INGOLSTADT, Germany – Not so long ago, he was a has-been, playing in a beer league. Now, Thomas Greilinger is back and leads the German top league DEL in scoring.
Some players have careers with ups and downs, but the career of the 28-year-old Greilinger was more like a steady slope.
Greilinger played for his hometown Deggendorf in the third-tier league until he was 19. He was then signed by Schwenningen and later Nuremberg and Mannheim to play in the highest league. He even played at the 2000 and 2004 World Championship.
Everything went fast in Greilinger’s career. Too fast. “Maybe I bet too much on my talent,” he said. The media speculated that his life was a party.
A party that came to an abrupt end at the age of 23 after a serious knee injury that apparently killed his professional hockey career. The Bavarian went home to Deggendorf and enjoyed his life without hockey, and gained weight. His lowlight – and the highlight on the scale – was 130 kg.
But Greilinger came back for a turnaround after almost two years without hockey. “Of course it was a tough time when you can’t be active. If you continue your usual habits, it goes very quick and you become heavy,” Greilinger says. “They said at the beginning that my career was over, but eventually, my knee was better and I had to decide between working in an office and playing hockey. Hockey is more fun.”
He rejoined his old fellows from Deggendorf Fire in the Bayernliga, a fourth-tier league, in 2006-2007. He led the team to a promotion and played a full 2007-2008 season in the third-tier league, scoring 106 points in 54 games. The talent was still there and the German hockey community was amazed. Could the former problem child make it again?
Greilinger worked hard to get back in shape. He lost the extra weight and now weighs 88 kg. “It was very simple, I practised and didn’t eat,” he says.
In 2008, Greilinger got a new chance in the DEL when top club ERC Ingolstadt signed him for a year. The contract was extended for three years after the first season. Greilinger, now 28 years old, had 34 points in 52 games.
Sometimes it takes more time to become a complete player. And sometimes it takes setbacks. Sometimes it works, sometimes not.
Meanwhile Greilinger is back on track. He’s having his best season. He achieved what has rarely happened in the DEL, where roughly half of the players are imports. Not a Canadian, an American nor a Czech, but the Bavarian small-town-guy Greilinger is the scoring leader of the league, and the best goal scorer. In 26 games he notched 41 points (19+22).
How could Greilinger’s miracle happen? “I’m still the same person. I just enjoy playing games,” he says, “but of course you become smarter when you get older, but it’s important that you don’t just work hockey, but that you play it.”
National team coach Uwe Krupp recognized quickly that Greilinger could solve the problems on the German offence. While he missed the 2009 World Championship due to injury, Greilinger played in the Deutschland Cup in November.
Playing at his first Olympics in February could become a next highlight in Greilinger’s fabulous comeback. With his strong performance in the league, he sent a strong signal to Krupp, who will have a team mixed of German players from North America (NHL, AHL) and the DEL.
“I had some good games in Munich,” Greilinger says. “It’s anyone’s goal to play in the Olympics, but I can only try to give my best performance in the league, everything else will be the coach’s decision. Let’s wait and see what he thinks.”
After a 15th-place finish at the 2009 World Championship, which was mostly blamed to scoring inefficiency, Greilinger could be a perfect fit. And he also likes the game Germany plays compared to his old times on the national team.
“It’s different hockey compared to then under coach Hans Zach,” he explains. “We played defensive hockey at that time, now we are a bit more offensive. I think that’s also more attractive for the fans. Every forward prefers to play like that.”
Krupp will announce Germany’s roster for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games on December 30. A date that Greilinger is waiting for.