HELSINKI – Germany, like life itself, is like a box of chocolates: you never know what you’re gonna get. Just in the last five years, Germany has finished 10th, 15th, fourth, seventh, and last year, 12th.
They have played for their spot in the top division, lost it in 2005, came back for the 2007 tournament, lost it in 2009, but got saved by the fact that they hosted the 2010 tournament – in which they played in the bronze medal game.
Germany was favourite to qualify for the 2014 Winter Olympics, but an unfortunate loss to Italy crushed those dreams, put an end to Germany’s Olympic streak, and delivered an unfortunate blow also to the sport’s popularity in the country. The last time a German team didn’t participate in the Winter Olympics was 1948.
A good World Championship would ease the pain a little bit, and would help keep hockey on the map as prominently as before. A new head coach will always bring his style, so Germany may surprise many in this year’s tournament. In a good way.
Dennis Endras is back for his sixth consecutive World Championship, so the 27-year-old Mannheim goalie has seen it all. He’s played for medals, and he’s played for a spot in the top division. In 2010, playing in front of a home crowd, Endras was voted the tournament’s MVP, and best goalie, as he led all goalies in all categories. This year, he was elected best goalie in the German DEL.
But in the Olympic qualification tournament, coach Pat Cortina seemed to favor Rob Zepp, giving him two starts, including the last game of the tournament. Zepp, who was also on the 2010 team and played two games, led his Eisbären Berlin to a German championship, his fifth DEL title.
It’s the defence corps that looks a lot different from last year. Only Nikolai Goc is back from the team that played in Stockholm in 2012. The anchor of the defence is the Buffalo Sabres’ Christian Ehrhoff, who was also named team captain. Ehrhoff scored 22 points in 47 games with the Sabres this year, and he, like goaltender Endras, was voted to the 2010 World Championship All-Star team.
The rest of the defencemen play in the German DEL, four players from the two teams that played in the DEL final: Frank Hördler and Jens Baxmann from Eisbären Berlin, and Torsten Ankert and Moritz Müller from Kölner Haie.
Hördler and Goc also played on the 2010 team. That must be a good omen for the Germans.
The German offence looks more like the offence we’re used to see in the World Championship. There are nine returning players from last year’s tournament, and eight from the 2010 tournament, giving coach Cortina a good core to work with.
Marcel Goc is the lone NHLer on the team. This year, the 29-year-old centre scored 19 points in 42 games with the Florida Panthers.
Iserlohn’s Michael Wolf finished fourth in DEL scoring with 55 points in 52 games, followed by Eisbären Berlin’s André Rankel, who scored 54 points in 48 games. Rankel also added another 14 points in 13 playoff games. In the Olympic qualification tournament, though, the team’s leading scorer was Alexander Barta, who got injured in a Swedish Elitserien game in March.
For Germany, it’ll have to be scoring by committee.
Pat Cortina, Germany’s Italian-Canadian coach, may be coaching Germany at a World Championship tournament for the first time, but he’s no rookie in the Worlds, having been Italy’s head coach in the 2001 and 2002 top division tournaments, and then coaching Hungary from Division I to the top division in 2009, the country’s first top division appearance in 70 years.
Cortina also took EHC München from the German second division to the DEL. He knows how to set up the game plan for an underdog.
If Germany likes to play in the quarter-final, there’s no room for error, as they’d have to knock either Slovakia, Finland, or the U.S. out of the top four. And that’s assuming that they will beat Latvia, France, and Austria. Then again, anything is possible in a World Championship. One upset here opens another door over there. Most likely, though, Germany will finish just outside the playoffs.