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Red Bulls achieve pure title hat trick

27.04.2018
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EHC Red Mull Munich celebrates their title hat trick in the German DEL. Photo: GEPA pictures / City-Press

Few teams have done it, but when the horn sounded to signal the end of Game 7, the DEL’s EHC Red Bull Munich had wrapped up their third title in a row!

And with that, the talk of a true DEL dynasty can truly commence. Only the Adler Mannheim from 1996-99 and this year’s finals opponent the Berlin Polar Bears, affectionately known in German as the “Eisbaren”, from 2010-13, have been able to win the DEL title three years in a row.

“Oh yes, this (championship) is really something special,” explained forward Patrick Hager. “I mean playing a Game 7 in the finals, at home, in front of a sold out house…, just amazing. I have to tip my hat to my teammates who really took it to the opponent after Berlin got off to a lead, and that after Berlin had won two games in a row. We were able to show what’s really deep down inside of us and what we’re truly capable of.”

Indeed, for Munich, this was the third DEL finals in a row and saw them face a new dancing partner. The Eisbaren Berlin had concluded the regular season as the league’s second best club, and ensured that ice hockey fans across Germany would be seeing the country’s two best teams in what would become a series full of frills. But Game 7 ultimately led to yet another convincing Munich championship!

Berlin’s Micki Dupont had opened scoring with a one-timer power play goal in the 12th minute, but that proved to be little more than a prelude to a Munich onslaught. Munich defenseman Konrad Abeltshauser popped in his fourth goal of the playoffs just a 100 seconds later, which opened the floodgates. John Matsumoto and Steven Pinizzotto added goals in the course of the next three minutes before Mads Christensen added a power play goal with just 40 seconds left to play in the first period, giving the Red Bulls a commanding 4-1 lead after 20 minutes.

“We’re simply more aggressive. We’re playing the game hard and making life miserable for Berlin, and we’re doing all we can to make them earn every puck and hold onto it as long as we can. We’re doing this without taking penalties. This all proved to be the right way to play in the first period,” said Hager in the intermission, who was also one of Germany’s key national team members at the Winter Olympics. Nothing changed in the second period, as Hager’s game plan description continued to be put on display by him and his teammates. A second goal by Pinizzotto on the power play, one in which the big forward swept the puck into the goal while laying down flat on his stomach, gave Munich a commanding 5-1 lead heading into the second intermission.

That cast a huge shadow on Berlin’s title aspirations heading into the third period.

“We need to get on the board first in the third period, then take it step by step from there,” declared Berlin’s forward Martin Buchwieser upon conclusion of the second period. “There’s really no other way for us to look at it. It’s the only option available at this point.”

His words would then also be followed by actions. The Eisbaren picked up the pace in the third and made a serious push, starting off with a power play goal by Jamie Macqueen, his sixth of the finals series. The pressure continued with several strong rushes by Berlin until Munich’s Brooks Macek was able to grab a shot out of the air and then slip it past goalie Petri Vehanen to give the Red Bulls a 6-2 lead. Berlin continued to battle and make as much music as possible, even adding another goal through a shot tipped in by James Sheppard, but it was all too little too late as Munich, and goalie Danny aus den Birken, shut the door over the final 12 minutes of regulation play, giving the team it’s hardest-earned of the three straight championships.

This series was so incredibly intense. Berlin made this championship as hard as possible, explained Munich’s captain, Michael Wolf, just as his teammates showered him with beer.

After gaining championships in each of the past two seasons against the Grizzlys Wolfsburg, this year’s “victim” proved to be quite the opponent in turning the finals into a seven game series. The team coached by German ice hockey legend Uwe Krupp certainly didn’t just find itself in the finals, but rather earned its way there during every phase of the season, including the aforementioned second place finish in the standings right behind the Red Bulls with 101 points based on 35 wins and 17 losses. This gave them one more point than third place Nuremburg, which also collected 35 wins on the season.

For the Eisbaren, the march to the finals began by knocking off the vice champion of the past two seasons, the Grizzlys Wolfsburg, which ironically featured Coach Krupp’s son – and national team member – Bjorn, one of Wolfsburg’s key defensive blueliners. Berlin’s was decisive and convincing, knocking off Wolfsburg in just five games, ending Grizzly coach Pavel Gross’ successful run of two straight finals appearances. Gross will take over the helm in Mannheim next season, a team for which he once won a few championships as a key forward. Nonetheless, after 8-1 and 3-1 victories in Games 3 and 4, Berlin needed a wild 7-6 overtime win to close the door on Wolfsburg’s finals hopes.

The next stop pitted Berlin against Nuremberg and the DEL had its first true evenly matched series. Both teams came in with almost identical records in the regular seasons and teams that were quite similarly built – and the series did not disappoint. A 5-1 victory for the Eisbaren in Game 1 was followed by a 3-2 overtime loss. Then a 4-3 overtime victory for Berlin was followed by a convincing 4-1 victory for the Thomas Szabo Ice Tigers in Game 4. What fans then saw were two incredibly hard-fought, evenly played games in which the Eisbaren were able to top things off in their favour with 5-4 and 3-2 victories in Games 5 and 6, leading thing into the finals against the reigning champs.

For the Red Bulls, this season seemed like déjà vu all over again.

A first place finish in the DEL included 36 wins and only 11 regulation losses in accumulating 107 points, allowing them to face the upstart Fischtown Penguins from Bremerhaven in Round 1, against whom they lost a tight 4-3 overtime game at home to kick off the series. But Don Jackson’s team would be quick to quench any hope Bremerhaven might have mustered with that victory, beating the Penguins four times in a row by scores of 6-3, 5-2, 5-2, and 4-1. Jackson’s crew then faced the Mannheim Adler, who were absolutely loaded on paper, but had their problems putting everything together throughout the regular season.

The Adler (German for Eagles), coached by Bill Stewart, managed a 4-2 win in Game 2, but just wasn’t up to the task in the other four games, only managing to muster together six goals over the span of four losses, including being shutout 5-0 by Munich in the decisive Game 5. The series also wasn’t without controversy as Red Bulls bad boy Pinizzotto, who had 30 points and 100 penalty minutes in just 39 regular season games, knocked Mannheim top scorer Chad Kolarik cold on what appeared to be a check to the head, which promptly earned him a renewed suspension from the league. Still, once the series was over, the DEL saw its top two regular season teams meeting for the championship.

Things started off with a bang, as Berlin managed to take the first game of the series 4-3 in Munich, getting goals from four different forwards and keeping Munich at a distance until the final minute of the game. Game 2 proved to be just as much of a battle as a Max Kastner goal in the game’s 40th minute, giving Munich a 5-2 lead, proved to be the game winner. A furious third period saw Berlin add two more games, but it wasn’t enough to prevent a 5-4 Red Bull win.

By this point, the Red Bulls were wide awake, storming out of the gates with venom back home in Game 3, convincingly winning 4-1, getting goals from four different players, including playoff goal-getter Jon Matsumoto. Game 4 in Berlin showed more of the same as the defending champs rattled off a 4-2 victory on the strength of three straight goals by Matsumoto, Yannic Seidenberg, and Dominik Kahun to give the Red Bulls what looked like a decisive 3-1 command in the series.

But the Eisbaren were all but ready to start up with their summer workouts.

With eminent series victory on the line for the EHC, Game 5 turned into a game for the ages. Berlin jumped out to a surprising 3-1 lead in the first period, before Munich crawled back into the game bit by bit with the teams trading goals back and forth until a 5-5 draw led to things being decided in overtime. That’s when snip Jamie MacQueen struck again to give Berlin the 6-5 victory. What looked like a blip on the map turned into a bigger worry when Game 6 in Berlin ended up being a relatively clear affair for the Eisbaren, who won 5-3, having trailed at no juncture of the game. With an empty Red Bull net, Andre Rankel capped off the 5-3 victory with his 40th career playoff goal, giving him the most playoff goals of any DELer in playoff history.

That set everything up for the dramatic Game 7, the first in quite some time for the DEL finals, but the third in central Europe in two weeks after the Alps Hockey League and EBEL found themselves needing seven games to decide a champion.

For top-league ice hockey teams based in Munich, this is the sixth title after MTV won in 1922, Munich Hedos in 1994, and the Munich Barons in 2000. In addition, goalies aus den Birken and David Leggio as well as Captain Wolf, Christensen, Abeltshauser, Kahun, Seidenberg, Pinizzotto, Jason Jaffray, Frank Mauer, Daryl Boyle, Florian Kettemer, and of course Coach Jackson have been part of all three Munich championships.

For Jackson, who has appropriately earned the title of “Meistertrainer” (Coach of Champions) in journalistic circles, it’s his eighth(!) DEL Championship and a truly special one at that, as he had previously coached just this Eisbaren Belin team to five championships in seven years before a one-year sojourn in the EBEL. His standing as the developer of champions is, at this moment, unchallenged in Germany, and perhaps even throughout the world of ice hockey.

But that’s not all in the department of “noteworthy”.

It seems like another version of “Groundhog Day”, and something that is getting downright uncanny, but there’s no getting past pointing out the ongoing relationship between Jackson and all-round Danish forward Christensen. After joining the Eisbaren Berlin for the 2010/11 season under Jackson’s tutelage, the Danish national team forward proceeded to win two championships. As soon as Jackson took over in Munich for the 2014/15 season, Christensen tagged along to continue playing for his favourite coach. This is now their fifth overall championship together, one in which Christiansen contributed seven goals, including one in Game 7, and 12 points on the way to this historical championship. He collected seven and ten points respectively in each of the last two championship runs.

Interestingly, Christensen had a good bunch of Danish league championships before beginning the German leg of his career, namely in 2003, 05, 07, 08, and 09. You’d be hard-pressed to find a player in Germany who is more familiar with winning than Denmark’s go-to face-off man and the relationship with Jackson continues to be one of legends, and one that continues to be written.

Alas, it would seem that a recipe for winning in the DEL begins with the duo Jackson-Christensen, one Munich surely wants to see continue for as long as possible.

Oldie but goldie

Former NHLer Keith Aucoin was named the DEL’s Player of the Year at the ripe young age of 39. Like a fine wine, the below average sized centre with the long stick just seems to get better with age. This was his third season with the Red Bulls and it was his finest. After years of 41 and 49 points, he appeared in all 52 regular season games and chipped in 11 goals, 52 assists, 63 points, and a +16 rating. The award must have served as a bit of inspiration as he continued collecting points throughout the playoffs, putting up four goals and 15 points to tie linemate Macek for the team lead.

Nonetheless, playoff scoring was led by a couple of Eisbaren, namely Nicholas Petersen and Louis-Marc Aubry, who respectively finished with 10 goals, 22 points, and +9 as well as 10 goals, 19 points, and +10. The wingers also finished second and third in team scoring for Berlin in the regular season. Not far behind them was one of the DEL’s rising young stars, Leon Pfoderl, who followed a 23-goal regular season with 10 goals and 16 points in 12 playoff games.

The league’s best defenseman was the aforementioned Red Bull Seidenberg, brother to the New York Islanders’ Dennis Seidenberg. His season was quite fine statistically as he put up eight goals, 34 points, and +11 in 50 games. He then put things into overdrive in the playoffs, collecting three goals, 14 points, and a +9 in 17 games. Making this nomination and award all that much more special was the fact that this was Yannick’s first full season as a defenseman after 15 seasons of DEL play, primarily playing on the wing. He also took on a key role in Germany’s silver medal at the Winter Olympics.

CHAPIN LANDVOGT

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