3rd Round 18-20th November 2016
This is the 20th Year of the Continental Cup. It is mostly contested by European club sides that qualify by winning their domestic league or play-offs.
This week I will attend my 9th tournament; I have always travelled to see British teams in the competition. The format has changed somewhat over the years but it still remains very tough to even make the final weekend. I would suggest the best performances over the years, have come from the London Knights (ISL) in Zurich in 2001. The Knights under Chris McSorley came so close to winning the Cup. The Belfast Giants (ISL) in Lugano/Milan in 2003, played really well against some big name European sides like Davos and Lugano. The Nottingham Panthers (EIHL) were edged out in Amiens in 2004, after a spirited performance with an injury hit team (sounds familiar). Finally the Sheffield Steelers (EIHL) did make the finals by topping the group in Bolzano in 2009, this was a really ‘backs to the wall’ effort by Matsos’s team who were also short of bodies. A young Robert Farmer was excellent for the Steelers.
These days you will not find the very top teams in the Continental Cup; this is of course mainly due to the Champions Hockey League (CHL) now operating. This must not lead anyone into thinking the CC will be easier to win. The last round in Jaca may well have put this thought into the minds of some fans, do not be fooled!
So, what are Nottingham Panthers chances in Denmark?
I would look at this in three ways, firstly the current make up of the Panthers side, form and injuries. Next would be the opposition, then finally asking if our coaching staff can compete against their counterparts.
1) Jon Wright wrote an excellent article which is on my website to view, titled ‘Summer Recruitment’. You could not argue with what he wrote pre-season and now it feels even more relevant. Goal scorers in any sport are like gold dust, every team needs the best they can get, not replacing Kolnik left the question who would get the 30 goals he is capable of scoring? The club waited far too long for his decision. Corey seemed to feel that goals would come throughout the team but statistically that did not add up. Others players departed and their replacements have left the team weaker overall. The defence was supposedly going to be one of the strongest in the league. However, in one of the recent Belfast games I lost count of how many odd man rushes the Giants had. This then asked the question about players not fulfilling their role effectively or is it the system/set up? I guess only Corey can answer this but my view is he simply does not have the right personnel to execute his plans. On the other side of the coin, yet again, injuries have hit hard, in particular losing Lawrence and Shultz. The problems mount when playing short with fewer lines and more ice time, which then leads to fatigue and even more injuries. In addition players end up playing out of position and that’s when even the best laid plans start to go south.
2) The opposition in Denmark. First up will be a tough start against the hosts, the Odense Bulldogs. Their crowd will create a hostile atmosphere in a small barn. This will add to Panthers frailties. The Bulldogs are in good form and are currently second in their league, scoring 49 goals in the 16 games played. The team is mainly Danish with 4 or 5 imports. I would expect them to be highly skilled and quick, they will also be good defensively and usually backed up well in goal. Danish hockey is not at the same level as fellow Scandinavian countries like Finland and Sweden. Even so their national side has been cemented in Pool A for many years.
Angers Ducs will represent the French league and are currently sitting 6th in that league. Again, you will see many local players in their side. France is also in Pool A and has many fine players. Panthers have done well at times against French sides. However, I have seen Panthers defeated in Rouen and also witnessed a Coventry demise in Grenoble. Taking these sides lightly will post your downfall.
Donbass Donetsk, the Ukraine side, will surely start as favourites. Former winners in 2013, they will be more than difficult. Panthers will play them in the 3rd match at midday on Sunday but will the players have anything left at that point?
3) Coaching. Corey will need to be at his very best to pave the way for the Panthers to finish in the top two. Their opponents will play the usual European style, often retaining the puck, crisp passing and quick movement and will also roll out four lines. We then get to the main problem, ‘officiating’. They do not like our North American style of Hockey, they clamp down on it with soft calls, we then lose our discipline and end up short handed on many occasions during the games. Unfortunately the opposition coaches know this and instruct their players to use it to their advantage. Who can forget that game in Asiago a few years ago.
To conclude it seems I have painted a bleak picture. Panthers have no chance with all these odds stacked against them, do they? Well, yes that may well be the case, the facts are clearly there and we have all witnessed the performances to date. I would not write off the team just yet. Lets give Corey a chance. We need to find a new spirit in the camp and come out fighting. This is an opportunity for the Nottingham Panthers to reach the Continental Cup final. Lets keep the faith!