Dennis Endras: The Big Q&A
by Lucas Aykroyd|22 MAY 2020
Germany goaltender Dennis Endras posted a 1.15 GAA and 96.1 save percentage and was named tournament MVP at the 2010 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship.
photo: Matthew Manor / HHOF-IIHF Images
Dennis Endras is finding ways to adjust to our new world. The 34-year-old German goalie is building a house outside Augsburg. When reaches him by Zoom, he’s working in the yard as birds twitter on a cloudy May morning.

This spring, Endras hoped to backstop Adler Mannheim to a second straight DEL championship. But unfortunately, the playoffs were cancelled on 10 March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Like people around the world, the four-time DEL shutout leader and his wife Lisa, who is expecting a child this summer, have spent recent weeks mostly inside. They’ve been going for bike rides and walks, playing badminton over neighbourhood fences, and reading books about yoga and positive thinking.

This wasn’t the way Endras envisioned marking the 10th anniversary of his MVP performance on home ice at the 2010 IIHF World Championship, his first of six Worlds. The 183-cm, 78-kg netminder also made two Olympic rosters (2010, 2018).

Until the historic silver medal under coach Marco Sturm in PyeongChang, 2010’s unexpected fourth-place finish in Cologne and Mannheim was the highlight of post-reunification German hockey history. And it wouldn’t have happened without Endras’s 1.15 GAA and 96.1 save percentage in six games. Hailed for his quick reflexes, he was also named Best Goalie and a tournament all-star.

The 2010 Worlds featured a euphoric atmosphere, carrying over from the triumphant Vancouver Olympics. With Germany’s 2-1 opening upset against the U.S. in overtime before a world-record crowd of 77,803 at the Veltins-Arena in Gelsenkirchen, the stage was set.

The 7 May start date was, at the time, the latest in Worlds history. Fans quaffed enormous beers, feasted on Spargel (white asparagus), and sang along to Scooter’s soaring techno official theme song, “Stuck on Replay.” Attendance would hit 548,788. The weather got warmer and the host team just kept rolling as the May 23 medal games drew near. relives that unforgettable journey in conversation with Endras.

Before the 2010 tournament, people thought it might be hard for Germany. The team had finished 15th the year before in Switzerland. What were you saying internally?

Heading into that first game in Gelsenkirchen, with close to 80,000 people watching us, to be honest, we didn’t really know what to expect. Like you said, the year before, we struggled. We also knew: “If we [mess] up this game, the whole of Germany will be mad!” So many people had bought tickets and booked their holidays and travelled to the rink in Schalke. The pressure was on!

But for me personally, I came out of a strong season with the Augsburg Panthers. I felt confident. That U.S. game was my first start in a World Championship. Even more pressure! But it was just a fun game. For the entire tournament, we were surfing on a wave, I think, with the power of that first game and the people really watching our games. For the first time ever, hockey was big in Germany. The biggest newspapers in Germany were writing on the front page about us. It was such a cool experience.

Before Gelsenkirchen, what was the biggest crowd you’d played in front of?

I would say probably in Cologne, about 18,000 people. But this was a totally different story, a soccer stadium. It wasn’t outdoors, but it felt like an outdoor game, because it was such a wide playing field, with all those people. When we walked out of the dressing room through that big tunnel to the ice, we were like, “What is happening?” It was insane. We still talk about it when we meet up or are riding the bus. Unforgettable.

There was no guarantee that you would be the number one goalie at the 2010 Worlds. Do you think your performance in the 2-1 win over Slovenia at the Olympic qualification in 2009 influenced Uwe Krupp to give you Game One against the Americans?

Every time the home team has a big tournament, there is a chance to reach something big. For me, I just wanted to be part of the team. For sure, having some good games before the tournament helped. But I came right out of the playoffs and we’d gone to the finals. We never had a talk with the coach. He just said: “Dennis, you’re starting.” So that came out of nowhere. And then I was just like party mode!

In the opener, you made some great saves on Nick Foligno, who now captains the Columbus Blue Jackets. What else stands out to you about that 2-1 win?

It’s funny because they showed the whole game again a week ago on TV, since they have nothing else to show, I guess! T.J. Oshie was part of the U.S. team...Nick Foligno, Ryan Carter. They had Scott Clemmensen in the net.

You always look up to those players. They made their way up in the NHL. That’s where you want to be maybe someday. You can challenge yourself and tell yourself you can play with those guys. Respect is good, but too much respect is deadly. I think we handled the situation pretty well. We always have respect for the opponent, but we also wanted to win.

Incidentally, are you a Schalke fan?

No, I’m for Bayern Munich because I’m close to that area. When I was a kid, my first live Bundesliga game was when I was six years old. [Jurgen] Klinsmann was still playing, and that’s when they got me [as a fan].

After you upset the U.S., did you have a feeling you could accomplish something special?

We didn’t look so far ahead. We just enjoyed the moment. Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko came into our dressing room and congratulated us. That was just like, “We know people are watching us. Even the big sport stars in Germany are following us.” Those steps were just little steps, but they all helped us in a certain way. It’s like pieces of a puzzle. They fit here and there, and then you have a good thing going.

We knew we had some big games left. We knew we’d be in close games most of the time. One game would decide  where you’re going, whether it’s to the quarter-final or to the dummy round [relegation]. Thank God we won those tight games!

When the eventual Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks eliminated the Vancouver Canucks from the playoffs, Christian Ehrhoff came to join Germany. As a goalie, what did you enjoy the most about having Christian in front of you?

With all his routine, he brought peace in the defensive zone. I think everybody looked up to him. Everybody was excited to play with him. Even though he’s German, we didn’t get to see him a lot, because when they were still playing, we had summertime, and when he came home, we were playing again! So there wasn’t much time to catch up with him.

For me, it was my first time playing with some of the big guys. It was interesting to see how Ehrhoff handled all the pressure, because when you come over as an NHL superstar, the media, coaches, and fans are all over you. And he did a really good job, playing for himself and helping the team. 

Who else stepped up in a leadership role?

For sure, some of our older guys. Michael Wolf played in our league forever and scored unreal goals, many goals. He also scored the first goal in the U.S. game. Then we had Patrick Reimer and Daniel Kreutzer, who came from Dusseldorfer EG.

You always need a good mix to have a successful team. You need young guys who just play for fun. You need your older guys to take all the pressure. And you need a good coach who combines those two parties. We had a good mix.

With the German national team, it’s always the same thing: when you get together, there are no weird minutes or quiet minutes! You always have fun together, whatever happens. We went through tough times as well in the past, but we always stick together. I was honoured to play with those guys.

What did you like about Uwe Krupp as a coach?

You could really see in that World Championship that he enjoyed it the same way as the players. There was one scene where we were up against Russia in the semis. Felix Schutz missed on a breakaway that would have made it 2-0. And the camera showed [Krupp], and he was just laughing because he knew it was a big chance, but he also was happy for us that we had a really good team on their heels. And we had a chance to win.

He brought the fun to the team and also took the pressure off us. He always stood in front of us like a dad. As a player, you feel safe when you have a coach like Uwe Krupp. He won two Stanley Cups [with Colorado in 1996 and Detroit in 2002]. He’s big and strong. Even now, it’s fun: I play with his son Bjorn. Hockey connects us.

Every time Krupp put you in net in the 2010 group stage, the team got points: the 3-1 win over Denmark, the 2-1 overtime loss to Belarus, the 2-1 win over Slovakia. What made you so confident?

Just having fun. I think it’s always easy to say you need to have fun, but you also know there’s all the pressure on your shoulders, especially as a goalie. We also had two other great goalies in Rob Zepp and Dmitrij Kotschnew. Kotschnew played in Russia and Zepp won five championships in Germany. So I was lucky to get to play most of the games. But even then, those two guys supported me. You always support each other.

As a team, we never got really knocked down. We could play with every team in the tournament. That made us stronger every minute.

Let’s talk about arguably your best game of 2010. The Swiss were favoured to beat Germany in the quarter-final. They’d already beaten Canada and the Czechs. Andres Ambuhl and Martin Pluss were playing well, as were youngsters like Roman Josi and Damien Brunner. How did you feel about facing your biggest international rival?

It’s always a battle against the Swiss! Only a few kilometres separates us. But every game we play them, it doesn’t matter whether it’s the U20 team or the national team, it’s always a tight game. There’s no 6-1 or 6-2 games. It’s always 1-0, 2-1 in overtime, a shootout. So I think it was a 50/50 chance.

Philip Gogulla scored the 1-0 winner. He’d had a tough tournament to that point. He’d been sitting out, in the crowd. He was probably a little disappointed. But then he came out as a hero, so everybody was happy for him. And that’s our biggest strength, our team spirit.

For me as a goalie, I played against Martin Gerber. That was a big chance for me, even a goal of mine to beat him. At that point, he had more NHL games than I had DEL games! Nobody had their money on us or on me. But even then, it was a tight 1-0 game.

And you made 41 saves. What was it like toward the end?

They had a good push in the third. But when you stand between the pipes and see the guys blocking shots and taking cross-checks here and there, right on the line to get a penalty, and the fans are getting louder with every minute, it inspires you. They wanted to go to the semis.

At that point, you don’t see the clock. You just focus on the next shot, on the puck. When you looked at the bench, our players were all standing. Nobody was sitting. You could feel the energy.  And then you realize: “We have a big chance. It’s a great group. Everybody will help each other to win.” 

Many people were surprised that you didn’t play against Russia in the semi-final, which Germany lost 2-1 even though Rob Zepp made 31 saves. How did you feel about the coach’s decision?

After 10 years, it’s still one game I would really have liked to play in. It’s still in my head, in my guts. Rob Zepp played a great game, but I just would like to know what would have happened if I’d played and had the luck going. It’s what you need. Like in the Switzerland game, they hit the post three times! That’s what you need when you have a run.

I was for sure disappointed. I didn’t see it coming at all. I think when my career’s over, I will grab Uwe Krupp and ask him what he was thinking there.

You finished fourth with a 5-2 loss to Sweden in the bronze medal game. Despite not getting a medal, what did it mean to you to be named tournament MVP?

Even now, I still can’t believe it, because there were some great players on different teams. I mean, Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk were there! When the final took place, our team manager came to me and said, “You have to be ready at the red line when the game is over.” Even then, I didn’t know what to do. Maybe I was getting a flower because the team did good or whatever? And then I came home with a trophy.

After that ceremony, my dad, my mom, and me just walked back with the trophy to the hotel. It was just in a shoebox, basically! I was still in shock: “What just happened?” Then in the lobby, Vladislav Tretiak came over to me and said: “Congrats! Great job.” To share this moment with my family was something special. My dad grew up with Tretiak, watching him on TV. One of his biggest idols. And then a person like him comes over to us as a family and gives congratulations and respect. That was probably one of the most exciting moments in my career away from the ice.

Having said all that, when every game we won was basically 2-1 or 1-0, you need the team for it too, right? We had some great players who gave me great help, plus good coaching. It would have been nice to have something for everybody. A bronze medal would have been the perfect ending that day.

How did the 2010 IIHF World Championship change your life?

Those two weeks changed my whole career. Till then, I’d played for a little team in the league [Augsburger Panthers]. We had that great run to the final nobody expected. Then after the Worlds, bigger teams knew who I was.

I’d proved that I could play in the German league and with international players, some NHL guys. Then I got some offers from the German league, but decided to go over to the AHL’s Houston Aeros, signing with the Minnesota Wild. They loaned me to HIFK Helsinki. And then also, without those two weeks, I don’t think I would have ended up in Mannheim for what’ll be nine years next season. 2010 was really the start of my hockey career.

One of your Helsinki teammates was a strong two-way defenceman named Toni Soderholm. Could you have foreseen him becoming the coach of the German national team?

Not a chance! [laughs] The hockey world is strange. I was really happy about Soderholm in Helsinki because he spoke German. That helped me a lot. He explained a lot of things to me and he was really nice to me. When I read he was becoming the national team coach, I wrote him a text: “What is happening?? Congrats!” [laughs]

I think he’s doing a good job and he’s enjoying it as well. Every player likes to go to tournaments with him. That’s a big goal and a big step if you have a coach and players who want to work together.

Is it also fair to say that if you hadn’t played at the 2010 Worlds, you wouldn’t have gotten to record that historic 2-0 shutout against Russia to kick off the 2011 Worlds in Slovakia?

Probably! [laughs] We’ve always had good German goalies in the league and internationally. Even now, Philip Grubauer and Thomas Greiss are doing a good job in the NHL. It’s funny because – I wouldn’t say I was pissed, but like I said before, it’s still in my head that I didn’t play the Russians in the 2010 semis. I always wanted to play Russia. And I got my chance in 2011.

What do you think of the state of German hockey now?

We have some good young guys. German hockey is improving every year. We’ve got some programs going, combined with schooling. The guys skate before school and after school. So I think we’re getting there. We always have more players going over there to the NHL, trying their best to make their way up overseas. That helps.

We have Tim Stutzle on Adler Mannheim this year. He will be a high draft pick. Last year we had Moritz Seider going to Detroit. That’s just one team in the DEL with two great German prospects, and there’s for sure more. German hockey puts more and more effort into our young guys. In the long run, it helps the national team as well.

How about Leon Draisaitl?

We’ve just met with the national team. What do you want to say about him? He’s leading the NHL in points. It’s crazy! He always played in Mannheim with the Jungadler. With Dominik Kahun, it was the same thing. But Leon is something special. Every game with him is watching highlights.

I don’t know where he wants to go, where he’ll be stopping. And he’s still so young. It’s not like he’s 38! He’s 24. So he has at least another 10 years left. I think he will have an unreal career.

Did you always want to be a goalie when you were a kid?

Yeah. My brother played hockey as a forward. My dad was a forward. My uncle was a defenceman. We all lived in one house. One day I just woke up and said, "Hey Dad, I want to be a goalie." And he said: “No!” [laughs] He knew the kind of pressure that comes with it. Even the equipment is expensive. And maybe I would change my mind after a couple of weeks and we’d just have all that gear sitting at home. But I went to the rink in my hometown and tried it. Since that day, I loved it. I’m still loving it. I hope I can do it for a long time.

Who was your favourite goalie?

I always liked Ed Belfour. It’s funny because when I got my first mask when I was 8, I had the Eddie Belfour painting on it, and now I’m playing for the Eagles [Adler]!

At this time, with no hockey or things to do, I’ve been going on YouTube and watching the NHL finals from 1990 to 2000, seeing how the goalies played and how their equipment has changed so much. I’m wondering in 10 or 20 years, when I’m watching my games again, maybe I’ll be like, “Holy cow, what did I do there?” Maybe it’ll all change again. You never know!

What was the key to your 2019 championship run with Adler Mannheim?

Work ethic, I think. We worked out so much, both off the ice and on the ice. And I just think we earned it, winning that championship. We were running over teams. The opponents would play with us for two periods, but then our time would come, and we scored some big goals or we could defend more. Our work ethic was key, and we also had good coaching, good guys in the room. Always, that’s what you need to win. We had the same thing going this year, but we all know what happened.

What does it feel like to have no DEL playoffs this year?

It’s weird. It feels like a tie game. It’s like nobody wins, nobody loses. You didn’t get the feeling of the playoffs. You didn’t win anything. You did all the work for basically nothing. We were all looking forward to the playoffs. We had a great run last year, so we had a big goal to defend the title. But unfortunately, we didn’t get the chance.

Your last World Championship game was a 3-2 shootout loss to Austria in Prague in 2015. Do you hope to play for the national team again?

Sure, I hope so. As long as I play, I’ll hope. I always like to play. It’s an honour to play for the national team. I know some older guys have retired [from the national team], but that’s not an option for me. I’ll retire when I quit hockey, because you never know. Someday, somebody needs you, and I don’t want to be the guy who retires from something I really love. So I’m still hoping I get the chance to wear another eagle jersey again.

You currently have a hockey school called Fource44. Will you stay in hockey when your playing days are over?

Yeah, sure. I want to be a part of hockey. Everything I’ve done so far is about hockey. My goal is to quit hockey professionally when I’m 44. That’s my jersey number. You know, I always looked up to Wayne Gretzky when he stopped playing in 1999.

So that’s in the back of my head, and my goal is 44. Then I’m retiring from everything! But even then, I hope to get a job in an organization as a goalie coach or in player development. We’ll see. I have 10 more years left!