It was the third and final day yesterday of the 2019 IIHF Continental Cup. After winning their opening two games apiece, Kazakhstan’s Arlan Kokshetau and the Elite League’s Belfast Giants locked horns to see who would be the latest winners of this tournament. Prior to the Final, GKS Katowice and HK Gomel faced off earlier in a dead rubber game which would determine who would finish in third place. Here’s how it all unfolded.
Game 5: HK Gomel 0 – 5 GKS Katowice
Having shipped 13 goals in their games against Arlan and Belfast, Gomel were expected to be swept aside by Katowice and that’s exactly what happened. Katowice outshot the Belarusians by almost two and half shots to one as they finished the tournament on a high. The game was just a mere 17 seconds old when Mikolaj Lopuski lit the lamp and it was to prove to be a great game for the former Milton Keynes Lightning winger as he added a second on the powerplay at 13:19 and then completed a natural straight hat-trick just 27 seconds into the middle frame.
A minute and half after Lopuski had scored his hat-trick goal, the game was as dead as the importance of it when Marek Strzyzowski netted a fourth for GKS. The icing on the came in the final stages as Jesse Jyrkkio completed the nap hand, with his netminder Kevin Lindskoug secured a 17 shot shutout.
Game 6: Arlan Kokshetau 3 – 2 Belfast Giants (after penalty shots)
Adam Keefe and his Belfast Giants suffered agony as their bid to become the Elite League’s second winner of the Continental Cup; ended in a penalty shootout loss. Despite being outshot in the opening period 16-6, Arlan showed ruthless efficiency to finish the first twenty two goals to the good. The men on target being Sergei Yegorov and Vadim Yermolayev. Giants kept pushing in the middle period but were finding the goaltending of Ivan Poloshov a tough nut to crack.
Eventually they found a way through at 47:44 when the man they call the “Belfast Datsyuk” (Chris Higgins) got the Giants on the board and just over a minute Dustin Johner had the home side back on parity. The Odyssey was bouncing as they looked to roar the hosts to glory. No further goals followed in the remaining regulation time and five minutes of 4 on 4 overtime hockey, so we headed into the dreaded penalty shootout. After three rounds, the teams were still not separated. Yevgeni Gasnikov gave Arlan the advantage with a successful conversion in round four but with elimination facing; Johner scored with Giants fifth to force sudden death. Poloshov saved David Rutherford’s attempt in round six, and then it was Gasnikov who stepped up to net the winning penalty shot and crush the Giants’ dreams.
So Arlan Kokshetau are the 2019 Continental Cup winners, but they won’t be in the CHL next season as they haven’t met the provisional eligibility. The Giants could still feature if they win the EIHL crown or grab the now wild card on offer. Adam Keefe and his team can hold their collective heads high, they have done the Elite League proud indeed. They deserve a shot at the CHL.