This is the 20th year of the IIHF Continental Cup Tournament. Odense, Denmark was the venue for the 3rd round of the competition and it was the 9th time that I have watched this event.

If Denmark is your destination, then a night in Copenhagen is a must; actually we spent two nights there (more on that later). Odense is a 90-minute train ride from the capital, it is the birthplace of Hans Christian Anderson and he is quite evident throughout the town. Construction greets you on arrival, a new tram network is being built, we made our way to the Radisson Hotel, chosen due to the in-house casino.

Unfortunately it is around 3 miles to the ice arena; not an issue you might think but public transport does not go directly there. We decided on a walk on the first afternoon, actually we missed the start of the Angers (Fr) v Donbass (Ukr) game. It was probably a bit of a surprise, but deserved, scoreline with the French side winning 3-2. Maxime Lacroix (former Steeler) scored and was named man of the match in a very entertaining encounter.

In between games there was an invite from the Odense fans to visit their supporters ‘house’. It was down a poorly lit muddy track, but many fans from Odense, Nottingham, Angers and even Hamburg gathered there for drinks, chat and music and it was a really good atmosphere. Unfortunately there was no wine at the club, I therefore had to drink the Christmas Ale, which I found out later was 5.6 abv; Panthers were bound to look better after this! We were all made very welcome during the weekend at the club and in the arena, a big thank you to the fans of Odense; this is what makes Ice Hockey fans who they are.

Panthers opening game loomed against the hosts and around 150 fans had travelled to support the team. It did not start well when a lady was, unfortunately, hit by the puck during the warm up. On the ice the team started quite well and were clearly looking to attack. Betteridge put the Panthers ahead only to be pegged back to 1-1. Then the move of the weekend for me by Macmillan allowed Moran a tap in for 2-1. Pressure then mounted on the Danish side with Carter and Kalus adding more goals. In the final period Panthers suffered a blow when goalkeeper Wiikman collided with an Odense forward and was unable to continue; in fact it finished his tournament, so enter the excitable Pacl. Another super move this time by Farmer who crossed for McGrattan who made no mistake to net Panthers 5th goal. Even so the Bulldogs hit back with 2 late goals but Panthers finally won 5-4.

After the match it would be another walk, until we spotted a taxi. We managed a few drinks in the local bars; it is a very pleasant town to walk around with some amazing (if perhaps strange) buildings. Now the casino…. roulette was the order of the day, Ice Hockey numbers had to be where the chips were placed and I have to thank Paul Adey as 22 was the main number that netted me around £200 clear, it had been a top day.

Saturday was market day in Odense and some of the produce on show was quite incredible – broccoli like you have never seen and people were buying up a storm then trying to transport it all while riding their bikes. You had to see it and we actually had to sway out of the way. Anyway back to hockey. Panther’s second game was an afternoon face-off. We tried the local bus service but still ended up with quite a walk. Angers Ducs were the opponents and, unlike the first game, penalties would cause the team some problems – quite simply this is European hockey. The French side scored 2 power play goals in the first period. However, a blatant interference call on Lachowicz was missed, and this led to one of the goals, credit though to the team who kept their discipline for the most part. Pressure was created and the goals followed through Brown and Moran to level the scores at 2-2. The middle period belonged to Kudroc. The Panthers defenceman took charge at the blue line and with some heads up play created a tip in for Moran’s equaliser and from the same position he blasted Panthers in front with a slapshot. In the final period an identical goal as scored against Odense came from Farmer’s strength down the wing with McGrattan finishing the cross (4-2). A late goal by Angers made it close but this win would all but seal Panthers place in the final. Actually this was confirmed with Odense beating Donbass 2-1 in the evening game.

Another walk, another taxi, back into Odense for a meal and more drinks. It came as a bit of a surprise that smoking is allowed in some bars (no food) when of a certain size. I had quite forgotten the smell, which is evident when you walk in; also of course it stays on your clothes. I really would not want to go back to those days here. Anyway later that evening I gave the casino a swerve, as knowing me the winnings would all have disappeared.

Final day and it would be a dead rubber for the Panthers, who would have thought that? We decided on a taxi all the way for a noon start. I managed to have a very interesting chat with a very nice gentleman at the game. He was the chairman of the Odense Ice Hockey Club. He thanked us for coming and in turn I thanked him on behalf of the fans for making us feel so welcome. I did not let the opportunity slip though and mentioned the lack of transport for the fans during the tournament. I mean surely a dedicated bus from the town would have paid for itself. The chairman also commented that Odense would love to host the final, although he admitted staging the 3rd round of the tournament had come at a financial loss to the club.

The early game was against Donbass. I had thought, actually, that the Ukraine’s would be favourites to advance from the group. It seems though that the former KHL team has suffered of late, losing some players mainly due to having to play away from their city because of the political unrest. Panthers would obviously be fatigued going into the game, they had already been short benched with injuries. Carter was now added to the list and I think I noticed Lawrence only briefly on the ice in the opening period. Panthers still had plenty of effort but would eventually go down 3-1 with an empty net decider late in the game. Brad Moran scored the Panthers goal and I thought he played well throughout the weekend. I would not pick out individuals though as it was a team effort and very well done to all involved. Later Odense sealed their place in the final with a very late winner from top scorer Tony Romano.

So the end of a great trip; we just needed to get back, actually we had decided to leave after Panthers final game. Now you know the part when things start to go wrong and then continue, well for the three of us on the trip this was the start of the road downhill. Firstly we had booked a taxi to pick us up after the game, which ended up a no show so we walked (again). It’s not so easy to flag a taxi down with a football game just starting (Odense v Brondby). We did find one eventually and got to the train station on time. The 15.58 would put us in Copenhagen in plenty of time to get to the airport but… it was late leaving, then it stopped within a mile or two and did not move for 45 minutes, rumours of a broken down train ahead. At Nyborg it failed to move again for some time and it eventually crawled into Copenhagen. It was chaos there and the airport train was even later. Result, on arrival at the Airport desk, we were told we had no chance of making the gate.

Back to Copenhagen and a need to re-group, hotel first then book another flight for Monday afternoon, inform the car parking company etc, etc. Best laid plans and all that… as you might imagine drinks were called for. In fact at 1.30am drinks were still called for, not bad for a Sunday evening, actually I remember playing table tennis at 2am, we were quite good and even managed a 3-shot rally, honestly you sometimes have to laugh these things off. It had been a great trip!

Last word on the Panthers… Congratulations to Corey and his coaching staff. Plotting a way into the final is not easy, actually with all the injuries it is extremely hard but they found a way by playing some very good hockey, outwitting their opponents and sheer effort. We look forward to the final.

Steve Flemming