MUNICH – With Game 5 serving as the match ball for EHC Red Bull Munich, the Bavarians convincingly took their second DEL championship in a row with a 4-0 victory over renewed opponent Grizzlys Wolfsburg.
Entering the season as the favourite for a repeat performance, the team eventually finished first overall and then marched to the final with a 4-0 series win over newbie Fischtown Penguins Bremerhaven and a 4-1 series victory over the Eisbaren Berlin, before facing a Wolfsburg team hungry for vengeance.
Wolfsburg’s path to the finals was a bit tougher, but aced with resilience. The team not only knocked off one of the biggest favourites, Cologne’s team Kolner Haie, in seven games, it then won a tough and emotional series over a tough Nuremberg Ice Tigers 4-2. Both opponents were felt to be among the biggest frontrunners for the title.
Yet when the dust of the finals settled Monday afternoon, Munich once again secured the championship for itself, this time right in its own backyard in front of 6,142 spectators thanks to a 4-0 score. With this shutout, the team took the series four games to one.
“I think things were real hard for us in the beginning today. Wolfsburg really put the pressure on,” explained Captain Michael Wolf, last spring’s finals MVP. “At the end of the day, we’re just really happy we got the job done.”
And it was done in a manner that was truly sweet for the hometown crowd. As the clock ticked down, the team’s fans were already singing chants of victory and the players were rattling the boards with their sticks. The final buzz led to a wave of players hitting the ice with the enthusiasm of a youthful pee wee squad winning it all for the first time ever.
“This is absolutely awesome being able to win this in front of the hometown fans. It just doesn’t get any better,” stated DEL Defenceman of the Year, Konrad Abeltshauser, for whom the moment was clearly surreal. “This is simply indescribable, being here on the ice and with my friends who are here with me today in order to celebrate this moment with me. When you’re kid out playing street hockey, you dream about one day winning a championship. This is like a dream.”
The win was truly a special one for Jason Jaffray, one of the team’s key players, who was nonetheless injured before the playoffs and only saw time and a diminished role in seven playoff games after 39 points and a +24 rating in 45 regular season games. A key figure in the locker room and a fan favourite, the elation was clear in his voice: “There are no words for it’s like watching the last few seconds of the clock run down and then to hear the final buzz, feeling and hearing the support of the fans who’ve been so very loud the entire season, and especially in the playoffs. I’m going to rest up now and then celebrate this thing.”
Enjoying his best season ever was Yannic Seidenberg, who not only put up 41 regular season points, but also a +26 rating. In 14 playoff games, he chipped in 10 points, just like last spring, but his ability to play a key two-way defensive role when it mattered most helped see him named the MVP of the finals. “We’re definitely not going to sleep much tonight,” stated the playoff ace, who once collected 19 points in 20 WHL playoff games for the Medicine Hat Tigers many moons ago.
Just last season, on 24th April 2016 to be exact, it was these Bulls who defeated the very same Grizzlys Wolfsburg from Lower Saxony, four games to none. The Grizzlys managed to make things a wee bit closer this time around losing just 3-2 in the first two outings be-fore beating the Bavarians in Munich 2-1 in Game 3. But Munich left no doubt about its resolve to repeat as champions, winning Game 4 by a score of 7-2 and then shutting out Wolfsburg 4-0 Monday, allowing the team to celebrate the championship on home ice this time around.
The first period saw a Wolfsburg team ready to lengthen the series and an early was al-most put together when winger Gerrit Fauser just barely missed the goal shortly after Brent Aubin had hit the post from a sharp angle. A compact defence was able to keep Mu-nich at bay until some heady forechecking led to a messy turnover and John Matsumoto eventually pumped in his sixth goal of the playoff in the 19th minute of play. It would not only prove to be the game-winning goal but would end up being the first time in the series where the team scoring the first goal of the game would end up being the game’s victor.
Jerome Flaake, a former Toronto Maple Leafs draft pick who had a contract with the Ham-burg Freezers before the team folded last summer, put Munich up 2-0 on a penalty shot in the 25th minute of play. Wolfsburg would then bring everything the team could, but couldn’t find a way passed the very strong Danny aus den Birken, before defenceman Derek Joslin and Brooks Macek, who was the top scorer of the DEL playoffs with 17 points, put the nail in the coffin with their goals in the 47th and 50th minutes respectively.
For Danny aus den Birken, who stood tall in goal for all five games of the series and all 14 playoff games the team played, this championship will surely be seen as a good bit sweeter than last season’s, where his goaltending partner David Leggio played the hero appearing in all 13 playoff games on the way to the team’s first championship. In total, aus den Birken would end up playing 42 games this season after Leggio failed to find to his form of yesteryear. His 1.32 goals against average and 92.4 save percentage made the choice of netminders quite easy for coach Don Jackson.
Speaking of whom, the title is now the seventh the U.S. coach hailing from the state of Minnesota has achieved in Germany, all of which have been garnered since the 2007/08 season. Already seen as one of Europe’s most successful coaches over the last decade, Jackson has added to a legacy of coaching success that is seeing him turn into a man of coaching legend. Once a teammate of Wayne Gretzky in winning two Stanley Cups, it’ll surely be a long time coming before another DEL coach achieves a similar form of suc-cess.
“It’s very emotional. I’ve got tears in my eyes again. I’m happy about every single champi-onship and am just extremely proud of my team,” said Jackson, for whom post-championship interviews are becoming a thing of habit.
It’s always been difficult and we’re just terribly happy to have been able to achieve this victory. I am unbelievably proud of the entire team, of my coaching colleagues, and natu-rally of my team. Every championship is special, both the one last year and this one here.
For a Munich-based hockey team in Germany’s top pro circuit, it’s the fifth title after MTV won in 1922, Munich Hedos in 1994, and the Munich Barons in 2000. In addition, all four goal-scorers in today’s final victory joined the team last summer and thus enjoyed their first championship with the team.
Once again deserving to be pointed out is the continued relationship between Jackson and all-round Danish forward Mads 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 signed to play under his old coach. This is now their fourth overall championship together and Christiansen was able to contribute seven points to the cause after having racked up ten in last season’s playoff run.
Not to be forgotten are Christensen’s Danish league championships, which he achieved in 2003, 05, 07, 08, and 09. There isn’t a player in Germany more familiar with winning than Denmark’s go-to face-off man and one has to wonder at this point just how much winning Christensen and Jackson can continue to do with each other.
Bitter for Wolfsburg is not only their second loss in the DEL finals in a row, but also their third finals loss since 2011. A club continually built on a low budget, there’s not a doubt in the minds of Germany most well-known ice hockey pundits that no one is better at squeezing water out of stone than Wolfsburg coach Pavel Gross. Now Gross and GM Charlie Fliegauf will once again have to spend a summer at the chalk board figuring out how to get over the hump that has become the Red Bull Munich.
For the champs, they’ll surely enjoy this victory as much as the last, before getting back to work on a third. For the Red Bull organization, it’ll be able to use Red Bull Salzburg, which failed to obtain what would have been its third championship in a row, as a case example of what Munich may need to do to secure its third in a row next season.
For many in the business, simply keeping Don Jackson at the helm would be seen as the best recipe for that endeavour.