If there were a rookie award at the World Championship, German forward Thomas Oppenheimer would be a highly-rated candidate with four goals in as many games.
That ranks him second in goal-scoring along with with Russians Sergei Plotnikov and Viktor Tikhonov, and puts him ahead of the likes of Alexander Ovechkin or Petri Kontiola. That’s not bad for a first tournament. But Oppenheimer is keeping his feet on the ground despite the sudden hype.
“For me personally it works quite well here, but for me the points the team earns are important, and if you score two goals and lose you can’t really be happy about it,” the 25-year-old said.
Like many players on the German team, Oppenheimer was born in Bavaria – in the town of Peissenberg, to be precise. After playing in Bavaria and impressing in the third-tier league at a young age, he was signed by the Frankfurt Lions of the top-tier DEL before moving to the Hamburg Freezers in 2010. There he almost doubled his offensive production, scoring 22 goals and 21 assists in 64 games this season. That earned him a spot on the World Championship squad for the first time.
“I got more responsibility here and on my club team,” Oppenheimer said. “I’m more consistent in my performances. It’s important to show you’re there for every game. They put faith in me and that helps any player. I worked hard on myself this year and I’m happy to be rewarded.
“The World Championships and Olympics are the biggest thing for any athlete, and it’s a dream come true that I’m here. The event is well-organized, the hotel is super, the city is beautiful. I’ve been pretty excited. I have fun playing hockey, and you can have fun anywhere if you’re on a great team.”
The Germans started with a 2-1 win against Kazakhstan, where Oppenheimer scored the shootout-winning goal. In the following 3-2 victory against Latvia, he scored the game-winning goal again with a penalty shot, this time with 4:34 left to play in regulation time. After a 4-0 loss to Finland, Oppenheimer shone again in the game against Switzerland with two markers, but that was not enough in a 3-2 defeat.
His line has been gelling together well and the forward hopes for more success at the end of the preliminary round.
“I already played with Kai [Hospelt] at our tournament in February and Marcel [Noebels] joined us for the World Championship preparation camp. It works well with both of them, and I feel good on this line and on this team. We have only good players here and it’s fun playing with them.”
The only unsatisfactory thing for Oppenheimer is his team’s placement to date. Although he’s scored four goals, Germany has only scored seven in total so far. Only Italy has been doing worse so far. That ranks Germany sixth in its group at Minsk Arena, three points away from fourth place and a quarter-final qualification, but also from eighth place and relegation.
That means there’s quite some work ahead for Oppenheimer and his teammates today in the game against host Belarus and in the upcoming games against Russia and Team USA.
“I came with the goal to be successful with the team and I want to reach the quarter-finals. That’s how we’ll have the most fun. We have three difficult opponents, and at the international level, everybody can beat everybody, as we have seen in this group,” the forward said.
“We go into the games with the goal of winning all the games and we’ll see for how many it works out.”
Germany plays Belarus at 16:45 local time today.