The Yunost Minsk players are all smile after also winning their second game at the 2018 IIHF Continental Cup Final, a hard-fought victory against the Sheffield Steelers. Photo: Alisa Keptyukha
Winner-takes-all game after beating Steelers
Continental Cup host Yunost Minsk edged the Sheffield Steelers 5-4 in front of 3,800 fans at Chizhovka Arena thanks to Andri Mikhnov’s late game-winner.
It was a quite different game than the teams’ preliminary-round encounter where Yunost swept the Steelers from the ice in a 7-1 win. This time Yunost went up 2-0, 3-2 and 4-3, but each time the persistent Steelers found an answer – until Mikhnov’s 5-4 game-winning goal with 2:27 left in regulation time the Belarusians managed to defend.
“It feels great to win such a game but we still have one to go. It was tough, we expected them to play differently than in the preliminary round and they were really good today. We knew their mentality, they play till the end and once it was 2-2 we knew it’s gonna be a tough game but luckily we scored the goals and won,” said Yunost forward Klemen Pretnar.
Yunost Minsk had the first scoring chances of the game and at 3:28 Slovenian national team forward Klemen Pretnar put the home team up front with a shot into the near corner from outside the left face-off circle.
The Belarusians continued to be a force and brought danger to Steelers goalie Ervins Mustukovs’ net during their first power play. With captain Jonathan Phillips in the sin bin for interference and an extra attacker in due to a delayed penalty call against Ben O’Connor for continuing playing with a broken stick, Yunost captain Andrei Antonov sent a shot from the blueline that found its way into the net.
Conceding two goals surely didn’t make the Steelers’ task of avenging the November loss and staying in title contention any easier. But during the team’s first power play Sheffield found back into the game. After a shot from Colton Fretter from the right face-off dot Mathieu Roy capitalized on the rebound in front of the net. And it didn’t stop there. Five minutes later Scott Aarssen had a long shot and Roy capitalized to score his second goal of the night.
“It was a good game. We were playing catch-up, we got it back to 4-4. We lost a couple of players yesterday and played only with five defencemen so that hurt us a little bit with the late goals. We ran out a little bit of gas there,” said Sheffield Steelers head coach Paul Thompson. “I’m proud the way my team played. I was annoyed yesterday, we were awful yesterday.”
The teams were on par also early in the second period. First Yunost regained the lead. After a lengthy puck battle along the end boards of Alexei Yefimenko and Pavel Razvadovski, the latter sent the puck back to Alexander Kogalev, who netted it at 3:07 of the middle frame.
But there was little time for Yunost to enjoy the lead. One-and-a-half minutes to be exact. After a won face-off by Tim Wallace the puck eventually went to Mark Matheson, who faced surprisingly little opposition going to the net and beat Dmitri Milchakov for the 3-3 goal.
The teams exchanged shots and power-play opportunities during the rest of the middle frame but the next goal came early in the third. While David Phillips came back to the ice after a penalty, Yefimenko gave Yunost the lead again after a centring pass from Maxim Parfeyevets. But the Steelers were not beaten yet. With 7:47 to play in the period Matheson deflected a long shot from Wallace and it was tied at four.
However, Yunost found the net again and made it 5-4 with 2:27 left in regulation time. Mustukovs blocked several shots in the slot but Mikhnov eventually put it in. Persistence paid off also for the Yunost offence.
“I’m very proud of the players. Thanks to their dedication we managed to eventually win the game. The opponent played very well in the slot. I cannot say that I’m satisfied with the first period but we got better in the second and third,” said Yunost head coach Mikhail Zakharov.
The Sheffield Steelers took their time-out and put all forces on offence to look again for the equalizer but this time it wouldn’t come. The dream of winning the Continental Cup is over for the British side while Yunost will play a winner-takes-it-all game for the plate against Nomad Astana on Sunday night.