Blogging away in Cologne and Mannheim

Welcome to the IIHF Worlds 2010 blog. Throughout the championship you will be able to read about our impressions behind the ice in Cologne, Mannheim and Gelsenkirchen.

A world without hockey?

May 24 / Lucas Aykroyd

Today is the day after the tournament, and it feels like I'm living in a world without hockey. It's a strange feeling.

No more getting up, going to the rink, interviewing players, and covering multiple games every day. No more horn-tooting fans and beer-drenched whoops of joy. No more getting a nod of recognition from Mike Keenan on the arena concourse, or walking past Jaromir Jagr hunched over his iPhone outside the Czech dressing room just before game time. No more Scooter, no more Urmel.

It feels very quiet.

Everyone is scattering across the globe, returning to their day jobs, heading off on vacation, or simply taking a few minutes to breathe.

I am in greenery-laden Wiesbaden today, near Frankfurt, gazing out my hotel room window at the spacious Dorint Pallas. There's a big international sports event wrapping up here today, but it doesn't involve sticks, pucks, ice, or an IIHF trophy: it's the International Horse Show with top show jumpers. If I run into a hockey star in Wiesbaden, odds are he'll be nursing some war wounds at the venerable Kaiser-Friedrich-Therme spa.

It's nice, warm, and scenic here, but it's not (to borrow a phrase from Def Leppard) adrenalized.

Of course, across the ocean, the Stanley Cup playoffs are still waiting. I'll return to Canada soon and see how the finals play out. Coming up, there's the NHL draft, free agency, movement in the European leagues to track. So it's not really a world without hockey.

For which I am ultimately glad.

Surprise for Krupp

Martin Merk / May 23

Before the game against Russia on Saturday IIHF.com published a feature story about German head coach and former NHLer Uwe Krupp. It dealt with his challenges as a coach and in his private life with his wife, who was stricken with breast cancer recently, and had to follow the 2010 IIHF World Championship some 9,000 kilometres away in California, where the Krupps make their home.

Krupp had considered resigning some weeks ago, and couldn’t see his wife as she was not able to come over to Europe due to her illness. But last night, the German Ice Hockey Association surprised Krupp, and flew in Valerie. She arrived late night in Cologne to support her husband and his team in the bronze medal game against Sweden.

Russians and giant hotels

Lucas Aykroyd / May 22

At my first IIHF World Championship, it seemed like everybody – players, coaches, journalists, tournament officials – was staying at the same hotel. The year was 2000, the city was St. Petersburg, Russia, and the hotel was the Pribaltiyskaya, nestled next to the Gulf of Finland with some 1,200 rooms. The lobby was cavernous and the room décor was very red.

For half the tournament, my colleague John Sanful and I ate in the same big breakfast room as the players. I still remember standing in line at the buffet behind a budding young defenceman for the New York Islanders as he picked through the cucumbers and salted fish. I'm 6-foot-3 and this guy made me feel short. His name was Zdeno Chara.

Eventually the breakfast room gatekeepers realized we weren't players and that was the end of that. But it was amusing while it lasted.

Cut to 2010, with the clock ticking down on this year's Worlds in Germany. Having relocated from Mannheim for the final games, I'm staying at the Maritim Hotel Köln (Cologne).

At 454 rooms, it's big, but not quite as big as the Pribaltiyskaya. I haven't spotted any players so far, just other IIHF people. But the hotel is built around a soaring, central glass atrium that makes it feel even bigger than it is. Something about it reminded me of the Turbine Hall entrance area at London's Tate Modern, although this is certainly lighter and airier. I like it a little better than the Maritim where I stayed pre-tournament in Frankfurt, which was nice too, but located next to a convention centre, whereas here I'm a short walk away from Cologne's famous Gothic cathedral and the Lanxess Arena.

Is there a connection with these giant hotels? Nothing tangible, obviously. But when I think about St. Petersburg and that hotel, my mind naturally also drifts toward what happened on the ice that year: the biggest flop in Russia's World Championship history. In 2000, the star-studded host team, featuring Pavel Bure, Alexei Yashin, and Sergei Gonchar, lost to Belarus, Switzerland, and Latvia, and finished in 11th place.

Now, we're just hours away from the Russia-Germany semi-final. The Russians have brought the core of the 2010 Olympic team that fell 7-3 to Canada in the quarterfinals. They're questing for golden redemption with Alexander Ovechkin, Pavel Datsyuk, Evgeni Malkin, and other huge names suiting up.

If they lost today to the host Germans, who are clear underdogs despite their relentless work ethic and commitment to defence throughout this tournament, wouldn't it be almost as big of a flop as 2000? Especially given the circumstances, with the shadow of Vancouver still lingering.

It's a thought that undoubtedly Gonchar, Viktor Kozlov, and Maxim Afinogenov (the 2010 returnees from St. Petersburg) have no interest in entertaining.

Time to get out of the hotel and into Cologne's afternoon sunshine before the games begin.

Fire and ice

Martin Merk / May 20

There are many stories behind the volunteers at the 2010 IIHF World Championship.

One is about Mike, the fire chief of Reilingen, a community not far away from Mannheim.

You may never have heard of Reilingen, but perhaps you know of neighbouring Hockenheim, home of the race course Hockenheimring, which has hosted several races, most notably 31 Formula One Grand Prix events. Number 32 is coming up in July.

Although Mike is a huge hockey fan, his work in brand protection and the local fire brigade usually brings him more often to motor sports. “There’s a lot to do when we’re there for eight days. Once, for example, we had to extinguish a fire at the pit stop of a Ferrari,” Mike told.

Working in hockey is a welcome change. “There are eight fire-fighters at SAP Arena,” Mike said, and the police is present too. But luckily, neither team has much to do as the games are, as usual in the World Championship, peaceful, and fire’s on the ice only in the form of emotions between players. As hockey is supposed to be.

However, living some 20 kilometres away from Mannheim, that’s the work of the local fire brigade in any case. Mike, however, volunteers as a driver for the organizing committee during his off-hours, and from time to time he can enjoy games of his favourite sport while the official transport Skoda cars are waiting for passengers.

Krueger’s reunion

Martin Merk / May 20

Ralph Krueger and his former assistants Jakob Kölliker and Peter John Lee had much to celebrate after the good results in Vancouver, their last tournament together, and got to enjoy the last few days here in Germany.

They had a reunion this morning at a Mannheim hotel.

Krueger came along with the German national team, for which his son Justin currently plays. Jakob Kölliker still works for the Swiss Ice Hockey Association, in a new role, as the Head of National Teams. And Peter John Lee has plenty of good reasons to be here too as the manager of German powerhouse Eisbären Berlin.

For which team will they cheer tonight? It’s the trickiest question for Krueger, whose son is playing for Germany, but who also has his “hockey family” in the form of the Swiss national team he coached for 13 years.

“I’m cheering for the sport of hockey,” was Krueger’s diplomatic answer. “It’s nice to hug your son after the game, but no matter who wins, both teams have accomplished a lot anyway, and there will be enough people to congratulate.”

HOCKEY-OBSESSED TOURISM

Lucas Aykroyd / May 20

My IIHF.com colleague Martin Merk and I decided to spend the day before the quarterfinals touring some of the great, historic castles in the area surrounding Mannheim. The cities of Schwetzingen and Heidelberg, located to the southeast, both boast such landmarks, and can easily be accessed by public transportation. Heidelberg was also home to the Canadian, Czech and Swiss national teams during the World Championship.

Yet with the imminence of matchups like Finland-Czech Republic, Sweden-Denmark, Russia-Canada, Switzerland-Germany, would we be able to take our minds off international hockey and focus on the aesthetic and cultural value of local attractions? It would be a challenge.

Our first stop, a half-hour bus ride from the Mannheim train station, was Schwetzingen Castle, well-known for its sprawling but exquisitely manicured, Versailles-esque gardens. It was the 18th-century summer residence of Charles Theodore, the Elector Palatine or Count Palatine of the Rhine (a nobleman responsible for voting for the Holy Roman Emperor). Not much chance of a hockey connection here, right?

Never underestimate hockey journalists. When we encountered fountains with water jetting from the mouths of marble stags beset by dogs, they were immediately christened “Doping Control”. (It doesn't even make sense, but it was pretty funny at the time.) Statues of reclining, bearded Greek gods in sparkling ponds drew speculation about which national team coaches they most closely resembled.

It only got worse (or better, depending on your perspective) when we ventured inside for a noon-hour tour of Charles Theodore's fancy but super-ornate apartments, blending rococo and neo-classical elements. The whole thing was in German, and my German was good enough to catch maybe 50 percent of it, which allowed ample time for reflection.

When we learned in the Elector's bed chamber, for instance, that he spoke five different languages, I thought: “That's pretty good, but still one fewer than legendary Slovak player and former national team GM Peter Stastny.” In Charles Theodore's conference room, which featured handsome, polished tables on which games were played, the guide noted that the Elector was a “passionate chess player”. Hmm, how would he have fared against such noted chess freaks as Igor Larionov and Dominik Hasek?

The dressing room of Electress Elisabeth Augusta, the oft-scandalous wife of Charles Theodore, included 26 portraits of her ladies-in-waiting. After having spent nearly two weeks at Mannheim's SAP Arena, surrounded daily by hockey cheerleaders and comely representatives of Skoda Auto, Martin and I concluded that the grey-wigged, corseted (we're talking 50-60 cm waists) look of yesteryear didn't quite match that of today's liberated German women.

As for the substantial library, which boasted about 100,000 beautifully bound volumes by 1803, it was of course natural to note that voracious reader and Team Finland captain Sami Kapanen would have been right at home here. (However, we didn't spot any potboilers by such preferred Kapanen authors as Dan Brown, James Patterson, or Daniel Silva.)

Lamps in the dining room were designed in the Italian hockey town of Merano, where former NHLers like Morris Lukowich and Bob Manno played, as well as current national team members such as Luca Ansoldi and Adam Russo.

After checking out the coffee room, in which the affluent residents once enjoyed brews made with coffee beans grown in the orangerie, we were naturally thirsty. Once the tour ended, we quickly made off to the nearby Schwetzinger Brauhaus zum Ritter, an acclaimed brewpub, where we downed a lunch of steak, potatoes, traditional local white asparagus, and beer. (For exceptionally thirsty patrons, there’s even the famous “metre of beer,” featuring a total of 11 sampler glasses of Hefeweizen, Pilsner, dark lager, and blonde ale.)

It was the kind of meal Uwe Krupp's Team Germany might enjoy if they stunned the hockey world by winning gold on home ice on May 23 (probably not before their tournament is over, anyway).

With mid-afternoon rain falling, we bussed off to Heidelberg to check out the famously romantic Heidelberg Castle, which broods over the city on the mountain of Königstuhl. After getting off the steeply inclined, 1907-built funicular railway at the castle stop, we passed through the castle gates, and soon found ourselves marvelling at the ridiculously enormous Grosses Fass, the world's largest wine cask, displayed in the cellar. It reportedly could hold 221,000 litres of wine, and took 90 oak trees to construct. Perhaps Krupp's troops could theoretically enjoy some victory champagne from it?

A different train of thought emerged at the on-site German Apothecary Museum, which featured such distinctive sights as a stuffed crocodile suspended in mid-air over a vintage pharmacy table loaded with bottles and scales. While the focus was on the 17th through 19th centuries, I noted that maybe decades from now, the exhibits would include the IIHF's current green-puck-themed, “Doping Is Not Hockey” education campaign.

As we strolled back via winding, cobblestone streets toward the tram to Mannheim, I thought to myself what a good idea it was to take a short break from our favourite sport. Very refreshing.

HEDBERGIAN HISTORY

Andrew Podnieks / May 17

Being at the World Championship has its perks, one of which is to meet many of the top people in the game. One such figure is Anders Hedberg, pro scout for the New York Rangers and member of the IIHF Hall of Fame for his distinguished career. He told the story of how he began his pro career, with MoDo, in 1967.

But first, a little background. The TV-Puck hockey tournament in Sweden is decades old and features the best 15- and 16-year-olds from their province within the country. It is regarded as the first significant step to a player's development or coming out, as it were, perhaps in the same way the Pee Wee tournament in Quebec City is for Canadian kids.

In 1967, Hedberg played for his team from Angermanland against a team from Norrbotten. On the other team was Borje Salming, although Hedberg didn't know it at the time. In the game, Hedberg's team won, 6-1, and he had five goals and an assist.

But MoDo also wanted Hedberg to make his senior professional debut that same day at 5pm. He insisted on playing in the TV-Puck game at midday, so MoDo arranged to have a small, private plane fly him from Sundsvall, where the TV-Puck was being played, to Örnsköldsvik, where MoDo had a home game just a couple of hours later. MoDo lost that afternoon, but he scored a goal.

Hedberg was the first great player to come out of that tiny city which would go on to produce Peter Forsberg, Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Markus Näslund, Mattias Timander, Samuel Pahlsson, Niklas Sundström, Tobias Enström, Anders Kallur, and Alexander Edler.

Worlds alla italiana

Martin Merk / May 17

The IIHF World Championship has hit Mannheim, a city where Italy is not only represented by its ice hockey national team, but also by many restaurants serving pasta, pizza and other fine food.

One restaurant even offers World Championship specials.

Team USA won’t play in Mannheim, but maybe the surf-and-turf “insalata mista americana” would be worth a trip on a day off.

The next one isn’t targeted so much at Americans. The “insalata mista campioni mondiale” features vegetables that are famous in the state of Baden-Württemberg in green and white asparagus, plus salmon, strawberries, and arugula in a raspberry dressing. An unusual combination for extraordinary guys. And as the name indicates, it’s only for world champions!

Or there’s the “pizza bravissima”, kind of like Hawaiian pizza in more of an Italian style. Maybe after a “bravo!”-worthy game. Or if your name’s Daniel Bellissimo.

Then there’s some “ravioli schwarz-rot-gold”, which would be a dream for any German hockey fan. Black ricotta, golden saffron ravioli and saffron sauce and red chilli – like Germany’s flag! Is that the kind of pasta that’s helped to account for the strong performance of Uwe Krupp’s boys so far?

And then, there’s some stuff that may be intended to represent the lower echelons of international hockey. Like “pasta barbeque africana” or “pasta australiana”. Or perhaps the restaurant owners are thinking of a different sport.

We don’t care, and simply enjoy what's on the menu. (The writer recommends a pretty usual but fine Caesar salad.)

Ciao e buon appetito!

BROKEN DREAMS

Andrew Podnieks / May 17

It's impossible to put into words just how frustrating it is to watch game after game in which we see broken sticks ruin a great play or scoring chance. Stick companies should be ashamed of themselves (like that would happen!) to have introduced into the game a product which, basically, sucks. As such, all leagues and federations should simply ban one-piece sticks until someone can figure out how to make them without shattering all the time.

It is so common to see a stick explode--when a player is taking a shot, receiving a pass, cycling in the corner, or checking his man--that we forget there was a time when this didn't happen at all. A wood stick literally never broke when a player took a shot. The very concept of a player taking a penalty for slashing because he broke an opponent's stick is a one-piece-era occurrence.

Fans should not have to endure the pain and agony of their team losing because of a broken stick. Goals do not occur and games are lost because of these ridiculous pieces of non-lumber. Broken sticks occur several times a game, every game.In fact, I would say that there has never, ever been a game in which at least a few sticks haven't broken.

 

Last night, as one of thousands of for instances, Canada was trailing 3-1 in the third period against Sweden, trying to mount a rally in the third. The puck came across to defenceman Francois Beauchemin, and he moved in a step before unleashing a slapshot that might have made it 3-2. Instead, his stick collapsed on impact, the Swedes collected the harmless puck and moved out, and a potential rally snubbed because of a stupid stick breaking.

No doubt stick companies, if pressed, would give the standard "we're doing all we can" line of useless talk, but the truth is one-piece sticks have been around for years and they still break way to frequently. Whatever manufacturers say they're doing, it's not enough, not nearly enough. It's pathetic, actually. Broken sticks ruin hockey games, and stick companies should be held accountable.

Messier makes it a family affair

Lucas Aykroyd / May 16

Mark Messier has always been a family-first kind of guy, so it's no surprise that the Team Canada GM followed the same principle when assembling his staff for this year's World Championship.

In fact, no fewer than three members of the Canadian entourage here in Mannheim are related to Messier: his father Doug, his brother Paul, and his uncle Victor.

Both Doug and Paul are listed as “team staff” according to IIHF records.

Doug, 73, is credited with instilling the tenacious, fierce approach that would eventually make Messier the NHL's second-highest points-getter (1,887) and 60th-highest PIM man (1,910) of all time. As a defenceman, Doug played principally in the minor pro Western Hockey League of the 1960's with the Portland Buckaroos and Edmonton Flyers.

Paul, 52, played nine games with the Colorado Rockies in 1978-79 as a centreman. But more important than his NHL credentials are undoubtedly the local connections and knowledge he offers. Why? Paul played for Mannheim ERC in the top German league from 1984-85 to 1989-90, leading the team in scoring on three occasions.

Victor, 69, brings a different kind of expertise. According to an October 30, 2000 article in ESPN The Magazine, Victor “was a professor who...studied Eastern philosophy abroad and...embraced Buddhism,” which would influence Messier's style of leadership in his years with the New York Rangers and Vancouver Canucks.

Hockey Canada's web site lists Victor as a “dressing room attendant.”

It's another interesting sidebar as Canada goes for its first World Championship gold since 2007.

Unlimited optimism

Martin Merk / May 16

The Latvian team is never alone at the World Championships. Since Latvia made its top division debut in 1997 (not counting five pre-Soviet appearances), the team has never been relegated, and their noisy, maroon-and-white-clad fans come by the thousands to cheer them on year after year.

They’re notorious for their maroon fashion statements, good-humoured energy, and air horns. And it was fitting that the nation earned the right to host the World Championship four years ago in its capital, Riga.

When the tournament is held abroad, fan clubs organize trips, and sometimes hotels, districts or villages around the venue become “fully maroon”. Like Mannheim’s most famous pub, Murphy’s Law, where Latvian “alus” (beer), flags, bands and maroon things dominate. (|Maybe it should be renamed “Murphy’s Latvians” now.)

The Latvian national team has yet to go further than the quarterfinals, but the optimism of their fans is unlimited. Even if the statement below seems more like a dream than a likelihood you’d bet money on.

We might find out today if the dream can come true or not, as Latvia has a must-win game against Norway. By securing three points, the Baltic nation would keep alive its hopes of making the quarterfinals.

RETRO GAME

Andrew Podnieks / May 16

I'm not an old fuddy-duddy just yet, but I admit when some hockey games get a little tough to watch--and when you have 56 games with 16 countries squished into 17 days, there are a couple such games along the way--I think back to how much the game-going experience has changed.

I remember how funny it was when the first video screens appeared above centre ice and players and goalies would watch replays for clues as to what happened. There were days when there was no mascot, no dancing girls in the aisles, no "kiss-cam," one ref and two linesmen, no ads on the boards or ice, no ear-splitting music amped into the arena at Woodstock-wattage, no on-ice entertainment during intermission, one Zamboni not two, and NO commercial timeouts. And now teams wear retro sweaters and play outdoors and have silent auctions for game-worn "merchandise."

I'd love to see one "retro" game a year. No ads anywhere, no music, no distractions, only an organist getting fans revved up with standard, old-time hockey ditties to clap to or chant. How alien would that be? How wonderful, too.

That would be a real "heritage classic," but I know it'll never happen. No sponsors.

Odd men out

Lucas Aykroyd / May 15

When you scan the lineups of the various teams at the 2010 IIHF World Championship, virtually every one has a player (or maybe two) whose club affiliation sticks out as an oddity. A guy who plays in a league that no one else on the roster plays in, or perhaps one that you simply wouldn't expect for this particular nation.

It's the "Whoa, where did you come from, dude?" factor.

Russia is an exception. Every current roster member plays for either an NHL or KHL club. No surprises there.

Here's our selection of the “odd men out” at this tournament.

Belarus: Kirill Gotovets, Shattuck-St. Mary's (US private high school)
Canada: Jordan Eberle, Regina Pats (WHL)
Czech Republic: Lukas Kaspar, Kärpät Oulu (Finnish SM-Liiga)
Denmark: Peter Hirsch, Coventry Blaze (British EIHL)
Finland: Oscar Osala, Albany River Rats (AHL)
France: Stephane da Costa, Merrimack College (NCAA)
Germany: Justin Krueger, Cornell University (NCAA)
Italy: Adam Russo, Port Huron Icehawks (IHL)
Kazakhstan: Konstantin Shafranov, Fort Wayne Comets (IHL)
Latvia: Martins Raitums, Hull Stingrays (British EIHL)
Norway: Andre Lysenstoen, Heinolan Kiekko (Finland, Mestis - second division)
Russia: N/A
Switzerland: Nino Niederreiter, Portland Winterhawks (WHL)
Slovakia: Ivan Ciernik, Kölner Haie (German DEL)
Sweden: Mikael Backlund, Abbotsford Heat (AHL)
USA: David Leggio,TPS Turku (Finland, SM-Liiga)

MANNHEIM, GERMANY - MAY 14: Norway's Mathis Olimb #46 and Canada's Jordan Eberle #14 were named Players of the Game for their respective teams at the 2010 IIHF World Championship. (Photo by: Matthew Manor/HHOF-IIHF Images.

Taking it up a notch

Risto Pakarinen / May 15

It took 650 years to build the Cologne cathedral, but nobody can say that it wasn’t worth it. The building is absolutely breathtaking, and it would take a week or two to see all the details just on the outside.

The San Jose Sharks have been around for just 19 years, but for the fans, the wait for a true Stanley Cup contender team has felt centuries long. Now that they’re in the Western Conference final, there’s hope that they might go all the way.

But, since anything is possible in hockey, some fans want all the help they can get, like this Sharks fan who was quietly walking around the cathedral on Saturday.

His friend wore a Team Russia sweater.

Some fans may be overdoing it.

MIDNIGHT MARATHON IN MANNHEIM

Andrew Podnieks / May 15

Today is a big day in Mannheim, and not just because there are two more game in the World Championship schedule. No, tonight Mannheim puts on its midnight marathon.

 

One of the few marathions in the world run nocturnally, it starts and finishes at the water tower in Friedrichsplatz. And it isn't just one race, it's several. The marquee events are the full marathon for men and women, of course, but there's also a half marathon, inline marathon, bike marathon, mini marathon, and team marathon.

 

The difference, of course, is the night-time component. The race doesn't start unil late afternoon, and most of the thousands of entrants won't finish until well past dark. Streets are closed and traffic diverted from the main road in and out of downtown.

 

But this year is special, and runners have motivation to finish as fast as possible. Germany plays Russia at 20:15 in Cologne, so hockey fan-running marathoners will want to get home to watch the big game on TV.

A TALE OF TWO CITIES (MAYBE)

Andrew Podnieks/May 14

I thought I had my Mannheim history sorted out, and then I discovered how wrong I was. Two stories. First, an IIHF colleague was expecting a friend to drive from Zurich to Mannheim yesterday. He was worried the friend would drive to the wrong Mannheim and wanted to make sure she had the proper directions. Whoa! The wrong Mannheim? Turns out there are TWO cities in Germany named Mannheim, ours, in the southwest, and another, smaller city by the same name in the north. I understood that to avoid confusion one city is called Mannheim 1 and the other is called Mannheim 2.

 

Second. I was telling a volunteer about this last night. I pointed out that in the netting behind each goal is stencilled "Mannheim 2". "No," he corrected me, "that refers to "Mannheim squared". It's the official name of the city because the downtown is made up of a grid of squares (see Colleague Merk's blog below for further elucidation of this)."

Okay, so then I wanted to clarify whether there were, indeed, two cities named Mannheim. Of course, Google is the answer to all such matters, but I couldn't find anything further about this and have now moved on. If there is another Mannheim, it's too small to worry about. Perhaps its official name is Mannheim square-rooted.

The Vikings are coming

Lucas Aykroyd / May 13

Forget about pubs, clubs, and lounges: in Mannheim, it's clear that the trams are where the real action is to be found. Even early in the afternoon.

Prior to the France-Norway game, passengers taking the #6 tram to SAP Arena circa 14:30 were treated to a rambunctious spectacle from mostly young and male Norwegian fans. While their older counterparts sat sedately wearing their red-blue-and-white woolen hats with pom-poms, the back of the tram exploded with shouting, stomping, and singing from the latter-day Vikings.

Even to non-Norwegian speakers, it was clear that the songs hailed the glory of Norwegian hockey, gave praise to Thor, foretold good times in Valhalla, and so on.

As if that wasn't enough, an actual preview of conditions in Valhalla was provided. One enthusiastic fellow actually pulled off his jersey and ran, bare-chested and jiggling, up and down the aisle to the cheers of his mates. Another guy grabbed a buddy by the ankles and supported his legs while said buddy did as many pushups as he could, which was perhaps not quite sufficient to get him invited to an NHL training camp next fall.

Nobody was injured, as no axe-swinging was involved, and everyone got off the tram with big grins on their faces.

Think squared

Martin Merk / May 13

“Mannheim im Quadrat” (Mannheim squared) is the slogan of the city of Mannheim, and there’s a good reason for it.

Mannheim is proud of being an inventive city, claiming that the first vehicle resembling the modern bike was invented here (by Karl Drais in 1817), as well as the first gasoline-powered car (by Carl Benz in 1886).

The city centre looks pretty inventive too.

Now, fans from North America might be used to downtowns with perpendicular streets. But Elector Palatine Friedrich IV took it one step further in 1606, when he enlarged the former fisherman’s village of Mannheim into a town by adding what is known as downtown Mannheim today.

Atypically for those days, the layout for the town was a rectangular grid of streets, resembling a chessboard from a bird’s-eye perspective. The city was destroyed during several wars in the 17th and 19th centuries, and in World War II, but it was always rebuilt according to Friedrich's plan. He lent his name to one part of the ring around downtown: Friedrichsring.

Downtown Mannheim isn’t only full of squares, but people are even also thinking in squares. There are no conventional street names like Adenauerallee, Bahnhofstraße, Mozartweg or Franz-Joseph-Gasse. (Apart from the two main streets that cross in the middle, Planken and Breite Straße.)

Instead, a downtown address looks like this: C4 1.

Whereas 1 is the number of the building, C4 is not really a street, but the square the building’s on, like in a coordinate system on a map. It goes vertically from A to U, and horizontally from 1 to 15.

“The aim was for everybody to be able to easily orientate themselves in the streets of Mannheim,” says an official Mannheim brochure, which has a one-page manual outlining the system. “Even today, when the city centre is characterised by letters and numbers instead of street names, the simplicity of this system is impressive.”

It is very easy indeed. From the central square, Paradeplatz, you have A to K on the left and L to U on the right side, going from the Palace northwards to the Neckar River. And from the central Breite Straße to the outer ring, you simply count from 1 to 15. Easy, isn’t it?

If that makes sense to you, it’s time for the next step. Around each square you have the “street numbers.” Number 1 is at the corner of the block that’s next to the Palace. Then you simply count up around the block – clockwise for the right half of downtown, and anticlockwise for the part left of Breite Straße.

So, whenever you find your square, you just have to walk around the block, as opposed to walking along a street, in order to find your shop or restaurant. Think squared, and don’t forget that every square has many stories to tell.

Good luck!

Going slightly Mads?

Alan Adams / May 12

When Denmark coach Per Bäckman glances down at the players on his bench, he must think he sees Mads Christensen sometimes sitting next to ... Mads Christensen.

Confused?

Bäckman swears he never mixes them up. For one, one Mads wears No. 27 and the other has No. 60.

Second, one of them is a defenceman and Bäckman doesn’t handle the defensive pairings in a game. 

And thirdly, says Bäckman, Christensen the defenceman is taller and heavier than the player with the same name up front. And for what it's worth, the Christensens aren't related. It is a common name in Denmark, said the team's media relations person ... named Christensen.

 

URMEL IN THE OFF HOURS

Andrew Podnieks/May 12

A major exclusive!

 

I had a chance to drive to the arena yesterday with Urmel, the official mascot of the 2010 IIHF World Championship.

 

Scoop 1. Urmel, without his mascot costume, is actually a man.

 

Scoop 2: He's actually two men. That's because if you ever watch the mascots instead of the game (and, sorry guys, but too many people do), you'd see they are a frenetic and veritable hive of activity. Running around in those heavy costumes for two and a half hours is exhausting.

 

Scoop 3. The man who arranged for us to ride together told me this: "They are unique people. They don't speak English--and they don't speak French. I don't understand a word they're saying." Ooo, I thought, silent mascots at work who speak a special language called Mascotian which no one else can comprehend. Kewl.

 

Scoop 4. They are from Quebec City, which explains a lot (Go, Nordiques, Go!).

 

Scoop 5. They were the mascots last year in Bern and Kloten.

 

Scoop 6. Being from Toronto, I tried to engage them in conversation to "out" les boys. I know mascots aren't supposed to talk, but I gave it my best shot. I asked them about work. Silence. I asked them about hockey. Silence. I asked them about Mannheim. Silence. I asked them if they were Leafs fans. Laughter.

 

I never liked mascots.

 

Latvia rides the rails

Lucas Aykroyd / May 11

The Latvians have yet to win a game at the 2010 IIHF World Championship, but on the bright side, they are embracing environmentally friendly transportation solutions.

Four members of the national team were spotted taking the 6A tram from downtown Mannheim to SAP Arena prior to Latvia's practice scheduled for 13:45.

And how does our intrepid crew of journalists know for sure they were Latvian players? Well, it wasn't just that these were fit young men, chewing gum and checking their cell phones. The maroon-and-white Latvian track suits and the hockey sticks they were carrying were also a dead giveaway.

Tomorrow versus Italy, they really need to be in the driver's seat.

AN ARENA TURNS A HUNDRED

Andrew Podnieks/May 11

The impressive SAP Arena in Mannheim is only about five years old and has all the bells and whistles of a modern hockey rink. At the opposite end of the scale is the Boston Arena in Massachusetts which celebrated its centenary last month as the "oldest multi-purpose athletic facility" in the world.

 

That esteemed sheet of ice was renamed the Matthews Arena in 1979 when it was purchased by Northeastern University, but it is as historic as SAP is fresh.

 

The Arena hosted the first game by the Boston Bruins in 1924, the same team that this morning is choking on its breakfast cereal as the Flyers rally. It also hosted the first game by the New England (later, Hartford) Whalers of the WHA, not to mention the Olympics of the long-defunct Eastern league and the Tigers of the equally dead Can-Am league (ah, those were the days when team nicknames had some flair!).

 

It has now been refurbished by NU and upgraded in almost every way. How cool would it be for the Bruins to play their centenary game there on December 1, 2024? The team's first game was a 2-1 win over the Montreal Maroons.

 

Who knows? In 14 years, if the Las Vegas Gamblers or the Kansas City Steamrollers or the Wyoming Trailers of the 40-team NHL are looking to relocate, they may want to move to la belle province and revive the Maroons. That would make the 100th anniversary game at the Arena as authentic as they come.

 

Volunteer's Heaven

Andrew Podnieks / May 10

Yesterday was rainy, so we had a driver take us to SAP Arena for a change. She turned out to be a big hockey fan. Maybe about 40 years old (hopefully that's not too far off!), she told us that from the ages of 4 to 19 her father took her to every home game that Adler Mannheim played. He was in the newspaper distribution business and loved the game, and he passed that love on to his daughter.

 

She later moved to Munich, where she lives now, but it's not the same. "Munich has a great hockey arena," she explained, "but hockey has no chance against football. Munich is a football town. Hockey games have only a few hundred people a game." But when she got the chance to volunteer at the World Championship, and see some games as well, she jumped.

 

"I'm German, but I like watching Sweden the most," she explained sheepishly as she confessed to buying tickets for last night's Sweden-Norway game.

 

Achtung is such a lonely word

Risto Pakarinen / May 10

It’s not like I stay awake at night and think of things I don’t want to wake up to or hear first thing in the morning, but if I did – think about those things, I mean – yesterday's public announcement at the hotel breakfast room would be in the top 5.

First, the loud sound of the alarm. Then:

“Achtung! Achtung! We ask all guests to leave the premises for a technical reason.”

Well, all I understood was the “achtung” - didn’t study German for two years in grades 7 and 8 for nothing -  and the alarm. And the fact that people got up, left their perfectly good croissants and lovely wursts on the table and walked out. Some people did take their coffee cups with them, though. We walked out to a bridge that connects the hotel to the riverbank on the other side of street, and admired the lowriding container ships on the river Rhine.

Four fire trucks came, and left. And we went back in to our half-eaten croissants.

My theory is that it was a prank call, placed by a worried editor of another website hoping to mess with the heads of the IIHF.com writers.

Other conspiracy theories, anyone?

Reserve jersey red herring

Andrew Podnieks / May 9

A funny incident occurred last night in the Finland-Denmark game as a result of the IIHF's replacement jersey program. The IIHF mandates that any player who has blood on his jersey has to go to the dressing room and put on a clean sweater. It's all part of trying to present the sport as a bloodless, gentlemanly game.

Nike, the official sponsor, can't possibly produce double the sweaters just for this rule, so it produces one "reserve jersey" per team. Any player with blood dons the nameless togs and goes back on the ice. Referees were perplexed last night when Pekka Rinne, the Finnish goalie, appeared to have a large area of blood on his sweater. But when they asked him about it they realized the problem.

The ice crew had painted the goalposts too soon before the game to allow them to dry, and when Rinne fell against the post on one play, his jersey absorbed a healthy slice of the paint! No blood, no foul.

Bomb alarm in Mannheim

Martin Merk / May 9

First, don't be shocked and worry about staying away from the arena. There are no terror warnings in Mannheim, or in Germany, a country that has fortunately not been hit by such attacks.

However, there was a bomb that only created some traffic chaos on Friday. An unexploded, 500-kilo relic was found in the city, which was hit hard by World War II more than 60 years ago. The aircraft bomb of British origin caused specialists of the warfare elimination team of the state of Baden-Württemberg some work, just one month after an American bomb was found.

More than 300 people worked on the disarming of the bomb, including police, fire-fighters, ambulance and the Red Cross. A big area was blocked off for traffic due to security reasons, and several tramway lines were diverted.

In the end it took the specialists just 15 minutes to get the dud ready to be transported away, and the streets and tracks were ready in time for the evening rush hour. Now the focus returns to world hockey fever.

Spring in Mannheim means Summer of '69

Lucas Aykroyd / May 8

Scooter's "Stuck on Replay" is the official song of the 2010 IIHF World Championship, but "Summer of '69" by Bryan Adams might be played almost as often in Mannheim.

That's because every time Team Canada puts a puck in the net, the classic single from 1984's Reckless blasts from the speakers at SAP Arena.

If recent history offers any indication, the raspy pipes of the Vancouver-spawned rocker will be working overtime.

Despite settling for silver behind Russia at the last two World Championships, Canada scored the most goals in the tournament both times: 52 in 2008, 43 in 2009.

German trains run on time

Lucas Aykroyd / May 7

The 2010 IIHF World Championship marks the first time the tournament has taken place in Germany in nine years, and that brings back memories from my early hockey journalism career.

May 3, 2001 was my only day off at the Worlds. That year, I was the editor of the tournament’s then-official website, IHWC.NET. I got up at 5 a.m. the morning after Canada's 5-1 win over Russia and caught the high-speed ICE train from Hanover to Berlin for a tourism spree.

Zooming across the German countryside at up to 250 km per hour, I half-dozed, catching glimpses of wind-turbine towers twirling amid yellow canola fields at sunrise, like some surreal Pink Floyd video. I'd long dreamed of visiting Berlin, mostly due to the intense thriller novels of Len Deighton and John Le Carre. Still, this was supposed to be a relaxing day, a break from the chanting, beer-swilling hockey fans at Hanover's Preussag Arena.

I disembarked at the central Zoo Station, humming a snatch from the U2 song of the same name. Soon, I was wolfing down fresh herring sandwiches at the famous KaDeWe department store deli. In the Tiergarten, I cut past nude sunbathers en route to the Berlin Victory Column, where I climbed 285 steps to the summit and gazed at the monolithic Soviet War Memorial.

In old East Berlin, I surprised my parents back in Victoria, BC by phoning them from outside the Pergamon Museum, home to antiquities such as the reconstructed Ishtar Gate and Pergamon Altar. My spirits were as high as the flags fluttering atop the Reichstag.

What an awesome tourist I was!

Circa 9 p.m., back at Zoo Station, I browsed through a newsstand with half an hour to spare before my return train. On impulse I double-checked the schedule. Suddenly, to my horror, I realized I’d been looking at the wrong day and had missed the last high-speed train. I was supposed to be at work in Hanover by 10 a.m. Millions of hockey fans were expecting me to resume updating IHWC.NET in the morning, but I'd left my laptop back at the hotel. (I wasn't equipped with a BlackBerry or iPhone in those simple times, either.) My life was over!

Or maybe not. I scanned schedules frantically for another way back. Eureka! The route I found involved three different, slow trains and would take all night. But hey, no problem, I reasoned: I can handle this.

The odyssey began with a 45-minute train ride out to a Berlin suburb. Not bad. I envisioned three hours of waiting for the connecting train in a nice pub, having pork knuckles and cabbage, maybe a Weissbier or two. Or at worst, hanging out inside the station.

No such luck. When I arrived, the train station was locked, dark, deserted. Even nearby houses had their blinds drawn and lights out. I wandered up the main street, but there was nothing remotely resembling a pub.

Futilely trying to nap on a bench outside the station, I began to shiver. I was dressed for summer and midnight was looming.

I headed back up the main street and spotted a bank. The foyer was lit and the door opened. I sat on the floor and huddled in the warmth of the ATMs, assuming a security guard would eventually arrive to kick me out. But when the door opened again, it wasn't security. It was two local tough guys, wearing black leather boots and clutching huge beer cans. They glared menacingly.

There are security cameras here, I thought. These guys aren't going to try to "send a physical message"...are they?

“What are you doing here?” one demanded.

“I’m cold,” I replied, using the German I'd learned in first-year university.

The other one advanced. “Are you American?”

“Uh, no, I'm from Canada.”

“We want a taxi. Have you seen one?”

“Yes, down by the station,” I lied.

They squinted sceptically. Then, in a miracle greater than Germany's post-war economic boom, a taxi pulled up out of nowhere. Grunting, my intoxicated, leather-clad interrogators piled in. I'd survived!

I headed back to the station, and joyfully hopped aboard the train that had arrived, with compartments lit and doors wide open. At last I could relax.

Exhausted, I dozed off. I awakened to check my watch, and realized that the train hadn't left on time. Oh no! This is Germany. That’s impossible.

“Is this the train to Magdeburg?” I yelped frantically to a surprised passenger. It was just as I feared.

I leaped off and, amazingly, found another train to Magdeburg around 5 a.m., just in time to make my connection to Hanover. I slapped my face constantly to stay awake.

Finally, my stop arrived. I rushed to the hotel, hopped in the shower, and headed off to work with no one the wiser. But my 2001 odyssey taught me that the classic hockey clichés are true. To succeed, you've got to give 110 percent. And you should always do what the coach (or train schedule) says.

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