COLOGNE – Uwe Krupp has heard it all before.
Catch phrases like do or die, now or never, backs against the wall, and must-win have been part of Krupp’s vocabulary over the years at the IIHF World Championship.
The Germans are under the gun, again, when they play Slovakia in the final Qualification Round game today for both teams. The winner heads to the Quarterfinals and the loser gains spectator status.
“We have this kind of pressure every year and we are in this situation every World Championship,’’ said Krupp, who is now in his fifth season as Germany’s head coach. “There is not one IIHF tournament where we are not without our backs being against the wall and here we have one leg in the relegation round and one in the qualification round.”
The Germans had both feet firmly planted in the IIHF’s second tier of competition a year ago in Switzerland when they finished 15th out of 16 teams. But the IIHF has a rule that says a host team can’t be demoted to Division I when it is staging the showcase event.
The last time Germany finished in the top eight in the final standings was 2003 when they were sixth, and they were relegated in 2006.
At least they didn’t suffer the embarrassment of facing relegation on home soil this year but that doesn’t diminish the pressure on them going into the crucial match against Slovakia.
“Without pressure a diamond is only a piece of coal,” said Krupp about the heat being on the Germans.
The German line-up is filled with players who are familiar with what it at stake today, and Christian Ehrhoff thinks that’s something to build on.
“I think with pressure you grow and we will have a hometown crowd and it is something special,” he said.
Germany had Monday off to rest after losing twice over the weekend, 3-2 to Russia on Saturday and 2-1 in overtime to Belarus on Sunday.
Slovakia lost 5-2 to Finland on Monday and now it is their turn to play back-to-back games in the round-robin Qualification Round.
“Rest is key right now,” said Slovakia’s Miroslav Satan after the loss to the Finns.
But Satan is looking forward to the game.
“It is great. It is a challenge for us and we have guys who do not have a lot of experience and for some guys this is first tournament. It will be great to see how they do. I am looking forward to it.”
The Slovaks have almost a dozen players who are making their World Championship debut, including Richard Panik who played junior hockey this season in Canada on the same team as Krupp’s son.
Krupp said the Slovaks face as much pressure to win as his team does.
“For them this is a nation that expects to be in the quarterfinals and they expect to be in the top six,’’ he said. “We are nation that is always fighting to be in the top 10. I think our expectations are high. We also know that while you will try everything within your power to win the game, you are not going to win every one of them.”
The Germans have had difficulty scoring and captain Marcel Goc cautions about trying to go goal-for-goal with the skilled Slovaks.
“For us it is important to play our game. We do not want to play a run and gun game back and forth,” he said. “We have to get back to our game and we will give us a chance to win.”
The German-Slovak game isn’t the only encounter today that has implications for the Quarterfinals.
Finland will try to end Russia's 23-game winning streak at the World Champions and the winner clinches top spot in Group E.
"It's a strong team, at least on paper. Half their team are NHL stars but as always, hockey is a team sport, and playing as a team is our strength," said Finland's Pekka Rinne about the Russians. "I think we can beat Russia if we play as a team."
Added Jussi Jokinen: "We've worked hard to be able to play in these games, there's only one week left in the season. I'm sure we'll be ready and rested when he puck drops."
In Mannheim, the winner between Sweden and Switzerland will claim first place in Group F, while the Czech Republic needs to get one point from its game against Canada in order to move of. If they don’t, then Norway heads off to the next round.
All eyes, at least in the host country, will be on Germany, again.
“We have these games every year,” said Krupp about having a lot on the line.