BERLIN – Eisbären Berlin became the only regular-season winner in Europe’s top leagues to also win the playoffs in 2012. But it needed a tremendous comeback to overcome Adler Mannheim in a final series that went the full distance.
Mannheim on Sunday evening. The champagne bottles were made ready for the big party. The league trophy just needed to be taken to the ice following the final buzzer. Adler Mannheim had just scored two early goals in the third period for a 5-2 lead against Eisbären Berlin in game four of the final series before 13,600 fans.
Nobody in the arena expected anything else other than an impending party in the arena that was one of the 2010 IIHF World Championship venues. Nobody except for the away team.
It was only 14:09 left on the game clock until the home team would have won the game and claimed the best-of-five finals 3-1. But as fans were celebrating and discussing who’s going to get the beer, James Sharrow cut the lead to 5-3 only ten seconds later.
Two minutes later Eisbären was awarded a man advantage. Again it took only a few seconds after the face-off, seven to be exact, until the puck was again in the net behind Adler Mannheim goalie Fred Brathwaite.
With seven minutes left in regulation time Tyson Mulock scored the game-tying goal, and at 3:26 of overtime it was Mulock again who added another marker to tie the series and force the deciding game on home ice in Berlin, to be played two days later.
Tuesday was the day of the showdown before 14,200 fans in Berlin. Again it was a tight match, and again things didn’t look good for Eisbären in the beginning when Ronny Arendt opened the scoring for Adler Mannheim in the first period – a lead that held for almost 20 minutes.
But Barry Tallackson tied it up for Eisbären midway through the middle stanza and the third period was again Berlin’s, with markers from Darin Olver and a converted penalty shot from Julian Talbot. Eisbären Berlin won the game 3-1, and the series 3-2, to defend their DEL title. It was the first time in DEL history that the home time won the deciding game of the final.
“The series was so tight. We played against a great team. The challenge was enormous and I’m very proud of my team that we could win this series,” said Sven Felski, who played his 1000th Eisbären game. “It’s just unbelievable to win the first championship in this arena.”
For the “polar bears” it was the sixth championship in only eight years. Since the club that once joined from East Germany under the old name Dynamo Berlin has won its first pan-German title in 2005, only Adler Mannheim in 2007 and the Hannover Scorpions in 2010 were able to break the Eisbären dynasty. But this year Eisbären won again back-to-back championships as they did 2005 and 2006, and 2008 and 2009.
“It’s incredible,” said Jens Baxmann. “Everybody who saw the last game in Mannheim and this game was just excited. It’s best advertisement for German ice hockey. Luckily we won it, but Mannheim could have won it as well. We’re very happy.”
Eisbären won the regular season that was as tight as the final series. The Berliners had two points more on their account than ERC Ingolstadt, four more than the Grizzly Adams Wolfsburg and five more than fourth-ranked Adler Mannheim.
In the quarter-finals the team swept Kölner Haie before facing the Straubing Tigers in the semis. The surprise team from Bavaria had eliminated Wolfsburg to make in to the top-four of German hockey for the first time, but Eisbären won the series 3-1.
Several players of the Eisbären dynasty have been part of all six championship-winning teams: Jens Baxmann, Florian Busch, Sven Felski, Frank Hördler, André Rankel, Stefan Ustorf and General Manager Peter John Lee.
While Mannheim dominated in the end of the ‘90s with four championships between 1996 and 2001 and an additional one later in 2007, Eisbären remains the most successful German team of the new millennium.