COLOGNE – Ralph Krueger was a nervous nelly as he watched the record-breaking opening game at the 2010 World Championship. And after Germany beat Team USA 2-1 in overtime, his wife Glenda cried when the German anthem was played.
That’s the same Ralph Krueger who coached Switzerland at the world tournament for a dozen years before he moved on after the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games.
While it seems strange to see the Kruegers cheer for Germany, you can’t blame them.
Their son, Justin, plays defence for Germany and the Kruegers were part of the crowd of 77,803 people that packed the Veltins Arena on Friday to set hockey’s single-game record for attendance, and see Justin make his World Championship debut for the host country.
“I was so proud of him. He had the third-most ice time (on the German team),” said the elder Krueger, beaming with pride. “It was a beautiful, emotional experience.”
“As a coach, you have lots to do during a game but sitting in the stands as a fan, you are absolutely helpless. It is way more nerve-racking than coaching.”
Justin Krueger was born in Düsseldorf when his father was playing for the local professional team in Germany’s top league.
Justin played youth hockey in Germany and Switzerland before he took his game to North America. He has spent the last four years playing for Cornell University in the United States.
When Justin learned he was in the mix for Germany’s national team in January, he went to his professors at Cornell to see what could be arranged so he could combine representing skating on one side of the Atlantic Ocean and finishing up a degree on the other side.
He is studying hotel management and is scheduled to graduate on May 30, a week after the gold medal game at the 2010 world tournament.
“All I am doing is playing hockey and doing school work,’’ said Justin about his daily routine. “I have most of my classes out of the way and what I have left, I can do on email. I don’t need to be there right now. I have one exam and I will do it when I get back.”
Justin has been tutored in hockey by his father from as early as he can remember. But he said his parents never pressured him to take up the sport.
“They have been so supportive all my life and that is great for a hockey player and it is very important to have parents who are supportive,” said Justin. “My dad has been my coach for such a long time but the main point is they never forced me into hockey. They helped me get into hockey but they let me choose my direction.”
Justin was a seventh-round pick by the Carolina Hurricanes of the National Hockey League in 2006. His father also worked as a consultant with the Hurricanes and helps them out on assessing European talent for the NHL draft.
The Kruegers are good friends with Germany coach Uwe Krupp, and Krupp was asked whether Justin had what it takes to play in the NHL.
“He is a very stable, highly-focused defenceman,” said Krupp. “He plays well within himself and does not try to do too much. With Justin, I would say yes and he will try to do whatever is necessary. He will always improve. He is that kind of kid.”
Whatever happens at the 2010 world tournament, Justin will always remember having his parents somewhere in the record-breaking crowd at the opening game.
“It is a huge honor, representing your country and just to put on this jersey means you have a huge responsibility,” he said.
As for Ralph Krueger, he is experiencing the world tournament in a new way. There are no more pressure-packed games to prepare for, or worry about line combinations. And no more shuttling back and forth between the arena and the team hotel.
For the first time in more than a decade, Ralph Krueger can sit in the stands and watch the games, especially those involving his son.
“I can actually socialize, see friends, and watch games,” he said. “I can watch my son.”