By Yuri Karpenko
Yunost Minsk, Red Bull Austria, Sonderjyske Denmark and Rouen France fought for the prestigious Continental Cup. Last year, the Cup was fought for in French Grenoble, with Mikhail Zakharov’s trainees also participating. However, in the first match, our guys lost to Red Bull, who eventually won. This year, the teams were viewed as the tournament’s favourites. They met again to fight for the title, with reigning champions from Salzburg defeated by Yunost Minsk, making it the first team within the post-Soviet space to win the Continental Cup twice.
Belarus saw a tougher climb to the top than Austria, struggling to beat Sonderjyske Denmark and Rouen France. The team managed to overcome Denmark 2:1 while France led the score twice before being defeated 4:2. Meanwhile, the Austrians — coached by Pierre Page — smashed these two teams with greater ease.
The final match at Minsk-Arena gathered an incredible 14,500 fans — record for a Continental Cup match. The Belarusians’ determination and fighting spirit helped them score three times by the end of the first half but Yunost fans nervously witnessed Austria narrow the gap as the game progressed. The match failed to go into overtime and the Belarusians won 4:3, giving them revenge for last year’s defeat. Mikhail Zakharov’s trainees are now through to the most prestigious tournament in Europe: the Champions’ League (being revived in 2012 at the request of the International Hockey Federation).
Bronze went to Sonderjyske, which beat Rouen in the final match. Yunost goalkeeper Mika Oksa, Sonderjyske defenseman Dustin Van Ballegooie and Red Bull striker Ryan Duncan were named best players.
“We haven’t just won the Continental Cup, gaining entry to the Champions’ League; we’ve delighted our fans and the whole country,” smiled Yunost striker Konstantin Zakharov at the post-tournament press conference. “It was more difficult for us to defeat Denmark on the first day of the tournament than it was to beat Austria. It’s essential to start with a win. Moreover, our team felt the burden of winning a ‘home match’. However, we coped with our excitement and have made hockey history.”