BERLIN – With three consecutive DEL titles and seven in the last nine year to show for, Eisbären Berlin have the right to claim to be Germany’s best. The streak continued after the “Polar Bears” put away Kölner Haie in four games.
Winning never gets boring.
No less than 14,200 fans showed up in the O2 World to prepare themselves for yet another celebration evening. The team carried a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series against Uwe Krupp’s Kölner Haie and were destined to finish the series off at home.
Buoyed by a quick opening goal by Corey Locke, Eisbären looked well under way. But the opponent from Cologne wasn’t going to give in that easily. Led by former NHL veteran Marco Sturm, the team pressed forward and got rewarded when Slovenian forward Rok Ticar converted a beautiful cross-ice pass of Andreas Holmqvist to tie the game up at one a piece.
The reigning champions were not impressed and already put one hand on the trophy after scoring two quick goals before heading into the third period. Julian Talbot struck from the blue line and TJ Mulock tipped home a rebound to elect the crowd and forced Cologne to play catch-up hockey in the final period.
Any hopes of a magic comeback soon vanished when Talbot scored again, this time on the man advantage. The 4-1 lead was the icing on the cake and clinched the DEL title.
“It’s the second title in two years that I’ve been here now, it’s like a dream,” Talbot said. “Perhaps we haven’t dominated the regular season as we did in the past but we were ready when it mattered most.”
Kölner Haie head coach Uwe Krupp had to accept the loss. “Against a team like Berlin everything should be perfect,” he said. “We were not perfect in our last game and know scoring just a single goal is not enough to squeeze out a win.”
Normally one of the team fighting for the top spots in the DEL, Eisbären Berlin was forced to see two other power houses run away with the regular season honours. Both Adler Mannheim and Kölner Haie were a class apart and finished just one point shy of the famous 100-point mark after 52 games. With Krefeld Pinguine ending up on third position, Berlin had to settle being the fourth seeded team going into the playoffs.
“After the regular season did not go as we had planned we sat together as a group to summarize what went wrong,” said Jens Baxmann. “We promised each other to raise our level in the post-season and we did do exactly that.”
Three wins in a row erased a 2-1 deficit in their quarter-final series against the Hamburg Freezers. Top-seeded Adler Mannheim was less fortunate and left red faced after being ousted in six games by the Grizzly Adams Wolfsburg who had only entered the playoffs as a qualifier.
The semi-finals were done after just three games with sweeps for both Berlin (against Krefeld) and Cologne (vs. Wolfsburg) setting up two German ice hockey giants in the final. While Eisbären has been in the finals many time it was a comeback to the top teams for Kölner Haie after troublesome years with financial problems.
Berlin drew first blood with a 4-2 victory in Cologne, but the Sharks followed that up themselves with a 3-1 win in Berlin.
Playing on home ice remained a bad omen as Eisbären once again came up big at the Rhine. Two empty net goals in the final 75 seconds sealed a 6-3 victory over their rivals and put them one game away from defending the title.
The silverware was shown at Berlin’s O2 World as Eisbären celebrated the first home win of the final series. While the fans and players were treated on golden confetti, neither of them had any plans to leave the area. For well over an hour rounds of honour were skated vocally accompanied by the fans on each side of the arena.
“Every title has a different story and this one I’m going to remember for a long time as it didn’t come expected given our form,” admitted long-time assistant coach Hartmut Nickel.
Winning never gets boring.
Several players of the current team have been ever present on the Eisbären roster since their amazing championship run started. Jens Baxmann, Florian Busch, Frank Hördler, André Rankel and General Manager Peter John Lee now have won seven titles with the Polar Bears.
The 4-1 victory in game 5 not only meant the dynasty continues but also marked Berlin’s 101st DEL playoff win. They are now the first team to have reached the magic milestone of 100+ victories.
Eisbären Berlin is the first German club team who has won three consecutive titles since Adler Mannheim managed to do the same between 1997 and 1999.