UFA – At the World Juniors, friends often become enemies – at least temporarily. Germany’s Tobias Rieder will get a taste of that in his newly promoted team’s tournament opener against Canada on Wednesday.
Steve Spott, Rieder’s coach with the OHL’s Kitchener Rangers, is behind the bench for Canada, which is questing for its first gold since 2009. The 19-year-old centre doesn’t need much prompting to describe what a fine tactician and motivator Spott is.
“Steve is a great coach,” Rieder told IIHF.com after Germany’s final pre-tournament practice. “I love playing for him. He’s a tough, rough coach, but at the right time, he’s a nice guy. He knows what hockey’s about. I think he’s going to tell his boys to be ready for the game and not to play like, ‘Oh, it’s just Team Germany.’ He’ll want them to play like it’s Russia or anybody else. He’ll want them to be tough on us and give 100 percent.”
Another familiar face for Rieder is Kitchener captain Ryan Murphy, making his U20 debut for Canada after being cut twice in previous selection camps. This dipsy-doodling blueliner has racked up 194 points in 205 career OHL games, and was named Best Defenceman at the World U18 Championship last year. How do you stop Murphy?
“That’s a good question,” Rieder said. “He’s a really good defenceman, a smooth skater with good hands. We’ve just got to play him hard, play the body on him, and try not to give him the puck in the defensive zone.”
But let’s give Rieder some credit himself here. The highest-drafted German in the 2011 NHL Draft (chosen 114th overall by the Edmonton Oilers) will be a go-to offensive player for coach Ernst Höfner, both against Canada and as the tournament progresses.
The 86-kg, 180-cm forward led the 2012 IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship Division I Group A in scoring with five goals and eight assists. His success on home ice in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany enabled his team to secure promotion to Ufa.
“We won every game there,” Rieder recalled. “But it’s going to be different here, actually playing against the best players in your age group in the world.”
The Landshut native will need some offensive support. After tallying 42 goals and 84 points for Kitchener last season, a November foot injury from blocking a shot has limited him to 23 points in 27 games so far this season. The likes of promising 17-year-old forward Leon Draisatl of the WHL’s Prince Albert Raiders and 19-year-old Leonhard Pföderl of the DEL’s Nürnberg Ice Tigers will also need to light the red lamp on occasion.
Like other squads, the closeknit Germans must also overcome any fatigue from traveling to Ufa, which is the furthest east this tournament has ever been played since its 1977 inauguration.
“It was rough, because I actually came back from Canada,” Rieder explained of his own situation. “That was a six-hour time difference. Then from Germany to Ufa it was another five hours. I was pretty tired. I had jet lag. But it was nice traveling with the boys. It was a good time. We were glad when we finally got here. We’ve been here almost a week now, so the jet lag’s already gone. Everybody’s so excited, they don’t really think about the jet lag when they play Team Canada.”
Is there even the slightest chance that the Germans will upset Canada? It hasn’t happened at the World Juniors since January 2, 1981 when West Germany edged the Canadians 7-6 in consolation round action on home ice in Kaufbeuren.
“It starts at 0-0,” Rieder said resolutely. “Hockey’s a fast sport, and anything can happen in hockey. We know we’re the underdog, but we’re just going to play our best hockey and try anything to win the game.”