this season following a seven-year hiatus. Against the Belgians, they stepped out in the third frame hoping to seal progress to the next round of the competition for the third time in the club´s history.

But any hope of a Spanish fightback was soon extinguished in quick succession. At 46:07 Yoren De Smet stretched the Belgian's lead to 3-1. 25 seconds later the Belgians sailed away with a three-goal cushion courtesy of a Bryan Kolodziejczyk goal.

Jurik piled on the misery for the Spanish hosts scoring his second of the evening on a two-man-advantage. With 1:58 left of the game Loris Darques closed the scoring 6-1 to the delight of the jovial travelling contingent of Belgian fans.

Lithuanians victorious in debut

Free-scoring Kaunas City proved unstoppable on home ice to finish top of the standings of Group B. The Lithuanian reigning champions swept the field in three round-robin games netting 30 goals and conceding just five in the process.

Under the guidance of new head coach Sergi Viter, the key win for Kaunas came in the Baltic decider for the top spot against HC Panter Tallinn of Estonia. With Kaunas City running away as 9-4 winners they were led by example out on the ice by their captain Lukas Zukauskas who enjoyed a five-point afternoon.

Kaunas City held a slender 3-2 lead against HC Panter as the puck was dropped in the third period. Then the Lithuanians stepped into gear with red-hot Zukauskas taking center stage. The 25-year-old top scorer of the tournament converted his first of the evening with the vital 4-2 goal behind HC Panter´s Villem-Henrik Koitmaa at 41:37. Zukauskas then added another three goals before finishing off a memorable afternoon with a helper for Kaunas City´s final goal.

Earlier in the tournament, Kaunas City had blanked KHL Zagreb 11-0 in their opener. They continued scoring for fun right until the end brushing aside fellow Continental Cup debutants Skautafelag Reykjavikur 10-1 in the closing game of the tournament.

Second-placed HC Panter arrived in Kaunas with a roster of seven players who most recently skated for Estonia at the IIHF World Championship Division IB. They got off to a fine start blanking Skautafelag Reykjavikur 14-0 in their opener. Against Kaunas City, they started brightly and went in front on the powerplay through a one-timer by Andre Linde before running out of steam as the game wore on. They returned to winning ways in their closing game beating KHL Zagreb 6-4.

KHL Zagreb´s all Croatian roster finished third beating Skautafelag Reykjavikur 5-3 with 17-year-old Bruno Zovko enjoying a memorable afternoon notching a couple of goals and a helper.

Kaunas City´s triumph and top-place finish in Group B earns the team a place in the second round of the Continental Cup where it will compete in Group D. The Lithuanians travel to Belgrade, Serbia facing hosts Crvena Zvezda Belgrade, Sokil Kyiv of Ukraine and Hungary´s Ferencvarosi TC in a round-robin contest played 13-15 October 2023.