VANCOUVER – Uwe Krupp once belonged to a very exclusive club, but it’s time for him to move over and make some room. Either Vancouver’s Christian Ehrhoff or Boston’s Dennis Seidenberg is going to win the 2011 Stanley Cup.
With the Canucks holding a 2-1 series lead over the Bruins prior to Wednesday's Game Four at TD Garden, the door is still open for either defenceman to become just the second German ever to achieve that feat.
Krupp, the ex-German national team coach and a 729-game NHL defenceman, was the first. The way he did it is still imprinted on the minds of both Ehrhoff and Seidenberg, who have carried on the tradition of quality, Deutschland-trained NHL blueliners.
“One special memory for me is when Uwe Krupp scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal in overtime for Colorado in 1996,” Ehrhoff told IIHF.com. “It was a great boost to see a German guy win the Stanley Cup. It was a lot of fun to watch. I was watching the game, and then I went to bed because I had school in the morning. But just after I got up, I saw the goal scored and watched all the celebrations. It was a lot of fun.”
“Uwe was the coach of the national team the last few years, so I’ve gotten to know him pretty well,” Seidenberg said. “I really liked him as a coach and I appreciated the way he worked. He wished both of us luck around the time the World Championship got started in Slovakia.”
Like Krupp, neither Ehrhoff nor Seidenberg is merely a passenger on his NHL team. In fact, both are top-pairing rearguards who play in every situation.
Despite missing two games in the semi-finals against the San Jose Sharks, the super-mobile Ehrhoff is tied with power play partner Alexander Edler for the scoring lead among Canuck defencemen with 11 points. It’s no wonder, since the 28-year-old Moers native is coming off a career-best 50-point season. He’s taken full advantage of the opportunities he’s received since coming to the Canucks in 2009 after five seasons with San Jose.
“Christian’s been a key piece of the puzzle all season,” said Vancouver goalie and 2010 Olympic gold medalist Roberto Luongo. “He’s been crucial on the power play, the success we’ve had there. He’s got a great shot, but he can also be nifty with the puck, make plays, and find guys who are open. He’s generated a lot of offence for our team.”
Thus far, Seidenberg has logged a whopping average ice time of 28:03, tied with his Norris Trophy-winning partner, Bruins captain Zdeno Chara. He’s gotten kudos for his shot-blocking ability.
“I’ve been getting lucky with getting hit by pucks, knock on wood here,” said Seidenberg with a smile. “As long as you go into the shots controlled, not head-first, you should be just fine.”
Chara is unstinting in his praise for the 29-year-old Schwenningen product, now with his fifth NHL club: “He’s a guy who loves to compete. He works hard off the ice to make sure he’s fit. He’s willing to sacrifice his body, blocking shots, making or taking hits. I just love the way he’s so professional about the game.”
Seidenberg and Ehrhoff are friendly away from the ice. They played together at the U18 and U20 levels, and were partners at last year’s Olympics. However, the Stanley Cup final isn’t the time to be exchanging text messages or going out for dinner. That’ll have to wait for later.
Both Ehrhoff and Seidenberg came to North America after a few pro seasons in Germany, plus two World Championships, the 2002 Olympics and some action at the U20 and U18 levels. That international experience was clearly beneficial. Both played in the NHL immediately after the transfer, although they did play some AHL games in their first few years, including a full AHL season during the lockout.
“I think it helped me, playing on the international stage very early,” said Ehrhoff. “I wasn’t ready when I was 18 to come over here. So for me, it just made sense to stay a little bit longer in Germany and get some more development there.”
This year, what will it take for Ehrhoff’s Canucks to come away with the Stanley Cup? “I think we need a great team effort,” said Ehrhoff. “It starts with our goalie, Roberto Luongo, and we need good breakouts from our defencemen. We also need the same kind of speed that our forwards had against San Jose.”
Those elements were apparent in Games One and Two, but the tables were turned in Boston's 8-1 shellacking of Vancouver in Game Three.
For Seidenberg and the Bruins, a major key will be shutting down the Sedin twins, who have won the last two NHL scoring titles and continue to pace Vancouver’s playoff attack. “They’ve known each other forever,” said Seidenberg. “They make a lot of behind-the-back passes. They understand each other blindly on the ice. It’s just a matter of us taking away time and space. We have to play them hard.”
While the Sedin line produced five points in Game Two's 3-2 OT victory for Vancouver, including two goals and an assist for linemate Alexandre Burrows, Seidenberg and his mates succeeded in holding them pointless in Games One and Three.
Looking overseas, there’s still lots of work to be done in terms of raising hockey’s visibility in Germany. “There’s more excitement for the NBA finals back home right now,” said Ehrhoff, alluding to the matchup of Dirk Nowitzki’s Dallas Mavericks versus the Miami Heat. “Dirk is probably the biggest U.S. sport celebrity in Germany. He’s really big. He’s in a lot of commercials and stuff.”
Still, whoever takes the Cup, the historic impact for German hockey will be significant. The national team has built up momentum, earning top-eight finishes at the last two IIHF World Championships. Seeing either Seidenberg or Ehrhoff sip champagne from the gleaming silver mug will encourage even more German youngsters to take up this great sport.