Continental Cup goes west
by Martin Merk|11 JAN 2019
The SSE Arena Belfast will host this year’s IIHF Continental Cup Final.
photo: William Cherry
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The IIHF Continental Cup Final has never gone as much to the west as this week. Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland, hosts the European club competition and the Belfast Giants representing the United Kingdom will be joined by Kazakh champion Arlan Kokshetau, GKS Katowice from Poland and HK Gomel from Belarus in the quest for the winners’ plate.

All games will be played at The SSE Arena Belfast with a capacity for 6,600 fans for ice hockey this weekend. The venue previously successfully hosted a third-round tournament as well as the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group B.

Click here to access the 2019 IIHF Continental Cup Final website.
2019 IIHF Continental Cup Final
The 2019 IIHF Continental Cup Final will be played 11-13 January 2019 in Belfast, Northern Ireland (UK).
09 JAN 2019

Arlan Kokshetau

Arlan Kokshetau enters the tournament as top seed with the best record in the third round. The team from the city of 145,000 inhabitants in the north of Kazakhstan won the national championship for the first time last spring and has its premiere season internationally. The club was only founded in 2009 when the domestic championship expanded to more cities.

The current season has also been a success for Arlan not only internationally but also at home. The team travels to Belfast as first-ranked team in Kazakhstan with a four-point gap to second-placed Yertis Pavlodar, a previous Continental Cup finalist. The team has a 30-10 record in the Championship of Kazakhstan after 40 rounds and scored no less than 137 goals. 

Opposed to other teams in the domestic championship, Arlan doesn’t count on imports from the west. All players in Belfast were born either in Kazakhstan or Russia. National team player Ivan Kiselyov and Russian forwards Dmitri Potaichuk and Dmitri Shitkov are the best scorers, although at the third-round event of the Continental Cup the Kazakhs didn’t have to count on individual players as seven players were responsible for the eight goals including towering defenceman Vladimir Malevich with two markers. In goal Arlan also trusts on Russian-trained players. Ivan Poloshov is among the best goaltenders in the league and played two of the three games in the previous round while Mikhail Demidov had a shutout in his only Continental Cup game.

Kazakh teams have qualified several times for the Continental Cup Final and now Arlan aims at becoming the first team from the country to win it all. They will have to play in Belfast without two recent transfers as Eliezer Sherbatov and Alexander Syrei have both played in the Continental Cup this season for other teams and are thus not eligible as by the IIHF Continental Cup Regulations.

Belfast Giants

Like Arlan the Belfast Giants won their tournament in the third round to advance to the final. And they did so on home ice.

After the last weekend the Giants sit in second place in the Elite Ice Hockey League, which has teams from all parts of the United Kingdom, and just one point behind the Cardiff Devils with a 26-9 record and the best defence in the league with 81 conceded goals in 35 games. The Giants hope to step into the footsteps of the Nottingham Panthers, who became the only team from the UK to win the Continental Cup two years ago.

The Giants heavily count on Canadian players up front. Blair Riley (23+22=45) and Darcy Murphy (23+20=43) have scored more than a third of the Giants’ goals in the league, David Rutherford (14+29=43) and defenceman Josh Roach (3+32=35) are the top passers. These players along with Patrick Dwyer also shone with three or more points in the last Continental Cup round. If you want to beat the Giants, you’ll need to find a recipe to stop them. In the net Canadian Tyler Beskorowany has had a great season so far and is backed up by Scotsman Stephen Murphy.

GKS Katowice

The city of Katowice is well known as a host in international ice hockey but staged a comeback in European club competition after over four decades of absence. GKS Katowice once won championships in the ‘60s and ‘70s and has rejoined Poland’s top league in 2016.

GKS Katowice is now stronger than ever in the new millennium. The club qualified as the runner-up of the Polish Hockey League behind GKS Tychy, which played in the CHL. This season Katowice leads the league three points ahead of Tychy with 88 points from 35 games and most goals scored (179) in the league.

The team can count on some of the top Polish national team players including leading scorers Patryk Wronka (19+29=48) and Grzegorz Pasiut (16+26=42). There are also some import players including a contingent of five Finnish players that were most recently joined by Jesse Jyrkkio. Janne Laakkonen (13+29+42) and Jesse Rohtla (19+20=39) are third and fourth in scoring followed by Slovak veteran defenceman Martin Cakajik (7+28=35). Laakonen was instrumental in Katowice’s second-place finish in the last round en route to the final with three goals and five points in three games.

In the net GKS Katowice counts on the skills of Kevin Lindskoug. The Swedish goalie had a save percentage of over 94 per cent in both league and Continental Cup play.

Poland has yet to win an international club competition but GKS Katowice hopes to be in shape to change this.

HK Gomel

Former Continental Cup Final host HK Gomel, which won its only national championship in 2003, also made the final after a second-place finish in the last round. The team took the spot for Belarus because Yunost Minsk as last Continental Cup winner and Neman Grodno as national champion both played in the Champions Hockey League. Considering the results in the Belarusian Extraliga, the team indeed travels to Belfast as an underdog.

Gomel currently sits in fifth place in the Belarusian Extraliga with a 18-20 record. Also the goal record of 80-89 is negative. But don’t get fooled by the numbers as teams from Belarus have traditionally played well in the Continental Cup. The plate went to Belarus four times including three wins by Yunost Minsk, most recently one year ago on home ice.

HK Gomel was founded in 2000 at the beginning of an era that saw new ice rinks constructed around the country. Since then they have been among the top teams in the league. It’s noteworthy that almost all players come from Belarus and most of them were born and raised in Gomel, a city of half a million people in the southeast of Belarus close to the border with Ukraine.

After the departure of Alexander Zhidkikh to league rival Yunost Minsk during the season, Yevgeni Solomonov (8+11=19) and Andrei Kolosov (7+12=19) lead the team in scoring while Yevgeni Khuzeyev has most goals (10+7=17). However, the trio is still behind Zhidkikh, who had 23 points in just 22 games. Roman Bobariko and Alexei Merzlov change duties in the net.

Ticket to the CHL

As in the past seasons, the winner of the IIHF Continental Cup will also have the chance to play in the Champions Hockey League of the upcoming season pending formal approval by the CHL Board. The CHL Board recently decided that Belfast, Gomel and Katowice fulfil its criteria and will be eligible to play in the CHL if they win the Continental Cup.

Watch Live

If you’re not able to watch the games at the arena, the Belfast Giants offer a live stream here. IIHF.com will provide you with a live ticker, stories, photos and game highlights throughout the tournament. Don’t forget to follow us in social media on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and VK.

Click here to access the 2019 IIHF Continental Cup Final website.