Some major changes took place two weeks ago when long-time German Ice Hockey Association (DEB) employee Franz Reindl was selected to be the new President, gaining 73.5% of the vote from the General Assembly. With that, he replaces Uwe Harnos, who made it known before the vote that he’d no longer be a candidate for the position he’s held since 2002.
With this nomination, it seems the members of the association’s presidium have made a clear-cut decision towards change from within. In recent years, there’s been a tug-of-war between the various organizers of the German ice hockey scene and how it’s organized both professionally and at the amateur level nationwide. The biggest riffs have been amongst the powers that be at the three highest levels of professional play. It’s widely felt that if anyone can bridge the differences over the long-term, it’ll be Reindl, who has been involved in Germany’s professional and international ice hockey scene since he himself began his pro playing career for the SC Riessersee Garmisch-Partenkirchen in 1972.
Also assuming high-ranking positions as Vice Presidents in the DEB will be the newly elected Daniel Hopp (DEL supervisory board member) and Berthold Wipfler, both of whom are also known for their success in the world of business. Long-time professional ice hockey and football commentator Marc Hindelang was named the third Vice President, completing the revamping of the highest offices.
In light of this shake-up in the German ice hockey community, IIHF.com talked to Reindl to hear his thoughts on a number of issues facing the DEB and German ice hockey both now and in the future.
Congratulations to your election as the new President of the German Ice Hockey Association. What are the absolute most important tasks that need to be dealt with at this time?
To begin, I am absolutely honoured and delighted that the members of the DEB are endorsing our consensus thoughts and have chosen to elect competent ice hockey and economic experts to positions of leadership within the DEB.
We are now heading into the future with three major steps to take:
A) Our first priority is to strengthen the federation’s internal structures so as to get the DEB ship floating again. We have just done that this past week, deciding to take extensive measures. Amongst other measures, we’ve now placed Ernst Hofner (Sports Director), Michael Pfuhl (General Secretary), and Gisela Knoferl (Federation Office) into key full-time organizational positions. Pat Cortina will be the head coach for both the men’s and the U20 national teams.
B) We need have our true financial situation clarified by an independent accounting institute. We will first obtain a ‘merciless’ analysis of the situation and then establish a solid future concept based on that.
C) Our vision: Powerplay 2026. Together with the professional leagues and clubs, the national associations and amateur clubs, we are launching a program that will be aiming to make German ice hockey competitive at the top international level over the long-run.
You’ve been working with the DEB and in the world of professional ice hockey for quite some time now. What will change for you personally by becoming the DEB President? What new responsibilities will you have to assume?
The key is to establish the consensus of all sections of the German ice hockey world, namely the DEL and DEL2, DEB with the third level ‘Oberligas’, the national teams as well as the 15 national level associations that house the amateurs and nationwide youth associations. This is the responsibility that I and my Presidium colleagues Daniel Hopp, Berthold Wipfler, and Marc Hindelang are being entrusted with. I am assuming the responsibility of advancing ice hockey as a sport in Germany and bringing it to the next level.
In your opinion, what are the challenges the DEB and German ice hockey are currently facing?
Germany has 80 million inhabitants and is the largest economic power in the European Union. Ice hockey is measured by the number of visitors in a stadium. As such, ice hockey is already the second largest sport in the country according to national attendance statistics. The sport has fantastic fans. With that in mind, it just cannot be possible that we are permanently fighting to stay afloat internationally.
We need to set a reasonable and timely goal of finally playing for medals on a permanent basis. It is well known that success at the top will automatically bring along the much needed influx at the base level. Laying the foundations for this is only possible if all of the major forces in the German ice hockey scene pull together.
The last few weeks and months have shown me that people place their trust in me, as the DEB President, to be able to establish the necessary consensus. With this encouragement coming from all sides, I see what may be an almost historic opportunity to unite the German ice hockey scene and put it on the right path. I would like to join my colleagues in seizing this opportunity.
What changes need to come if German ice hockey is going to progress in its development?
I am guided by the wholehearted belief that our national teams are the keys to the success of our entire sport. Numerable achievements by the national teams will bring additional fans to the ice rinks of the various leagues and this will attract the attention of the media and general public to the sport. This will in turn increase our economic opportunities, motivate the politicians to support the sport, and ensure – and this is quite important – that ice hockey will be seen by children and adolescents as a very worthwhile alternative to football, handball, basketball, tennis, and other recreational activities.
As such, we need to invest all of our work, both at amateur and pro levels, towards the long-term success of the national teams. Over the short-term, we need to convince all areas of our sport that this is the path to take and to provide them with clear tasks, due dates, and goals.
Parallel to that, and in the meantime, we need to optimize the federation’s structures towards meeting our goals.
Shortly after you were elected, it was announced that Pat Cortina will now focus intensively on his responsibilities as the coach of both the Men’s Team and the U20 program, which will be participating in the upcoming 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship in Canada. He’ll no longer also be the Sports Director. Why did the DEB make the decision to separate the two positions?
In my opinion, you cannot successfully combine the structural requirements of a sports director with the tasks of a national team head coach. Pat Cortina has the full responsibility for the current development and presence of our national teams, which entails the short and mid-term goals of improving our world ranking, ensuring a top performance at the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship, and achieving Olympic qualification in 2018. We support him fully.
Sports Director Ernst Hofner must now establish the structural requirements with the federal and state organizations, the German Olympic Sports Confederation, clubs, and schools in order to create our big long-term program "Powerplay 2026". U18 Coach Jim Setters will also contribute to this crucial responsibility.
Speaking of the World Junior Championship in Canada, the German team will be entering its third such tournament in the highest class in a row. Do you think that Germany is now ready to have a different goal other than just fighting to avoid relegation?
We have good, talented, and motivated players at the U20 and U18 levels. For us, what placement the teams achieve is not our goal, but rather the development of our players. That development can only be optimal at the top level. Therefore, it must remain our primary objective with both of these junior teams to remain at the top level.
How important do you feel it is for the German ice hockey scene that German Leon Draisaitl was picked third overall by the Edmonton Oilers in this past summer’s NHL Draft?
Shining young examples such as Leon Draisaitl, Tobias Rieder, Dominik Kahun, Konrad Abeltshauser, and Philip Grubauer serve to provide an extreme form of motivation for all young players in Germany. Even established NHL players such as Christian Ehrhoff, Dennis Seidenberg, Marcel Goc, and Thomas Greiss are incredibly important as role models for the coming generations.
Staying on that topic, one particular point of satisfaction at the World Championship in Minsk was how well the younger talents such as Marcel Noebels, Tobias Rieder, Philipp Grubauer, Yasin Ehliz and the aforementioned Draisaitl played there. Are we now starting to see a younger generation that will be capable of more than the current generation?
The next generation is very promising and it has the will to strongly represent Germany at the world’s highest level. I do not feel a comparison of generations or anything of the sort is appropriate, because the circumstances for the respective generations are and were different.
I have great respect for each and every player who dedicates himself towards facing the extreme demands of a World Championship in order to compete with the best the world has to offer. Ultimately, the truth of the matter is out there on the ice. Our world is 60 x 30 metres large.
Moving along to the German men’s national team, it did not qualify to participate at the Olympics in Sochi. Then despite a good start, it experienced a bit of a disappointing World Championship in Minsk. What do you feel needs to be done in light of this?
No doubt about it, we need to place more time and focus on the national team, have a healthy squad, and then have all of our top players participating at the same time. If we can make that happen, Germany will be strong and competitive right away!
The German women’s national team did however participate in the Olympic Games and fans got to see what may have been the highest level of play the women’s team has shown to date. Your daughter was once a member of the women’s national team and thus, the women’s program surely has a special place in your heart. What is your opinion of the development of the German women’s program as well as women’s ice hockey in general?
The development of women's ice hockey, especially internationally, is a thing of great joy and tremendous progress. In ex-DEL pro Benjamin Hinterstocker, the DEB has now contracted a young certified coach who will continue the upswing development of the program after it was served so diligently for years by Peter Kathan. We will be investing more money and dedicated commitment into the area of women’s ice hockey.
I also see tremendous resources that will allow our clubs to turn around the stagnant player/member statistics, making them positive once again.
For you personally, what is your biggest goal for Germany’s national program? What do you feel absolutely must be achieved in the course of your term in office?
An immediate measure that will be taken is to set up the rules of procedure for the presidium. They will be binding and transparent for any and everyone committed to the objectives and will demand a high level of leadership ethics. It is now time to start programs that allow us to immediately take the next step and become competitive in the international ice hockey scene over the long run.
I have a vision as to how the ice hockey potential in Germany can best be tapped and to do things in the same manner as successful nations such as e.g. Finland, Sweden, Russia, Canada, Switzerland or the USA. I then hope that at some point in the future, when I'm no longer the DEB President, I’ll be able to sit in the stands and watch Germany play for a medal.