Germans dare to dream again
by Lucas Aykroyd|25 JAN 2022
Forward Marcel Noebels, who tied for Germany's points lead at the 2021 Worlds, is one of 10 returning silver medalists from the PyeongChang Olympics.
photo: Andrea Cardin / HHOF-IIHF Images
When the German men came eleventh at the 2018 IIHF World Championship in Denmark, some observers might have concluded that their historic silver-medal run at the Winter Olympics in Korea earlier that year was an unrepeatable fluke. 

Yet the trends after the late-2018 departure of beloved head coach Marco Sturm for the Los Angeles Kings tell a different story. Under Sturm’s Finnish replacement, Toni Soderholm, Germany is on the rise. It finished sixth at the 2019 Worlds in Bratislava and fourth at the 2021 Worlds in Riga.

Thus, for either Canada or the U.S. to underestimate Germany – which announced its 25-man roster on 25 January – in Group A at the non-NHL 2022 Olympics would be utter foolishness.

Always hard-working and cohesive, Germany, which also won Olympic bronze medals in Lake Placid (1932) and Innsbruck (1976), has mutual familiarity aplenty as it quests for that fourth Winter Games medal in Beijing.

An impressive ten players are back from the PyeongChang team. Moreover, the 2022 squad burgeons with teammates from the three DEL clubs that have combined for 19 championships since the top German league launched in 1994/95. EHC Red Bull Munich and Adler Mannheim boast five 2022 Olympians apiece, while four hail from the 2021 DEL champion Eisbaren Berlin.

In net, Danny aus den Birken qualifies as both the team’s greybeard and good luck charm. Now 36, the acrobatic Munich veteran faced a tournament-high 148 shots in PyeongChang and was named Best Goalie after the dramatic 4-3 gold-medal overtime loss to the Olympic Athletes from Russia.

It’ll be intriguing to see if aus den Birken’s strong CHL performance (1.99 GAA, 92.0 save percentage), backstopping his club to the semi-finals versus Tappara Tampere (postponed due to COVID-19 protocols), outweighs the recent feats of Germany’s other two younger DEL netminders in Soderholm’s estimation.

Berlin’s Matthias Niederberger started seven out of 10 games at the 2021 Worlds, including key group-stage wins over eventual champion Canada (3-1) and host Latvia (2-1), the heartstopping 3-2 quarter-final shootout win against rival Switzerland, and the 2-1 semi-final loss to Finland. That track record may give the 29-year-old Niederberger the edge over Mannheim’s Felix Bruckmann, 31, who logged three games in Riga. But things can change fast in a short, high-pressure tournament.

While a lack of NHL pedigree rarely hurts the Germans between the pipes, they’re icing a fairly pedestrian defence corps in Beijing.

Unlike the 2018 Olympics, there’s no established star like the tireless, now-retired Christian Ehrhoff, who ranks fourth in all-time German NHL scoring (339 points). Nor is there a whiz kid like 20-year-old Moritz Seider. He’s parlayed his coming-out party at the 2021 Worlds (five assists in 10 games plus Best Defenceman and all-star honours) into a race with Anaheim’s Trevor Zegras and Detroit teammate Lucas Raymond for the Calder Trophy.

But what if Mannheim’s ex-NHLer Korbinian Holzer can replicate the gritty showing that surprisingly placed him alongside Seider on the last Worlds all-star team? What if another D-man of modest offensive gifts becomes an unlikely hero? Think of what Berlin’s Jonas Muller nearly did in the 2018 gold medal game, tallying the 3-2 go-ahead goal versus the Russians with under four minutes left in regulation.

Beyond the simple, safe, structured hockey these rearguards will surely deliver in their own end, they’ll need someone to overachieve in a big moment if Germany is to medal in Beijing. Marco Nowak (Dusseldorfer EG) is the highest-scoring DEL blueliner on this roster (3+17=20) at age 31, while nine-time World Championship participant Moritz Muller, 35, enters his second Winter Games.

Up front, it will be offence by committee. To put it in historical context, the last time a German team averaged three or more goals per game at an Olympics was in 1984 (34 goals in six games in Sarajevo). At the Worlds, it was 1993 (21 goals in six games in Dortmund and Munich).

Sans obvious snipers like Leon Draisaitl and Tim Stutzle, who could step up? The nifty Dominik Kahun is one possibility. A 13-goal scorer with Chicago in 2018-19, the 26-year-old centre leads SC Bern in scoring (12+26=38) in his first Swiss NL season.

Kahun, who was limited to three assists in five games at the 2021 Worlds, finished second in 2018 German Olympic scoring behind Patrick Hager (3+4=7). At 33, though, Hager’s DEL offence with Munich has fallen off (3+12=15) and he seems unlikely to lead the way again.

Meanwhile, Marcel Noebels is forging a career year in Berlin (16+29=45). The 29-year-old, whose two game-winners in Riga included the decisive quarter-final shootout goal versus Switzerland, leads all German DEL forwards in points (16+29=45), ranking third overall. Noebels tied Berlin teammate Matthias Plachta for Germany’s points lead at the 2021 Worlds (eight).

And if Munich’s Frederik Tiffels can translate his torrid pace in 10 CHL games this season into Olympic productivity, that would be a huge bonus for Soderholm. Tiffels sits second overall in CHL scoring (8+6=14).

Atypically, the German Olympic roster boasts a trio of SHL forwards. Tom Kuhnhackl, a two-time Stanley Cup champion with the Pittsburgh Penguins, has joined Stefan Loibl to bring grit and veteran experience to Skelleftea AIK. Throw in speedy penalty-killer Tobias Rieder, who’s played 478 NHL games, and you know this German forward group won’t lack intensity.

The coaching staff represents an interesting joining of forces. Soderholm’s lone IIHF medal as a defenceman was at the 2007 Worlds in Moscow, where his Finns fell 4-2 in the final to Canada, featuring Cory Murphy on defence. The offensive-minded rearguard, who retired in 2018 and currently serves as an HIFK Helsinki assistant coach, also assisted ex-HIFK star Soderholm at the 2019 Worlds. Ex-national team forward Tobias Abstreiter, who’s coached the last three World Junior teams, is the other assistant.

Hockey is a small world. And it would be a small miracle if the Germans made it to a second straight Olympic final. There is no one area in which the 2022 roster excels. However, they are certainly capable of taking points from every Group A team, including host China. If team chemistry gels from Day One, watch out.


Danny aus den Birken, EHC Red Bull Munich
Felix Bruckmann, Adler Mannheim
Mathias Niederberger, Eisbaren Berlin

Konrad Abeltshauser, EHC Red Bull Munich
Dominik Bittner, Grizzlys Wolfsburg
Marcel Brandt, Straubing Tigers
Korbinian Holzer, Adler Mannheim
Jonas Muller, Eisbaren Berlin
Moritz Muller, Kolner Haie
Marco Nowak, Dusseldorfer EG
Fabio Wagner, ERC Ingolstadt

Lean Bergmann, Adler Mannheim
Yasin Ehliz, EHC Red Bull Munich
Patrick Hager, EHC Red Bull Munich
Dominik Kahun, SC Bern (SUI)
Nicolas Krammer, Adler Mannheim
Tom Kuhnhackl, Skelleftea AIK (SWE)
Stefan Loibl, Skelleftea AIK (SWE)
Marcel Noebels, Eisbaren Berlin
Daniel Pietta, ERC Ingolstadt
Matthias Plachta, Adler Mannheim
Leonhard Pfoderl, Eisbaren Berlin
Tobias Rieder, Vaxjo Lakers (SWE)
Frederik Tiffels, EHC Red Bull Munich
David Wolf, Adler Mannheim

Head Coach
Toni Soderholm