MINSK – Title-holder Red Bull Salzburg and host Yunost Minsk remain the only undefeated teams in the Continental Cup Super Final and will meet on Sunday evening for a game that will determine the 2011 Continental Cup winner. Salzburg defeated SønderjyskE Vojens, 3-2, after Yunost had beaten Rouen, 4-2.
Salzburg blew a 2-0 lead midway through the game, but Ramzi Abid’s power play goal in the dying minutes of the second period stayed as the game winner. It was the second goal of the night for the former NHLer, who also played in Russia, Sweden and Switzerland in the last few years.
“We had two wins and now there’s one game left,” Abid said. “We know that in Belarus they have good technique, good skaters. We have to be ready, forget the first two games and play our best game tomorrow. We have to play the way we have and stay out of the box.”
Tonight’s game was also one between two coaches who know each other pretty well.
When SønderjyskE coach Mario Simioni turned pro in the Calgary Flames organization in 1983, he was coached on the farm team Colorado Flames by now-Salzburg coach Pierre Pagé.
“He used to bench me because I didn’t play hard. He said me so often I need to have quick feet when I was a player and now I use it every day as a coach,” Simioni said after the game.
“I’m very proud of our team in the effort we put out against Minsk and Salzburg because they have much higher budgets than we have in the Danish league,” he said. “We played against a hell of a hockey team. We try to give teams very little time to breath in our league, but here we really got a lesson. They were pretty offensive and aggressive with four forwards. That’s how I like hockey. I will definitely take something from this weekend I will use for my hockey team.”
“I think he understands that coaching in Europe is not a holiday. I became a better coach when I went to Europe,” Pagé, who was an NHL head coach for eight years, said. “It’s not easy to win here, you have to respect everybody.”
The Austrians had the better start into the game while SønderjyskE was, same as yesterday, struggling with too many penalties. Salzburg opened the scoring at 8:15 on their third man advantage through Steve Regier.
Salzburg also capitalized on the next power play three minutes later when Abid sent a shot from the blueline that got past SønderjyskE netminder Alfie Michaud.
The Danes managed to create more offence later on and they capitalized when playing four on four, with six minutes left in the first period. Defenceman Dustin VanBallegooie defeated Salzburg goalkeeper Reinhard Divis with a low shot to the far post.
The roles reversed shortly in beginning of the middle stanza when SønderjyskE had two power plays and Salzburg focused on fast counter-attacks. The Austrians remained the more dangerous team, but Abid and Ryan Duncan failed with their breakaways.
The Danes on the other hand seldom managed to create a dangerous scoring chance, even with the man advantage. While they failed to score on the power play, Mads Lund equalized at two with four minutes left in the second period when the game started to settle and few expected a Danish comeback.
The Red Bulls reacted with more aggressive forechecking after the goal – and they restored the lead with 95 seconds left in the period. While Daniel Welser screened goalkeeper Michaud, Abid shot the puck past Michaud via the skates of a defenceman.
“I tried to pass Welser across and hit the defenceman’s skate,” Abid said. “It was a big one for us, it’s always big to score at the end of a period.”
For Abid the two-goal game comes in a special time. Having Tunisian roots, he was following the turmoil and the political coup in the North African country his father comes from in the hotel room.
“I’m not really connected to the country, but you always look at where you come from and keep an eye on what’s going on now,” Abid said.
Salzburg didn’t allow SønderjyskE back into the game again. The Austrians were dominating during most of the third period and SønderjyskE coach Mario Simioni couldn’t pull his goalkeeper until 35 seconds before the end of regulation time.
The score remained 3-2 for Salzburg, making the Yunost-Salzburg clash on Sunday evening a gold medal game while SønderjyskE and the Rouen Dragons will battle it out for bronze in the afternoon.
“We need to be smart tomorrow,” Pagé said, criticizing that some of his players didn’t come back from their shifts early enough. “We have to battle Minsk on their home ice with their crowd. We’re prepared because we have had many opportunities to play against international teams in the last two years. Also the two games here prepared us well for the next game.”
For Pagé it’s not only a battle for the Continental Cup title, but also to win credibility for Austrian hockey.
“Denmark sent a lot of players to Sweden and to the NHL. It was a tough match and we were happy to win,” Page said. “Belarus is right ahead of Austria in the world ranking, same as France and Denmark. Here we fight for credibility.”
One year ago Pagé and his Bulls gained credibility by winning the Continental Cup as the first Austrian team. The key was a 5-3 comeback win against Yunost Minsk trailing from 2-0. But Yunost will be ready to battle for revenge.
Both teams eye their second Continental Cup win. While Salzburg won last year, Yunost Minsk succeeded in 2007.