HANOVER, Germany – Germany has a first-time champion in the year the country hosts the IIHF World Championship. The champions are the Hannover Scorpions, who beat the Augsburger Panthers.
Both teams were surprising finalists as Hannover finished the regular season in fourth place after being in last place in mid-November. Augsburg was the eighth seed in the post-season.
Augsburger was the Cinderella team in the post-season. In the pre-playoffs for teams ranked 7-10, the Bavarians ousted heavyweight Adler Mannheim. In the quarterfinals, the Panthers created one of the biggest recent surprises when they defeated Eisbären Berlin, 3-2, after Berlin won the regular season with a whopping 25-point gap.
In the semi-finals, the Panthers defeated the third-seeded Grizzly Adams Wolfsburg, 3-1, but in the final series, they were stung by the Scorpions.
The Scorpions were challenged in the quarterfinals by the fourth- and fifth-seeded teams. After beginning the best-of-five series with two wins, the Nuremberg Ice Tigers replied with two victories, but the Scorpions edged Nuremberg 4-3 in the deciding game on home ice.
Since that game, the Scorpions haven’t lost a match, sweeping ERC Ingolstadt in the semis and Augsburger Panthers in the finals.
For the club, it’s the first big success since it started playing under the current name in 1997. The name was changed from Wedemark to Hannover – and moved to the capital of Lower Saxony in 2001. The club name changed from Wildcats to Scorpions in honour to the city’s famous rock band Scorpions.
The club has played in the arena that was built for the 2001 IIHF World Championship. However, crossing the city border hasn’t been easy as the city has traditionally had its own club that plays in Germany’s second-tier league under the name Hannover Indians.
Meanwhile, the Scorpions have an average attendance of 4,767 in the regular season while the Indians had 3,040, but the numbers show that many die-hard fans from the city still remain true to their Indians, which they see as the “only true club” from Hanover.
Things improved for the Hannover Scorpions when they hired Hans Zach as a coach in 2006. The edgy personality is the most experienced German-trained coach and has the status of a legend. If Zach criticizes what happens in German hockey – and he often does – nobody can ignore from his often offensive and creative quotes.
Zach also coached the German national team from 1998-2004. He was the last coach to lead Germany to the World Championship quarterfinals, in 2003. With every World Championship the Germans missed the top-8, Zach’s former work has become more appreciated. There’s some speculation in the media that he could come back behind the national team bench in the future as Uwe Krupp’s contract expires after the 2010 Worlds.
Zach led the Scorpions to their best-ever regular season finish last year, second place, before losing to Düsseldorf in the semi-finals.
For the 61-year-old it’s his first championship since the title hat trick 1991-1993 with Düsseldorf. In the North American-dominated league in terms of coaches and imports, it’s also the first time a German coach led a team to the German title since Zach in 1993.
Zach’s timing couldn’t have been better. He announced earlier that it will be his last year in the league. Toni Krinner of regional rival Grizzly Adams Wolfsburg will take over next season.
Zach’s team was like the coach’s own personality: rough, without stars, without privileges, but with team players. The players are faithful to the club and coach. They identify with the jersey they wear and some stay for several years – attributes the coach appreciated given the change in this regard since Zach’s most successful years in the ‘90s. Players like captain Tino Boos, who has played professional hockey for just three clubs at age 35, are the type of guys that represent “Zach hockey”.
Norwegian centre Tore Vikingstad had the third-most points in the league with 14 goals and 50 assists in 51 regular-season games, but none of the league’s best 20 goal scorers is a Scorpion.