2014 U18 WJC Preview: Germany likely headed for relegation showdown

By Chapin Landvogt

Andreas Eder - Team Germany

Photo: Bad Tolz forward and 2014 prospect Andreas Eder (L), shown here competing for Germany at the 2013 U18 tournament, spent some time in the WHL this season with the WHL’s Vancouver Giants before returning to Germany (courtesy of ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP/Getty Images)

For several years now, Team Germany has found a way to not only keep itself afloat as one of the top 10 ice hockey nations in the world at the IIHF U18 World Championship, but has actually managed to battle its way into the quarterfinals. This has been the case for four years running, but the last three years were due in large part to the participation of the dynamic duo of Leon Draisaitl and Dominik Kahun.

The day and age where this excellent pairing was good for some of the event’s most offensive dynamics are now a thing of the past, however, so the country will have to hope that a few new heroes are able to make things happen, as this club will rely almost solely on players who spent this past season playing for the country’s top junior league, the DNL.

At the 2013 U18, Germany managed to thrust itself into the playoff round, ultimately losing 8-4 to Russia in the quarterfinals, thanks to a big victory over Slovakia to finish off the preliminary round. This year, there will once again be a game against Slovakia, but it will come right at the beginning of the tournament and is looking to be all-decisive (ed. note – Slovakia defeated Germany today, 4-1). After that they’ll face Canada, Russia, and then Sweden, in that order. These countries are arguably three of the four major medal candidates. As such, any shot at a playoff spot will likely have to come right in the first game. Slovakia has already played its first game, which was a 3-2 OT loss to Russia, so Germany will have to eye a regulation time victory in order to have serious hopes of making the playoff round.

Goaltending

Returning to the U18 tournament is goalie Florian Proske, who was just along for the ride in Sochi. He is joining Team Germany, having just backstopped the powerhouse Mannheim Jungadler program to yet another DNL championship, standing in goal for all 8 playoff games. He sported a 1.95 goals-against average in 25 regular season games and upped the ante in the playoffs with a 1.34 goals-against, allowing just three goals in sweeping Berlin in the finals. Expected to get the starting nod, Proske will be backed up by 6’2” Daniel Fiessinger, who did so well in juniors that he saw time in 12 games for his men’s pro team, Fussen, which plays in Germany’s third highest league. Third stringer Patrick Berger is only 16 and a name to note. He’s along for the ride this time as the program sees him as a bit of a shooting star in the system.

Defense

The team is bringing along seven defensemen to the tournament and from a prospect standpoint, 16-year-old Simon Schutz is the most fascinating. Currently only 5’9” and 168 pounds, the young defenseman turned in a solid season for Regensburg with 13 points in 25 DNL games. He was so impressive that he was called up to the men’s team, which plays in the country’s third highest league, and gathered three assists and 45 penalty minutes in 15 games, eight of which were playoff matches.

Another player to watch will be 6’2”, 185-pound Hagen Kaisler. The defenseman collected 25 games of DEL experience for Dusseldorf, gathering two assists and going -14 for the league’s worst team. That came in conjunction with 28 games for the club’s junior team. He should be the defenseman with the most pro experience Germany can boast.

Also adding pro experience is 6’3”, 190-pound John Rogl, who played a solid, defense-first season for Landshut’s DNL squad, going on to then get two assists in seven games for the organization’s pro team, which plays in the DEL2. The rearguard will be counted on to block shots and make life unpleasant for opponents. The 6’1” Patrick Kurz is coming off a DNL championship with Mannheim and has already signed a pro contract with Augsburg. Considered one of the top 18 year olds in all of Germany, the all-around defender is looking forward to placing his skillset on display internationally at this tournament, where he’s looking to make a name for himself.

Another hulk will be 6’3”, 180-pound Kai Wissmann, who had 12 goals, 26 assists and 70 penalty minutes in 43 games. His play was very much responsible for Berlin making it to the DNL finals and he’s an odds-on favorite to man the power play unit at this tournament.

The defensive crew is rounded off by two more Mannheim champions, the Berlin-born Daniel Haase and Emil Quaas. Both are ample defensemen in all three zones, and Haase in particular could very well see time on the power play unit throughout the tournament after having scored seven goals and 23 points in 44 games this past season.

Forwards

The forward group will no doubt be led by returnees Andreas Eder and Maximilian Kammerer. Both were in Sochi last spring and Kammerer even played a top-nine role at the last WJC in Malmo. Kammerer spent this past season with the Regina Pats, where he gained valuable experience in primarily a fourth-line role. He only collected one goal, three points and a -7 rating in 40 games. Never known for his offensive abilities, the winger plays a thoroughly enthusiastic game, and is not afraid to go where it hurts. If he does have some offensive skills of note, then he needs to show them at this U18.

He’ll be joined by Eder, who came into this season looking like Germany’s top prospect. He played a wonderful tournament for the team in Sochi, getting better every game, and then found himself heading over to Vancouver of the WHL. There, he put up three points in 19 games before heading back to Germany. The tough and speedy winger obviously felt better back home and went on to complete the season for the Bad Tolz men’s team in the third highest pro league, where he had four goals, nine points, and 24 penalty minutes in 31 games. A guy who likes to be all over the ice, Eder has quite a wrist shot when he finds the time and will be looked to as the go-to guy in the offensive department in Finland.

The rest of the squad will be a play-by-committee ensemble, helped considerably by the DEL-experienced Manuel Todam (Krefeld) and DEL2-experienced Stefan Loibl (Landshut). Todam put up 12 goals and 22 points in 26 games for the Krefeld DNL club before getting ice time at the highest level for one of the DEL’s top teams. After putting up seven points in six games for the DNL club, the 6’1” Loibl was brought up to the men’s team for the rest of the season, getting eight point in 43 games. Both should be able to physically withstand the pressures of harder opponents. Smaller Manuel Wiederer spent the whole year with Deggendorf in the third-highest men’s league, putting up 16 goals and 29 points in 44 games, very respectable totals for a 17-year-old who only weighs 145 pounds.

Size up front will be provided by the 6’2”, 195-pound Manuel Edfelder, who had 33 points in 35 DNL games. His game is pretty straightforward and he’ll need to be churning every shift to keep up with the top nations. The team’s playmaking components up front will have to come from one or all of Lukas Koziol, Jakob Mayenschein, and/or Tobias Kircher. All three were amongst the chief offensive contributors for their respective DNL clubs, with Kircher fresh off a championship. Not one of the three is particularly large, so if they can’t keep up with the speed of the international game, the opportunity to put their skills on display will be impeded considerably.

Special attention should be given to Maximilian Daubner, a 16-year-old who managed to play four games with the Landshut pro team. His 18 goals, 27 points,  and 70 penalty minutes in 37 DNL games opened a number of eyes, and he’s believed to be ready for more at the pro level next season.

Outlook

In the past, it’s been the case that Germany’s DNL-trained players have often had a difficult time keeping up with the top nations, even if the national program feels that the league compares favorably with those of other top European junior circuits. There have been a few exceptions such as the aforementioned Draisaitl and Kahun, and this year’s edition is one that is particularly inexperienced at this level of play. Now that the team didn't find a way to get three points in its first game against Slovakia , it will take a major upset for Germany to make it to the playoffs.

Failing a playoff spot, a relegation round match-up will likely feature Denmark. It would be an interesting match-up as the countries are neighbors whose programs are in fairly similar stages, even if Germany simply has more bodies involved. Still, the big question would be whether the strong, junior-based component in Germany’s team would beat out the pro experience many of Denmark’s players have been able to gather. If this should be the relegation round match-up, we’re tipping on Germany outlasting it’s northern neighbors much like the U20 squad did against Norway last January in Malmo.

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