Notthingham’s Robert MacMillan and Odense’s Frederik Sorensen battle for the puck. Their teams finished first and second and advance to the final tournament. Photo: Soren Kottal
Nottingham, Odense move on to final
The Nottingham Panthers won in Odense and advance to the final as first British team in seven years, together with host Odense Bulldogs.
At the Continental Cup Final they will be joined by the top-two teams from the other group, Ritten Sport and Beibarys Atyrau, the champions of Italy and Kazakhstan respectively. The Continental Cup winner gets the chance to play in the Champions Hockey League 2017/2018.
The Sheffield Steelers in 2009/2010 were the last team from Great Britain to make the final round. Since then the representatives from the UK failed to make it that far including the Panthers in 2013/2014.
For Denmark it will be the second straight final participation after the Herning Blue Fox making it to the final tournament last year.
The Nottingham Panthers won the semi-final tournament in Odense already on Saturday. After two wins in two games no other team had the theoretical chance to claim the tournament win since the Panthers had beaten its two closest followers, Odense and Angers, and the game against until-then-winless HC Donbass wouldn’t change the outcome of these two teams.
Two strong periods helped the Panthers win the opening game against host Odense Bulldogs. Oliver Betteridge and Brad Moran netted the puck in the opening frame, Robin Sterner scored to keep Odense in the game. But two unanswered goals in the first half of the second period from Matthew Carter and Petr Kalus gave Nottingham a 4-1 lead.
After Sterner’s second goal the British went into the second intermission with a two-goal cushion and Brian McGrattan restored the three-goal lead at 6:23 of the third period. But the game was still not over. Rasmus Lyo scored three minutes later and with the goalie pulled for the last minute of the game Dale Mitchell made it 5-4. The score outlasted the last 51 seconds of the game.
In their second game the Panthers were outshot 27-20 by French club Angers Ducs, which started the tournament with a 3-2 win against HC Donbass. Angers got the lead twice thanks to a pair of power-play goals from Canadian import Jonathan Lessard in the first period but Jeffrey Brown scored the 1-1 goal for Nottingham and early in the second period Moran tied the game at two. The middle frame was the Panthers’ strongest and Kristian Kudroc, a towering former Slovak national team defenceman who once played NHL games for the two teams from Florida, scored at 15:23 of the middle frame.
That goal changed the game. The Angers Ducs tried hard to come back but Jindrich Pacl, who represented the Czech Republic in the 2013 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship, had a strong day in the Panthers’ net. The young goalie got the start after Finnish-Swedish netminder Miika Wiikman had suffered an injury from a collision the day before.
McGrattan made it 4-2 in the last period and Gary Leveque’s 4-3 goal with 22 seconds remaining in regulation time came too late – the Panthers were final-bound. Losing the last game to fourth-placed HC Donbass, 3-1, didn’t matter anymore.
Angers and Odense battled for the second spot and the second ticket to the final on the last day after having both lost to Nottingham and beaten Donbass in one-goal wins. The hosting Bulldogs were in charge for most of the game and outshot Angers 38-27 but Ducs goalie Leo Bertein made sure the score remained narrow.
Rasmus Bjerrum and Oliver Larsen gave Odense the lead but Angers tied the game twice with markers from Mathieu Gagnon and Robin Gaborit. A penalty call against Angers’ Cody Campbell gave the hosts the edge in the dying minutes of the game. Michael Eskesen scored the game-winner with 2:01 left in the third period and with the 3-2 win Odense earned its ticket to the final.
Odense’s American forward Tony Romano led the tournament in scoring as he does in the Danish league. Angers’ Lessard and Nottingham captain Moran, a Canadian forward who once played a couple of NHL games for Columbus and Vancouver, led the event in goals with three markers apiece.
The Nottingham Panthers and the Odense Bulldogs will see each other again in the final tournament from 13-15 January 2017 together with Ritten Sport and Beibarys Atyrau. The host will be determined soon. Stay tuned on IIHF.com and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.