“It’s unbelievable. I’m happy that we won the game. I will be able to tell this story to my children and grandchildren about these moments. What emotions. It’s the first time I won the trophy. It’s amazing. I have no words to describe my feelings,” Gasnikov said ending the game with his shootout-winning goal.
Last year Nomad Astana was close to becoming the first winner from Kazakhstan but lost the deciding game to host Yunost Minsk. History didn’t repeat for Arlan Kokshetau this year but it was a close game that remained open until the end.
For the Belfast Giants it was a bitter end. They worked long and hard to erase a two-goal first-period deficit, which they eventually did midway the third period. Both teams had chances to decide the game in the remaining minutes and during the five-minute 3-on-3 overtime but eventually the shootout had to decide. And like in the 65 minutes before Arlan Kokshetau was the more efficient team in front of the net.
The Belfast Giants outshot Arlan Kokshetau 41-30 but eventually it was Arlan’s Gasnikov who scored the deciding goal and silenced the euphoric crowd of over 5,000 fans at the SSE Arena Belfast.
The Belfast Giants had a favourable start with two power plays in the first ten minutes of the game and outshot Arlan Kokshetau 16-6 in the first period. However, the effort was not rewarded while the club from Kazakhstan showed a lesson in effectiveness in the offensive zone.
Sergei Yegorov opened the scoring with a long shot at 11:51 that beat a screened Tyler Beskorawany in the Giants net. With 1:52 left Arlan even made it 2-0. After a bad pass in Belfast’s own zone defenceman Vladimir Malevich intercepted the puck, sent it to the net where Vadim Yermolayev deflected it with his stick. A video review confirmed the stick was not too high.
At 7:44 of the third period the Belfast Giants eventually worked themselves onto the scoreboard. Josh Roach battled to win the puck at the boards in the offensive zone and brought it to Kyle Baun. He saw the puck saved but Chris Higgins scored on the rebound. 72 seconds later it came even better. Colin Shields brought the puck into the zone and fed by a side pass Dustin Johner tied the game at two. The fans at a mostly full and loud SSE Arena couldn’t believe their eyes.
“It was an exciting third period with two goals. We gave ourselves a chance. It stinks [to lose like that],” said Belfast Giants captain Blair Riley.
“They defended really well for the majority of the game. We had our opportunities the last two minutes of the game but that’s how hockey goes sometimes. We need to use moments like these to be a better team in important moments.”
Arlan Kokshetau head coach Vladimir Kapulovski took his time-out to bring his team back on track but the Belfast Giants used the euphoric atmosphere at the arena. At 10:12 the fans started cheering the supposed lead but Mark Garside’s shot just hit the net from outside. On the other side Arlan Kokshetau had its chance to regain the lead with a 5-on-3 but didn’t capitalize on it. The Belfast Giants had a man advantage during the last two minutes of regulation time with Yevgeni Gasnikov in the penalty box but let it expire without a goal. The game was headed to a 3-on-3 overtime and eventually decided in a shootout.
“We played teams we’re not used to play, saw different systems, faced this pace of play. Come playoff time, this experience will be beneficial for us.”
The first three rounds of the shootout were goalless. Patrick Dwyer was close for Belfast but his shot went from the post to the crossbar and back. Gasnikov scored in the fourth round. In the fifth round Vadim Berdnikov could have made everything clear but saw his shot saved. All pressure was on Belfast’s Justin Johner to tie the game and force tie-breaking shots after the standard five round – and he did it. David Rutherford took the first shot to start the tie-breaking rounds but it was saved. Gasnikov came for his second penalty shot attempt. He scored again and Arlan Kokshetau became Continental Cup champion in its first participation. The Belfast Giants had to settle for silver, Poland’s GKS Katowice earlier secured bronze.
The top-two teams also shared individual awards amongst themselves. Stanislav Borovikov of Arlan Kokshetau was voted Best Defenceman by the Tournament Directorate while two Belfast Giants players won other awards. Tyler Beskorowany was named Best Goaltender and his teammate Darcy Murphy Best Forward.