MUNICH – With the men's team failing to qualify for Sochi, the German women's national team plays for increased recognition and hopes to emulate their fifth-place finish from Turin 2006 as they make their return to the Olympics after an eight-year hiatus.
It was the morning after the night before. The German women's national team had sealed their tickets to the 2014 Olympic Winter Games after qualifying on home ice in Weiden. Having seen off the Czech Republic 3-1 in their deciding game, Germany's head coach Peter Kathan was hoping for increased support for the women's game following their success which in some quarters had been ignored amidst the German men's team missing out on the 2014 Winter Games.
“When we won against Czech Republic, which made us reach the Olympics, the game was broadcasted live on a major Czech TV channel. German television on the other hand only showed the Olympic qualifiers of the men's national team that was played around the same time as our game. But despite our success, not a word was mentioned about our performance during that broadcast; no final result or that we had qualified for the Olympics,” he said back in February last year.
Having been accustomed to working with limited resources and scant recognition, Kathan has seen his wishes granted two-fold ahead of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games. German television channel Sport1 will broadcast all of their games live from Sochi. Add to that last season's increase from eight to twelve female hockey players receiving financial support which enables them to play hockey full-time thanks to a German Ministry of Defence program supporting top athletes. (For more information about this program read here.)
Seventh-ranked Germany will arrive to the 2014 Winter Games with a roster where Kathan has singled out his three selected goalies – who all play for men's teams during their regular season – as key players for German Olympic success.
With 174 shots being fired against them compared to their own 86 offensive efforts on target, Germany was outshot in all of their five matches during the 2013 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship in Ottawa. That the team finished fifth – equalling their previous all-time high positions from 2001 and 2005 – was very much a testament to the fine German goaltending on display where Kathan has made a habit of sharing goaltending duties between Jennifer Harss and Viona Harrer, while also having the services of Ivonne Schröder to call upon in Sochi if required.
“The goalkeepers are our key players, but we also have a very good mixture of young and old players,” says defensive stalwart Bettina Evers. With only six games away from equalling Udo Kiessling's all-time appearance record of 320 games for a German senior national team, Evers is together with Maritta Becker getting ready for their third Olympic Winter Games.
Having previously finished sixth in Salt Lake City 2002 and fifth in Turin 2006, Evers assesses the current crop of players as being “more athletic” while the team being more “compact” compared to the yesteryears, qualities which will be put to test straight away on 9th February as the Shayba Arena in Sochi will be filled to its 7,000 capacity as Germany take on hosts Russia in their first match of Group B, a group which also includes Sweden and Japan.
“We hope the Russians will be nervous and make a lot of mistakes when we start to pressure them,” Evers says. “As for Sweden, they are a young and talented team that play with a lot of pace, but sometimes they are too unfocused. Japan, who we play in our last game, is a very disciplined team, but their weakness is that they are all pretty small so there could be a physical advantage for us.”
Behind the wealth of experience of Evers and Becker that also sees defensive rock Susann Götz plus forwards Franziska Busch and Andrea Lanzl all having amassed more than 200 games for their national team, Germany also arrives to Sochi with a wide range of interesting Olympic debutants.
Manuela Anwander, a 22-year-old livewire of a forward who scored four points at last year's Women’s World Championship, will pose an offensive threat while the hard graft of Monika Bittner might go unnoticed for an untrained eye but is held in high regard within the German camp.
Add to that the 1993-generation of Daria Gleissner and Tanja Eisenschmid in defence and Jacqueline Janzen in attack as well as the recently turned 18-year-old forward Kerstin Spielberger, who has been singled out by Evers as one to keep an eye out for in the future.
Evers singles out “lack of confidence at times” as the main weakness of the team. Shots on goal and scoring also appear to be hard to come by at times for this German team, but its offensive qualities are evenly spread out to its four lines while penalty calls against the Germans could mean trouble as the team was the top-ranked team in terms of power-play efficiency at last year's Women’s World Championship.
Despite four straight defeats on the hands to Sweden, Finland, Russia and Switzerland during their final preparations at the Nations Cup 2014 played on home ice earlier this month, Kathan hopes a bad dress rehearsal foretells a good opening night, as he is content with the strides the team has made once again this season and take off to Sochi with high hopes:
“We have had a good season so far. Even if we had some losses, the close results from playing hard tournaments will help us a lot. Our face-offs have improved comparing to last year and so has our power play and all-round athleticism. We want to finish at least sixth but also hope to repeat the fifth place from the last Olympics and Women’s World Championship,” says Kathan.
While Russia seems earmarked for top spot in Group B, Japan in Germany's final game promises to be a tricky customer, but one the Germans have high hopes of overcoming. Key game for reaching their goal and progress to the quarter-final stage will come in their second game against Sweden. The Scandinavians with three wins out of three against Germany so far this season will go into the game as slight favourites, which will suit their opponents just fine.
Jennifer Harss: Germany enjoys an embarrassment of riches with all three goalies ready to step out on the ice and deliver. 26-year-old Harss is the most experienced of the bunch, having already featured at the 2006 Olympics as an 18-year-old. She needs to be in good shape if Germany wants to reach the final round.
Viona Harrer: Joint first-choice goalie as head coach Kathan usually lets two netminders take turns in goal. She hails from the Bavarian hockey hotbed of Rosenheim where she picked up the game as a five-year-old and made her Olympic debut at the age of 27 after missing out on the 2006 Winter Games due to injury.
Susann Götz: The 32-year-old team captain will, like fellow veterans Evers and Becker, most likely play her last Olympic tournament. The OSC Berlin player and member of the Turin 2006 team has worn the German national team jersey on 235 occasions. Mainly renowned for her defensive prowess, she also poses an attacking threat as an integral part of Germany's proficient power play.
Kerstin Spielberger: She made her senior Women’s World Championship debut at the tender age of 16 and just turned 18 last December. She scored three points in total as Germany finished fifth at the 2013 Women’s World Championships in Ottawa. One of the brightest shining stars of the next generation head coach Kathan has high hopes for.