GKS Katowice 5 Herning Blue Fox 4 SO (1-2, 1-1, 2-1, 0-0, 1-0)The competition got off to a lively start. GKS Katowice and Herning Blue Fox traded eight goals before the Poles avenged their OT loss against the Danes in the previous round.
Herning, meanwhile, will feel that this was a game they should have won. Despite trailing to an early goal from Japanese forward Shigeki Hitosato, Morten Poulsen stunned GKS with two quickfire goals in the last minute of the first period. Poulsen is one of the most experienced players on the Danish team, a veteran of 11 World Championship campaigns for his country and a three-time national champion with his hometown club. Both those goals were assisted by another well-known international, Andris Dzerins, a key player for Latvia over the years.
Things looked even better for Herning when Victor Cubars added a third goal at the start of the second period. Three goals in two-and-a-half minutes either side of the intermission seemed to have the Danes in control. However, roared on by a noisy contingent of often shirtless Polish fans, Katowice got a lifeline when a speculative point shot from Jakub Wanacki looped up and bemused goaltender Valdemar Andersen. Wanacki has previous with Continental Cup finals on British ice: earlier he played in the 2019 final in Belfast.
At the start of the third period, GKS tied it up on a goal from Hampus Olsson. Then the teams traded a quickfire double in the 50th minute. Mathias Bau, another Danish international, restored Herning’s lead, but only for 30 seconds. Benjamin Sokay won the puck in centre ice and did the rest himself, advancing to beat Andersen to the short side.
In overtime, Herning had a power play chance and might have won it. A vital intervention from Wanacki cut out a dangerous feed before Jesper Thornberg had Polish international goalie John Murray stretching to make a save. Bau twice misfired from a dangerous position, but Katowice held on for a shoot-out.
Then Murray came to the fore, denying every Herning attempt. At the other end, Bartosz Frasko and Sokay found the net to give GKS a hard-fought verdict.
Nomad Astana 5 Cardiff Devils 2 (2-1, 1-1, 2-0)Nomad repeated its semi-final group stage victory over Cardiff thanks to a fast start and two goals from Abay Mangisbayev. The host team battled hard and forced visiting goalie Nikita Boyarkin into 33 saves, but never recovered from allowing two goals in the first two minutes.
"It was very similar to when we played them in the last round," reflected Cardiff defender Mark Richardson. "I don't want to take anything away from them but we had a lot of the puck, a lot of pressure. and ultimately we just couldn't break through."
In the previous round, Nomad scored five goals on 29 shots to take a 5-4 verdict, while Boyarkin made 41 saves. Today the Kazakhs had five from 25 shots and Boyarkin was impressive once more.
"He's a very good goaltender," concluded Richardson. "I think he's the backbone of their team and it was tough to get something past him."
It wasn’t the start the Devils were hoping for. Nomad scored on its first two attacks, jumping to a 2-0 lead on 2:10. Stanislav Alexandrov opened the scoring and before the crowd had settled down again, Abay Mangibayev doubled the lead after Danil Butenko sent the puck around the boards and Dmitriy Makayev got it to the doorstep for the young Kazakh prospect.
Rocked by that start, Cardiff looked for a way back. James Arniel halved the deficit with a well-executed individual effort, collecting the puck in centre ice and winning his duel with Nikita Boyarkin in the Astana net. Later there were good chances for Cole Sanford and Marcus Crawford to tie the game. However, at the first break, a 15-6 shot count for Cardiff could not cancel out Nomad’s 2-1 lead.
At the start of the third period, Nomad got a third goal. Just 55 seconds into the session, Nikolay Shulga got on the end of Artur Gatiyatov’s feed at the back door. Cardiff’s problems intensified when goalscorer Arniel was ejected from the game for a check to the head, but the home PK nullified Nomad’s pressure to stay in the game. And there was a lifeline in the 35th minute when a speculative point shot from Bode Wilde looped through traffic and deceived the impressive Boyarkin.
But Nomad would not be denied. Mangisbayev got his second of the night in the third period, benefitting from a big deflection off Cardiff defender Josh Batch to make it 4-2 before a Mikhail Rakhmanov empty-net tally completed the win.