November 25, 2011

IIHF Continental Cup Action in Denmark and and the Ukraine

This weekend sees the IIHF Continental Cup hit the later group stages in Herning, Denmark and Donetsk, Ukraine.
There will be 2 groups of Hockey played – each group consisting of 4 teams that won their respective countries league last season.

Group D consists of HC Asiago of Italy, Sheffield Steelers of Great Britain, Dunaujvarosi Acelbikak of Hungary and hosts Herning Blue Fox.

Dunaujvarosi Acelbikak have already played through one group back in October, knocking out the champions of Belgium, Spain and The Netherlands to land their position in the group. The other 3 teams come straight into these latter stages, which is almost a semi final group stage.

Group E Consists of Rubin Tyumen of Russia, Cracovia Krakow of Poland, Liepajas Metalurgs of Latvia and hosts Donbass Donetsk.

Like their group D counterparts Dunaujvarosi Acelbikak, Liepajas Metalurgs have also already faced another qualifying group. They defeated the champions of Slovenia, Kazakhstan and Romania to get this far. Both groups kick off Friday and each team plays against each other once, with the team on top of the group come Sunday evening winning through to the Final group stage which is to be held in Rouen, France in January. Rouen Dragons and Yunot Minsk of Belarus are already in that final group so these groups are going to be extremely competitive with only the top spot seeing a team through to the final group. This is a tough weekend for all teams involved as all of them will play 3 games in 3 days.

Whilst bringing you up to date with results from both groups my main focus will be on Group D and Great Britain’s entrant to the competition, The Sheffield Steelers.

Their hosts, Herning Blue Fox have go into the weekend with a roster of 3 Netminders, 10 defencemen and 16 forwards to choose from. In comparison to this, Sheffield go to their Danish Hosts with 2 Netminders (1 being a young upcoming British player who is unlikely to see any ice time), 4 Defencemen and about 11 forwards.

An injury to star defenceman Rod Sarich (Brother of Calgary Flames Corey Sarich) picked up last weekend has seen the Steelers short benched in that area for the weekend. With the team usually running at 5 D, don’t be surprised to see RG Flath moved back there to help out this weekend.

Looking at the Hunarian champions roster, they boast 35 players to have iced already this season and Italy’s HC Asiago have 3 Netminders, 7 Defencmen and 14 Forwards on their books ready to play.

Sheffield certainly head into this tournament with the likelihood of burning out come Sunday.. However, 2 years ago with a similar size roster this Sheffield team surprised a lot of European Hockey fans by winning their group at this stage and headed to the final. That team contained some of the same players who face of in Denmark tomorrow and they have experience and heart which they hope will see them through.

For Sheffield to have any chance of finishing in that top spot again there will be certain players that need to shine this weekend and hopefully they will.

John DeCaro
John DeCaro is the man who will lead the Steelers inbetween the pipes. He is likely to play all 3 games and will huge performances to go with his huge stature in goal. It is DeCaro’s 1st season in Sheffield after spending his 6 professional years to date in the ECHL, CHL or AHL. The last 2 seasons he spent at Bossier-Shreveport Mudbugs before coming over to The Elite League In Great Britain. He currently has a save percentage of 0.935% and a GAA of 2.01 in the 21 games he has played so far.

Jeff Legue
Jeff Legue played the 2005-2006 season in the ECHL for South Carolina Stingrays and Dayton Bombers before heading to Germany the season after for his 1st taste of European Hockey. He signed for Sheffield in the 2007-2008 season and is now in his 5th year with the club. That first season brough him 43 points and he has improved on that year after year. He racked up 40 + 40 last year in 56 games and has 29 points in 22 games already this season. This guy has speed and an eye for both a great pass and the back of the net. He will be the Steelers go to guy up front.

Ashley Tait
Tait, like Legue had signed for the Steelers back in the 2007-2008 season. He did move for 1 season over to Ritten Renon in Italy but came back last season and is now the assistant player coach of the team. Tait has played for 20 seasons now in the UK and his experience will be key on the ice if games are close ones. Sheffield have 3 or 4 younger players in the team who have not experienced anything like this and Tait will be the one to keep them going and playing to the best of their ability.
Tait is also a point scorer. He has racked up over 50 points in all 3 seasons on the team and is one of the top scorers this year so far as well.

If these 3 players are on their game all weekend and the rest of the team are too, who knows what the outcome of the group will be.

Sheffield are probably the 3rd favourites going into the group but this is a team that has only lost twice in 16 league games so far and are heading to the tournament with no pressure being put on them to qualify. HC Asiago are have the pressure of being favourites and Herning have the pressure of the home fans. Maybe, just maybe this will play into the Steelers hands.

- Adam Yates

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