Coach Harald Kreis’s squad seemed snake-bitten after opening with three hard-fought defeats against Sweden (1-0), host Finland (4-3), and the U.S. (3-2). On 16 May, the IIHF.com Power Rankings wryly dubbed Germany’s journey “The Neverending Losing Story.”
But then the Germans rewrote their script with four straight wins – starting with a key 6-4 victory over Denmark – to grab the last playoff berth in Group A.
And have they ever made the most of it.
To edge archrival Switzerland 3-1 in the quarter-finals in Riga was an upset, but also not a total surprise based on history. However, to down the unbeaten Americans 4-3 in overtime in the semi-finals, including a tying goal in the dying seconds of regulation, charts new territory.
Against favoured Canada, the Germans have a shot at their first IIHF gold medal ever – in their first final. Let’s look at 5 reasons why Germany is in the final.
Character and work ethic
Defenceman Maximilian Kastner put it beautifully after the semi-finals: “We know we have the skill, but our work ethic is pretty high during the whole tournament. We felt if we could keep it going, anything is possible. We believed in ourselves, and that was our biggest strength.”
Captain Moritz Muller highlighted San Jose Sharks role forward Nico Sturm as an example of that work ethic. Sturm has a team-leading six goals after scoring 14 goals in 74 NHL games this season. Muller told IIHF.com: “It's good that he rewards himself with offensive goals through hard and honest work.”
In decades past, the Germans always worked hard but had no finish at the elite level. This year, it’s all coming together, and it’s shades of their historic silver medal run at the 2018 Olympics.
Experience from PyeongChang
By no means is this a carbon copy of the 2018 Olympic team. In fact, there are just four returnees: Dominik Kahun, Jonas Muller, Moritz Muller, and Marcel Noebels. Yet those four all played major roles in the thrilling semi-final win, especially the forwards.
Noebels delivered big-time with the 3-3 equalizer with 1:23, converting a rebound. Kahun assisted on three goals, including that equalizer and the overtime winner by Frederik Tiffels.
This is a chance for the PyeongChang veterans to get some redemption after letting the 2018 gold medal slip away in a 4-3 overtime loss to the OAR team.
Young stars stepping up
The Germans might not have Leon Draisaitl and Tim Stutzle up front, but they’ve gotten an excellent performance out of John (JJ) Peterka. The Buffalo Sabres forward, 21, is vying for the tournament scoring title with 11 points, just one behind Czechia’s Dominik Kubalik and the U.S’s Rocco Grimaldi.
Peterka zapped home the game-winner versus Switzerland and will be hungry in the gold medal game after going pointless in the semi-finals.
Meanwhile, Germany has never had an all-around defenceman of Moritz Seider’s calibre before. Named Best Defender and an all-star when the Germans came fourth in 2021, the 22-year-old Detroit Red Wings star boasts the highest points-per-game (0.561) among German blueliners in NHL history.
In Tampere, Seider is playing a team-high 21:06 per game. He has some amends to make after taking a five-minute boarding major in the quarter-finals. Watch for him to shine versus familiar Canadian NHL adversaries.
On Saturday, the U.S. outshot Germany 6-3 in overtime. These were bona fide chances, including three shots by top sniper Cutter Gauthier. Nonetheless, German goalie Mathias Niederberger barred the door when it counted most.
Niederberger reflected on how he bounced back after spotting the U.S. a 2-0 lead in the first four minutes: “It was two quick goals, but I knew it didn't really matter. I just have to play the game. I've been in crunch-time games often. The best thing to do is just take it a shot at a time and that's what I did today.”
At 30, the two-time DEL champion brings valuable experience from Germany’s 2021 fourth-place run. Could he out-duel Canada’s Samuel Montembeault in the final? Not out of the question.
A sense of unlimited possibilities
Everyone in the German dressing room has to be saying: “Why not us?”
They’ve already defeated the tournament’s only two previously unbeaten teams. Switzerland had a tournament-record shutout streak from Day One of 205:38. The Americans still have the best goal difference (40-12). But Germany’s going for gold, not them.
And of course, Germany upset Canada 4-3 in the 2018 Olympic semi-final, which adds an extra layer of confidence.
Asked about the key to beating the Canadians on Sunday, German forward Samuel Soramies replied: “Play our game we've played the whole tournament. I think we've shown in every game what we're capable of, that we can win every game, that we can beat every opponent. I think they better come ready! We'll be ready.”