HELSINKI – If Christian Ehrhoff had to choose one tune to crank up in the German dressing room, he could go with Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’.” Germany has lost three straight games, but can get back on track with a win over Austria on Wednesday.
So this is no time to lose faith.
“I’m just disappointed right now that we’re standing here empty-handed,” said the German captain after his team fell 3-2 to Slovakia on Monday. “Since we’ve been so close and we’ve played a good game, we have to keep our confidence. You know, we’ve just got to get ready, stay focused, and try to get better throughout the tournament.”
The last time Ehrhoff participated in an IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship, things went much better than expected. At the 2010 Worlds, the swift-skating defenceman made the tournament all-star team as host Germany marched to a surprising fourth-place finish in front of ecstatic crowds.
The legendary German work ethic means that even if you beat them, it’s not going to be fun or easy. Yet goal-scoring can be an issue for Germany. Two of Ehrhoff’s former pro teammates, Jochen Hecht (Buffalo) and Marco Sturm (San Jose), were among the few Germans who have been able to score consistently in the NHL. But age and injuries have slowed them both down.
Does coach Pat Cortina’s roster have enough firepower to claw its way back into the quarter-finals for the first time since 2010?
When Ehrhoff was a member of the Vancouver Canucks, he didn’t enjoy hearing “Chelsea Dagger” by the Fratellis, since it was archrival Chicago’s goal song. But it’s Germany’s goal song in Helsinki, so now he’d love to hear it blasting.
At present, assistant captain Marcel Goc leads the team in points with three assists. With a goal and a helper, Ehrhoff is tied for second with Michael Wolf and John Tripp.
“We are satisfied with what we have here,” Ehrhoff stated. “We’re happy with how the team was put together. We’re going to keep chipping away, and I think sooner or later the pucks will go in for us.”
This season, the 31-year-old Moers native scored 22 points in 47 games with the Buffalo Sabres. He’s heading into the third season of a 10-year, $40-million deal with Buffalo. So expectations are always high when he’s in the lineup. Thus far, he’s averaged a whopping 30:38 of ice time per game at this tournament.
As Tripp pointed out, having just two NHLers on the team in Ehrhoff and Goc can actually be a blessing in disguise: “We’re one of the few European teams where a lot of our guys have been together for the last five or six weeks. Then you look at the U.S., where they’ve only been together for five days. We have to use that to our advantage and just keep playing well.”
To some, the looming clash with Austria might also represent a chance for revenge. In February, the Austrians edged out Germany for a berth at the Sochi Olympics. The Germans won 3-2 in overtime, but would have needed a regulation victory to advance after a loss to Italy earlier in the qualification tournament on home ice in Bietigheim-Bissingen.
It was the first time in history the German men’s national team has ever failed to qualify for Olympic hockey, and it means Ehrhoff (a three-time Olympian) won’t have another opportunity to play in the Winter Games until the 2018 competition in PyeongChang, Korea, when he’ll be 35.
But Ehrhoff isn’t concerned with those big-picture issues right now. “That’s over with,” he said of the February debacle. “We’ve just got to focus on bringing home three points [against Austria].”