Fast forward three years and Riga is seeing the same kind qualities in Germany’s colours. Drawing heavily on the DEL for its roster, the national team has again flown under the radar. And, again, has reached the sharp end of the competition. A shootout win over Switzerland in Thursday’s quarter-final brings a first appearance in the semis since 2010 and a home-ice fourth-place in 2010.
For Dominik Kahun, who jetted into Riga immediately after his Edmonton Oilers came out of the NHL play-offs, the spirit of PyeongChang was a big part of the motivation.
“This team is pretty similar to the Olympics,” he said after the win over Switzerland. “We have a special group of guys. I always talk about the favourite tournament of my career, which was the Olympics. We had such a great group, and we hung out together all the time.
“We had so much fun, and it’s the same here. This team reminds me of the Olympic team, and that’s why I decided to come. I had a feeling that this group is special, and I wanted to come and help.”
Full of optimism
Kahun is not alone in identifying an ‘X’ factor about Toni Soderholm’s roster this time. Moritz Seider, just 20 years of age, was not part of the Olympic team. Indeed, back in 2010 he was an ice boy in Mannheim when Germany defeated Switzerland in that year’s quarter-final. Now he’s one of the fast-emerging young talents in the German ranks.
And Seider is full of confidence as his team continues its journey. “In our room there was never any doubt we had a good chance to win a medal,” he said. “We don’t have to hide that confidence or under-estimate ourselves in any way. We always have a chance for a medal in the last few years.
“We can beat any opponent in this tournament.”
“We are together on an incredible journey with this team,” the coach said. “A team is easy to handle when it has character. It’s always incredible how a team shapes itself during the preparation camp. It’s beautiful to make this experience and contribute to a team that sacrifices everything to end up as winners. I’m really proud of the team.”
He's aware of the historic achievement that is within his players’ grasp and is looking forward to a bright future for German hockey.
“I hope it will give German ice hockey a push again and show how well the players have developed,” he added. “[Leon Gawanke], who scored the 2-2 goal [against Switzerland] was born just in 1999. I’m glad that the younger players are showing how good they are. They are good role models for junior players in Germany.”
Underrated no longer?
In PyeongChang, the Germans were underestimated. In the mixed zone after Canada’s quarter-final victory over Finland, word started to spread of Germany’s overtime success against the favoured Swedes. Almost immediately, the atmosphere in the room lightened. One Canadian player was heard to say the result was ‘perfect’.
Three years later, many in the German camp believe they are still treated lightly by opponents. However, after edging a 2-1 verdict over Germany in Group B action, Finland knows what to expect on Saturday. There are no illusions among the Finns, with forward Iiro Pakarinen anticipating a hard game and head coach Jukka Jalonen prepared for what could be another one-goal squeaker.
So far, in Riga, Germany has proved capable of matching all-comers and, in a tournament full of surprise results, the team has genuine hopes of securing its first medal since silver in 1953. And head coach Soderholm wants that to inspire the whole program to even greater heights.
“I hope that every hockey player, male or female, will be motivated to go further because hockey is such a cool sport,” he said.