Eisbären Berlin was on its way to building a dynasty. Last season, they established a new German record by winning the regular season, 25 points ahead of Frankfurt.
But then the playoffs arrived and a quarterfinal series against Augsburger Panthers turned into disaster as the perennial favourites were ousted by the underdogs.
“We were so dominant in the regular season that the last games were meaningless and it became tough to be focused for the post season,” said Berlin player André Rankel. “We didn’t play a good series, and Augsburg did. If they won twice in Berlin, they deserved to advance. But now it’s a new season. And as every year we start the season with the goal of becoming champion.”
It is an ambition that is realistic. Not only does Berlin have a strong roster again, it won four championships in the last six years.
The success in the last few years was not limited to what happened on the ice. Since the club left its traditional rink in the east of Berlin and moved to the centre of town, the club became a melting pot for the city. In the last two years, it had the second-highest attendance in Europe behind Switzerland’s SC Bern.
Rankel is the best example of the changes. The 25-year-old was born in West Berlin when the wall still divided the city and country. Just recently, Germany celebrated the 20th year of its reunification.
“I don’t remember much of those days. My father once showed me the wall and I remember that the fall of the wall was a huge event,” he said.
Rankel also joined the ranks of Preussen Berlin (also known as Berlin Capitals) as a junior player – the club from the west part of the city that once rivalled the Easterners of Eisbären Berlin in the German top league DEL in the years after the reunification of the city and of the country.
While changing sides was unthinkable in the ‘90s it is now the standard since the downfall of the “Prussians” that left Eisbären the only professional hockey club in town. Rankel made the step to the other side and debuted in the DEL with Eisbären as an 18-year-old.
“It was a bit special when I joined the club as a former Preussen player,” Rankel said, “but now Eisbären is a club for the whole city. You can see it with the many people that come to the games and that’s something we’re happy about.”
While Rankel wants to get back to top with his club team, he is enjoying the positive trend of German hockey that was set this year.
In the pre-season, he won the European Trophy by beating top teams like HV71 Jönköping, Färjestad Karlstad, Djurgården Stockholm, SC Bern, TPS Turku or Sparta Prague.
“I’m not surprised because I know we have a good team despite the fact that nobody believed we would reach the final,” Rankel said. “People often belittle German hockey.”
Maybe that could change if German hockey continues to make headlines as it did in May when the country hosted the 2010 IIHF World Championship. The Germans made a huge jump from 15th in 2009 to fourth place.
Unfortunately the positive ambiance didn’t stay in the months to follow. The sport mostly made headlines due to a “summer comedy” in the German top league.
EHC München only got a licence to play in June because of misunderstandings about deadlines, while the Frankfurt Lions were not allowed to stay in the league due to debts.
The most challenging case, however, was the legal dispute between the league and the Kassel Huskies. The club hoped to get rid of its debts through insolvency proceedings, which is against the league’s statutes.
The DEL excluded Kassel and the Huskies went to court. Eventually the league won a few days before the opening weekend when the teams finally knew how many teams would play in the DEL. But the case and the atmosphere within German hockey left a bad impression in the media after the positive 2010 World Championship.
“We had a great World Championship and felt a great support from fans throughout the country. I think hockey is on an upward slope in Germany,” Rankel said. “Of course it’s a pity what happened between the DEL and Kassel and I’m happy that the case is closed and we can play the season. But I think we’re on the right way now.”
The DEL didn’t start so well for the “Polar Bears”. Eisbären is in seventh place after ten games while Rankel had to sit out a six-game suspension. After the successful preseason there’s still some work to do for the Berliners.Notebook:
- Newly-promoted EHC München has surprised the league with 22 points in 12 games – good for first.
- The other surprise team comes from Bavaria as well. The Straubing Tigers trail in the standings by just one point. Derek Hahn leads the league in scoring with 17 points (4+13) in 11 games.
- Hannover Scorpions, the raigning champions, are no fluke. The team is in third place, two points behind EHC München.
- The Isterlohn Roosters have scored most goals in the league, 44, but have also conceded most, 49.
- Kölner Haie, a former top team and European leader in attendance, hasn’t found the way out of its crisis. After missing the quarterfinals for two straight years, the team is now in last place.
- Only three netminders have a save percentage of 92% or more with Daniar Dshunussow (Wolfsburg, 95.1%), Fred Brathwaite (Mannheim, 94.0%) and Patrick Ehelechner (Nuremberg, 92.0%).
- Six DEL games will be broadcast live on Eurosport Germany.
- Former DEL player Rich Chermonaz is back in Germany. He was hired as the new coach of ERC Ingolstadt. Ingolstadt was the first team to fire its coach when Greg Thompson was ousted early in the season.
- German hockey has become active in supporting Munich’s candidacy for the 2018 Olympic Winter Games. After the German Ice Hockey Association also the league started a co-operation with the bid committee last weekend. Annecy, France, and Pyeongchang, Korea, are the other candidate cities.