Belfast Giants look to do what no team from the Elite League has ever done this weekend, and win the IIHF Continental Cup in the UK. Nottingham Panthers are so far the only team from these shores to have lifted the trophy, doing so in 2017.
“This team has a chance to do something special here on home ice. It’s also something to do we haven’t done in a while, which is to win trophies in our own building. I remember my first season was the last time we did that at home,” said Head Coach Adam Keefe ahead of the Giants’ European weekend. “We want guys to come in enthusiastic and ready to go, because it’s exciting. Any time you play in a tournament like this there’s a buzz about it, and we felt that also in the Semi-Finals”.
Tonight they face Belarus’ HC Gomel, from the town of the same name located close to the borders of Russia and Ukraine in the south-east of Belarus. With Neman Grodno winning the playoffs and making the Champions Hockey League, and Yunost Minsk winning this competition last year and also qualifying for the CHL (in addition to being beaten playoff finalists), Gomel were given the Continental Cup spot as winners of the Belarusian Cup. So far this season in the country’s Extraliga, the side are midtable in their conference, with a win percentage of 47.4%. The team are one of the lower scoring, however have a relatively tight defense as well. Just two players have spent time playing in leagues outside of Belarus, Yevgeni’s Solomonov and Khuzeyev – the former playing 12 games for Avtomobilist in the KHL, while the latter iced in five games for the country’s KHL team, Dinamo Minsk. The team has lost three of their last four games heading in to this weekend.
“We’re going to Belfast with a good feeling, especially as we got past the Semi-Final stage. It’s a big plus for us that we’re going by plane this time as it’s further away, and not on a bus trip, and many of our players will remember playing in the UK for a long time,” said Solomonov. Of course we’re going there to win. But this first game is important, it will set the tone for the whole tournament.”
“We will have the opportunity to show our best quality now, and need to get the most out of every match from the very beginning. Our trump card is that all teams will play attacking hockey, and we’re more defensive,” explained forward Denis Zaychik. “Our opponents will probably not have experience playing with defensive teams and I think we will be able to catch them out a bit. Belfast will certainly play on the attack, they have lots of North Americans so they’ll be creating pressure on us.”