Cardiff ready for Continental Cup Final
by Henrik MANNINEN|10 JAN 2024
photo: © International Ice Hockey Federation
The 2024 IIHF Continental Cup Final rolls into the Welsh capital of Cardiff, Great Britain with history in the making.
Hosts Cardiff Devils will take on Nomad from Kazakhstan, GKS Katowice of Poland, and Denmark´s Herning Blue Fox in a single round-robin series between 12 to 14 January 2024.
All four teams are previous finalists, but none have yet to hoist the much-coveted Continental Cup winners' plate. Come Sunday, who will be adding a new victorious chapter to its club history?
Here´s what to keep an eye out for from the four teams vying for the top spot inside the 3,088-capacity Vindico Arena this weekend:

Nomad (KAZ)

Icing the youngest team in the final by some distance, Nomad from Kazakhstan´s capital Astana will arrive in Cardiff in flying form.
They were most recently in action in the Kazakh championship on Tuesday in a 7-3 win before jetting six time zones west towards Wales.
Being tight at the back and ruthlessly surging forward, Nomad sealed their ticket to the Final of the Continental Cup with a perfect record topping Group E of Round 3 in Grenoble, France. 
En route to the final, Kazakh national team netminder Nikita Boyarkin was in stellar form stopping 96.15% of shots for a GAA of 1.67 in three games for Fedor Polishchuk´s coached team.
In 2019, when the Continental Cup Final previously was hosted by a British Elite League team, Arlan Kokshetau from Kazakhstan lifted the plate in Belfast. Nomad finished second in the competition back in 2018. Can they go one better this year?

GKS Katowice (POL)

Current runaway leaders in the Polish championship, GKS Katowice breezed through to the Final of the Continental Cup requiring just two games to secure qualification in Group F played in Italy´s Cortina D'Ampezzo.
Carried to victory in the Italian Alps by a vast travelling support in yellow-green-black, they are once again expected to be turning up in impressive numbers in Cardiff as the Silesians target an improvement to their third-placed finish in the Final from 2019.

It also marks a happy return to the British Isles for Katowice´s Maciej Kruczek, Bartosz Fraszko, Mateusz Michalski, Grzegorz Pasiut and goalie John Murray who all played an integral part last spring when Poland won promotion to the top division of the IIHF World Championship in Nottingham for the first time since 2002.

Cardiff Devils (GBR)

Expect a sea of red, white, and green, the colours of Cardiff Devils and Wales to feature in abundance this weekend as the hosts hope home advantage will work in their favour in the club´s second appearance in the Continental Cup Final.
Relying on a strong Transatlantic presence out on the ice, Justin Crandall led the team in scoring in the previous round with 5 (3+2) points in three games including the sole marker in a 1-0 win against Bruleurs De Loups in Grenoble, France. British netminder Ben Bowns shone with a shutout in that same game that carried Devils to the Final.
Despite a somewhat patchy form of late, with one league win in four, Pete Russell´s men will need to be ready from the get-go this weekend. First up will be trying to avenge revenge on Nomad, who inflicted Cardiff Devils on their only defeat in the previous round. 

Herning Blue Fox (DEN)

Danish record champions Herning Blue Fox appeared down and out in Round 3 before edging past SG Cortina in the standings to book their ticket to the Final.
Currently, second in the domestic championship, Herning´s recent league form has left a lot to be desired with individual errors proving costly time and again for Per Hanberg´s coached team.
Perhaps the Jutlanders have now turned a corner, following a morale-boosting overtime 5-4 league win versus third-placed Odense in their send-off ahead of departing for Cardiff.
Herning´s Jesper Thornberg is currently the league´s top scorer followed by team-mate Mathias From. A third Blue Fox, centre Brett Thompson is currently fourth in the league´s scoring charts.
In defence, two home-grown experienced blueliners Jakob Jessen and Patrick Madsen remain from the 2015/2016 season, when Herning progressed to the final round of the Continental Cup and finished second.