The 2013 World Junior Championship in Ufa, Russia, proved to be of incredible value to Team Germany. Despite several preliminary round losses of a clear nature, namely to Canada (9-3), the USA (8-0) and Russia (7-0), the team managed to gain a critical point in a 2-1 OT loss to Slovakia and then managed to defeat Latvia (5-2) in a do-or-die relegation game. With that, Germany had maintained the class and is participating in this year’s WJC in Malmo, Sweden.
Germany is entering the tournament with a novelty it has never had before – a player who has become a household name for all who follow draft-eligible prospects with a passion. Centering its first line will be a young man who will not only be one of those draft picks by the time the 2014 NHL Draft has come and gone, but one many feel may even go top 5 in this draft. This young man, named Leon Draisaitl (effectively pronounced dry-site-ill), has gone from being the lanky, 16-year-old top German scorer at the 2012 U18 WJC in the Czech Republic to the ice hockey hope of a nation. After collecting 58 points in 64 games in his rookie WHL season with the Prince Albert Raiders, he now has 18 goals and 51 points in just 33 games to date. This not only makes him the team’s top scorer, but also fifth overall in league scoring.
As such, Germany is heading into the tournament with the type of bonafide star it’s never really had before. Draisaitl’s task will be to spearhead the attack in each and every game of the tournament. The objective will of course be to take things game by game, trying to win each and every match, but the team has little qualms about what it’s number one goal is: to avoid regulation. Featuring a very young group this year, management already has its eyes set on what Germany could achieve in Canada at the 2015 WJC if this team can just manage to retain the class.
Returning to the squad that did manage to avoid relegation last winter in Ufa are forwards Draisaitl, his linemate Dominik Kahun, Frederik Tiffels and goalie Marvin Cupper. All four are playing in North America, where Kahun skates for the Sudbury Wolves of the OHL (four goals and 15 points in 16 games) while Cupper tends the net for the Shawinigan Cataractes of the QMJHL. There, his statistics have been anything but impressive, managing only a 3.75 goals-against average and .888 save percentage in 22 games. These stats are fairly similar to the 3.72 goals-against and .896 save percentage in 52 games he finished with last season. Tiffels will be joining the Western Michigan Broncos for the 2014-15 season, but has split this season between two clubs in the USHL, where he has just four goals and ten points in 25 games. These four build the lone returning entourage.
The rest of the team will be making its debut in this tournament. Most notable is the fact that the entire defensive squad, which consists of eight skaters, has been switched out.
Leading the way on defense will be several of Germany’s most interesting young defensive players, namely Tim Bender, Janik Moser and the hulking Thomas Botzenhardt. Bender went undrafted last summer, but after spending 11 games with Munich of the German DEL, he joined the London Knights this fall where he’s collected one goal, three points and a +12 rating in 16 games. Known primarily for his offensive attributes, Bender will be expected to log lots of special team minutes, looking like the probable power-play QB. His former Mannheim teammate Moser has collected nine points, 30 penalty minutes and a +1 rating in 28 games. A very mobile defender with lots of jump, he too should see minutes in all crucial phases of a game. Botzenhardt has arrived on the scene this season in Germany splitting time between Fussen of the third men’s pro league and Ravensburg of the DEL 2, the second highest level of German men’s pro leagues. At 6’4” and 220 pounds, he’ll be looked to for a physical edge.
Also arriving on the international scene is Jonas Noske, who has seen play in 23 games this year with Dusseldorf in the DEL. Somewhat forced into duty due to the club’s poor luck in the injury department, the young 6’3”, 181-pound defenseman has had to learn on the fly and has done so admirably. Dominik Tiffels, Frederik’s younger brother, has spent this season with the Minnesota Wilderness of the NAHL and is looking to gain an NCAA scholarship as soon as next season. Fabio Wagner has spent the majority of this season with Landshut in the DEL 2, where he’s been playing against men, many of whom have spent time in the CHL and/or ECHL. Dorian Saeftel and John Rogl are currently playing at the junior level in Germany.
Joining Cupper in goal will be Patrick Klein, who has spent this year with Duisburg of the DEL 2, and Kevin Reich, the former Mannheim Junior champion who has seen time this season with Salzburg 2 of the MHL and Munich of the DEL. His DEL outings have been brutal statistically, but with a 2.64 goals-against average and .913 save percentage in six MHL games, Reich has been able to effectively put his talents on display in one of Europe’s strongest junior leagues. Germany has confidence that both of these goalies could easily step in and bear the load should Cupper falter at any juncture of the tournament.
Up front, the club will sport a number of players who have been on previous U18 teams. The most important name is the draft-eligible Parker Tuomie. The little ball of energy dominated the German junior circuit last season and then found himself lining up with Draisaitl and Kahun at the U18 tournament in Sochi. He’s spending this season with the Wenatchee Wild of the NAHL where he has seven goals and 19 points in 21 games. Like his father before him, Tuomie plans on attending an NCAA program.
Markus Eisenschmid was also in Sochi and has spent this season with the Medicine Hat Tigers, where he’s collected five goals and nine points in 28 games. He’ll likely line up together with Max Kammerer, another Sochi veteran, who has just three points in 21 games with the Regina Pats. Their experience in North America will be of particular importance when Germany plays against North American opponents. Another former U18 team member, having last suited up at the 2012 tournament in the Czech Republic, is Sven Ziegler, who has spent several seasons playing for FASS Berlin in Germany’s 3rd highest level. He is, however, signed with the Eisbaeren Berlin, for whom he has suited up for one game in each of the last two seasons.
Also important with respect to the professional experience they’re adding to the club are Patrick Klopper of the Krefeld Penguins and Jari Neugebauer of the Dusseldorf EG. Both have spent more or less the entire season with their respective DEL clubs, Klopper being in his second season, and know what it means to play with and against pros, especially in light of how many ex-NHL players dot the DEL lineups. They’ll surely both be looked to for leadership and the ability to withhold the pressure that rougher opponents will bring with them. Another pro player is the 207-pound Kai Herpich. Playing with Salzburg in the MHL, Herpich scored nine goals and 13 points in just 15 games and was given a shot with Munich of the DEL. He has been a fixture on the fourth line ever since. He’ll certainly be looked to by coach Ernst Hofner to throw his weight around.
Other forwards currently playing in North America are Lennart Palausch and Lukas Laub. Both are in the NAHL and have retained NCAA eligibility. How they’ve progressed and what they can add to Germany in a tournament filled with players who regularly skate against much stronger competition will first be seen in the course of the tournament, as is the case with surprise junior addition Vladislav Filin. Filin has been a long time member of Berlin’s junior program and has also seen action with Ziegler’s FASS Berlin team this winter, where he’s scored three goals and nine points in 15 games.
All in all, team Germany will feature 12 players currently suiting up for clubs in North America and another nine players who are playing professional men’s hockey in one of Germany’s top three levels of professional play. The team hopes this mixture will go a long way in making the team competitive in the tournament, most particularly against their robust preliminary round rivals Canada and the USA. The team grabbed a point against Slovakia last year and fully intends to gain even more in this year’s bout. The trickiest opponent to prepare for will be geographical neighbor Czech Republic, a team Germany hasn’t played at this level in quite some time. It goes without saying that anything less than five preliminary round points will likely see Germany placed in the relegation round.
If that should be the case, the pressure will be on no less than Draisaitl, Kahun, and Cupper to repeat their heroics from last January. In light of what is on the line in this all-important season, particularly for Draisaitl, it wouldn’t be wise to bet against him being ready to singlehandedly keep Germany in the world’s top class if need be.
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