Favourites progress to Round 3
by Henrik Manninen|16 OCT 2023
photo: © International Ice Hockey Federation
With winter fast approaching, the competition heats up in the 2024 IIHF Continental Cup. Round 2 of the competition saw Latvia´s Zemgale Jelgava overcome stern tests in all of their three round-robin games to progress from Group C. Meanwhile in Group D, Ferencvarosi TC of Hungary was superior from start to finish. Both teams now progress to the third round of the Continental Cup, the final hurdle before the final stage of the tournament.

Hosts grind out progress on home ice

The Latvian reigning champions set the tone with a key 3-1 win during the opening day against Romania´s CSM Corona Brasov. It was followed up by edging the Liege Bulldogs of Belgium 2-1 before overpowering Slovenia´s HK Celje 4-1 in the closing game in Jelgava Ice Hall.
A spirited team display throughout the tournament added with flashes of individual brilliance proved decisive for the Latvians coached by Artis Abols. One such eye-catching performance saw 20-year-old Bohdan Panasenko net a brilliant hat-trick in Zemgale´s tricky 3-1 win against Corona Brasov.
The talk of the town pre-tournament had been about Zemgale´s Martins Karsums. The former NHL forward had returned to play in the Latvian championship after two decades around the world´s top leagues. It was a move instigated by Karsums that rescued Zemgale in their second game against Liege. With the game tied at 1-1, the 37-year-old won a battle along the boards and picked out 35-year-old team captain Gatis Gricinskis who netted the winner with 2:47 left of the third frame.
Zemgale then sealed the top spot when charging ahead to down HK Celje 4-1 in a game with only Latvians tallying with one of them being HK Celje´s Mikus Mintautiskis.
Having arrived straight from Budapest following a string of tough league fixtures in Hungary, Corona Brasov of Romania finished second in Group C. They got into their stride during game two beating HK Celje 4-2 before running away as 11-2 winners against Liege in their final game.
HK Celje team captain Jure Sotlar scored three goals and added two assists in their opening day 9-3 win against Liege Bulldogs. It was to be their only win of the tournament as the Slovenians finished third in their Continental Cup debut.
Group A winners from the first round of the Continental Cup, Liege Bulldogs of Belgium battled valiantly in Jelgava with an injury-depleted roster to finish fourth. Spare a thought for Liege´s netminder Troy Passingham. The 32-year-old Canadian faced 151 shots including a heroic display when saving 50 shots in their narrow loss against top-placed Zemgale.

Zemgale can now look ahead to a second consecutive tilt in the third round of the Continental Cup. Last season they finished bottom of the group with one sole point. Next month there will be a chance for the Latvians to redeem themselves.
In the third round of the Continental Cup, Group E will be played in Grenoble, France. Zemgale Jelgava will compete with host team Bruleurs De Loups, Cardiff Devils of Great Britain and Kazakhstan´s Nomad in games played between 17-19 November 2023.

High-flying Hungarians proved unstoppable

Scoring 21 goals while conceding just one in three games, Ferencvarosi TC of Hungary´s top-place finish in Group D was never in doubt. It took 123:07 minutes before the Hungarian champions conceded their first and only goal of the round-robin tournament played in Pionir Ice Hall in Belgrade, Serbia.
In an all-round team effort from the Budapest-based team, five different players scored in blanking 5-0 in their opener against Kaunas City.
All four lines then netted for Ferencvaros as they doubled their scoring in their second game, a 10-0 rout of hosts Crvena Zvezda Belgrade. A game that included a seven-goal middle frame explosion from the reigning Hungarian champions.
In their final game against Sokil Kyiv from Ukraine, Szabolcs Fodor´s coached team had raced into a four-goal first period lead, before taking the foot off the gas in a routine 6-1 win.
Arriving in Serbia as Group B winners from the first round last month, Kaunas City ended up being the surprise package of Group D. They bounced back from their opening-day defeat by beating Soki Kyiv in their next game. Lithuanian national team defender Kostas Gusevas short-handed goal had put Kaunas in front. Before the first frame was over Denys Honcharenko and Lukas Zukauskas stretched the Lithuanian´s lead in what in the end became a memorable 5-1 win.  Kaunas finished a fine second, despite losing a shootout in their final game of the tournament against fourth-placed Crvena Zvezda.
Sokil Kyiv, in its 15th appearance in the competition, can look back at an overall disappointing display. Beating Crvena Zvezda 4-2 became their only win of the tournament as the team coached by Oleg Shafarenko finished third.
Group winners Ferencvaros can now look forward to getting their credentials tested in the third round of the Continental Cup. Group F is played in Italy´s Cortina D'Ampezzo where the Hungarian champions will lock horns against hosts SG Cortina, Denmark´s Herning Blue Fox and GKS Katowice of Poland in games played between 17-19 November 2023. The top two teams from each group will qualify for the final round contested between 12-14 January 2024.