There is doubt that Patrick Ehelechner is one of the biggest surprises of this DEL season. While being under contract as the number three goalie for the Adler of Mannheim, he played eight games for their competitor, the Hannover Scorpions. Now he’s playing on loan for the third league team EV Landshut and he’s currently in the German Under-18 national team. They are preparing for the Under-18 world junior championships in Piestany, Slovakia, which starts on today. Ehelechner will most likely be the starting goalie of that team. Changing topics from hockey performance to personal things, German fans can be very happy to see him in the goal and not in a plane, because his ‘second’ dream job was to be a pilot.
Fans who have met him describe him as nice, calm, smooth, smart and polite. Coaches say Patrick is easy to handle. He loves hockey and he knows what he can reach and what he wants to reach. He won’t be the player who creates problems and continues to surprise some people that he’s just a 17 year old guy. After he found the time to answer some questions, we have to agree with those opinions.
Baby, you can drive my car
The next step Patrick made in his life wasn’t hockey related. He got his driver’s license. In Germany one has to be 18 years old to drive a car, but Patrick earned an extra special license. He can drive a car in and around the Mannheim area. If you see him driving in his hometown Rosenheim, please call the police! … Patrick will receive his ‘normal’ license on his 18th birthday, which occurs on September 23rd.
The boulevard press would have headlined this interview with “Talking to a Bavarian super talent”. The yellow press should write “It starts with the Christmas mouse” (his first movie he watched in a cinema). A normal second headline would then be “…and where will it end?”. Hockey’s Future talked to Patrick about Karl Friesen, what type of goalie Ehelechner is, his time in Mannheim, Hannover and Landshut, the German goalie situation, the Draft, the U18-WJC and his future.
Coincidence or intention?
Only the best is good enough. His hockey role model is Karl Friesen. The 43 year old German-Canadian is a former national team member and played four NHL-games for the New Jersey Devils. His coach in Landshut is Bernhard Englbrecht, also a former goaltender, and also not unknown to the NHL due to his being drafted 1978 (was picked 196th by the Atlanta Flames). His coach in Mannheim, Bill Stewart, coached the Barrie Colts (OHL) and is also a former NHL-player. He played 273 games and had 75 points as a defenseman. Other coaches in addition: Dave Prior, Helmut de Raaf and Peter Ihnacak. In addition, he’s also met Vezina trophy winner Olaf Kölzig – so who hasn’t he met?
Hockey’s Future: Hello Patrick, how does it feel to have the driver’s license?
Patrick Ehelechner: Awesome. It’s like lightning for me. I have to drive over 20 kilometers per day between my home, the school, the ice stadium and the gym. That wasn’t really funny to drive these distances with a motor-scooter every day.
HF: The German national team extended their impressive play from last year’s world championships to this past Olympics. Watching the German games wasn’t easy as they played their games at midnight or 3 am. How did you follow the Olympic games on TV?
PE: I usually videotaped the games or watched the summary the next day.
HF: How does a training or game-free day in the life of Patrick Ehelechner look? Does it go completely without hockey or do you also play something like the NHL 2002 video game?
PE: Certainly no day goes completely without hockey, that just doesn’t work. I am already online in the morning checking out the news – and I would never leave out the hockey news. Also, I play NHL 2002 these days if I don’t have another new game.
HF: Marco Sturm discovered his hockey role models from playing video games – why did you chose Karl Friesen as your idol?
HF: That is relatively quickly explained. The Friesen family are friends of my parents and Karl’s son Joel is at the same age as me. We used to sit in the same baby carriage together. I was very young when I visited the games of the SB Rosenheim in the 80’s, but I knew Karl and he knew where I sat and he would wave his hand to me after each second period break. This alone surely was not the decisive reason however. I liked his relaxed and confident style. He never could be bent and always said what was really on his mind. That impressed me a great deal.
HF: There are goaltenders in the NHL, for example Dan Cloutier, who have gotten tangled up in fights several times. How would you react if the opposing netminder took off his gloves and challenged you to a duel’?
PE: I really don’t know how I would react in such a situation. It never occurred to me. I can’t say what would happen, because you just can’t plan these things. Perhaps nobody should try it. I won’t hide myself. I would personally rather use my aggressiveness and power for the play against the puck than fighting against someone per fisticuffs. However, nobody knows what will happen if ever challenged to such a bout.
HF: There are many different types of players in the leagues, especially at the goalie position. Are you more of a calm goalie where everything can happen and it doesn’t really bother you, or are you the next Ed Belfour type, who’ll destroy the locker room after a loss?
PE: I won’t helped him to destroy the locker room. A defeat remains a defeat. Naturally, a defeat is also frustrating for me, but it seems to be better to learn from the faults and to make these things better in the future than to destroy something. I am really the calm type with the tendency to analyze rather than overreact. This doesn’t have to be emotionless, but it helps me.
HF: The DEL Adler of Mannheim signed you for this season with a junior license. Since neither Mike Rosati nor Robert Müller got injured during the season, your place was only in the stands. What is your opinion about your time in Mannheim?
PE: I didn’t really stay in Mannheim to wait for something to happen to one of the two goalies. I remained there in order to graduate at the IGMH (a boarding school). The sport-related perspective was quite original and different. It was designated to keep a Jungadler team alive, which plays at least the first leg of the season in the Swiss junior A league. The level there is one of the finest around and that certainly would have been a very good thing, for sure. With additional test games in our area – we would have played approximately 30 games. However, before the beginning of the season, this was canceled without any sort of replacement. The result was then only training operations with the Adler Mannheim. However, I’ve learned so much just doing that.
HF: During the vacation, you were lent to a DEL competitor, the Hannover Scorpions. You had eight strong appearances, including the win against your ‘own’ Mannheim team. Sounds like a dream, could anything better have happened to you?
PE: Thank you for the complement. Naturally, it was a dream that came true. The coincidence that in Hannover both goalies were injured and all licenses for foreigners were assigned already helped me get the job. However, I would never have been given the chance to do this without the agreement and permission of my school, the IG Mannheim-Herzogenried. Therefore, I’d like to thank them for this once again right here. On the other side, I had great deal of luck that the Scorpions trusted me to be their man in their time of need, because I had celebrated my 17th birthday only five weeks before. ‘Our’ win against Mannheim was very amusing for me. I always thought I’d win WITH Mannheim and not against them!
HF: Some teams from the second and third league tried to sign you after your spell in Hannover. The movement to the second league based team SC Riessersee didn’t happen, but you are now a member of the third league team EV Landshut, where you are collecting some playing time until the season ends. What is your impression of the team and the league after the first few games?
PE: Naturally, I was particularly hungry to play after the eight games in the DEL and wanted very badly to play more and more. However, any interested team had to accept the fact, that they would only have my services from Friday until Sunday, since I had to go to the school in Mannheim and would then train with the Adler Mannheim on weekdays. Mister Englbrecht from Landshut accepted this situation immediately and we directly reached an agreement with Mannheim’s permission. I haven’t had any problems in Landshut. The team accepted me with open arms right from the get-go. I already knew Daniel Hilpert from his time with the Jungadler Mannheim and Max Seyller from the DEB (national teams). All in all, the hockey players seemed like a big family, I never had problems in my new teams. The league is naturally different. It isn’t as fast and dynamic as the DEL. However, it isn’t easier to play for a goalie because some situations aren’t foreseeable and are harder to read, so there is sometimes more difficulty than in the DEL.
HF: Let us talk about the NHL Entry Draft. The chances are good that you’ll get drafted in the summer of 2003. How do you estimate your chances and how important is this goal for you?
PE: It’s always difficult to judge one’s own chances. I’d rather let the professionals decide that. They look at all the players and make their decisions only after doing so. It is naturally a big goal of mine and certainly would be a good feeling if a team picks you. As I understand the draft, the team that drafts you owns only the rights for you if you should make the step into the NHL. It doesn’t mean that you are an NHL player at that point. The real work starts after the draft. Usually, it is especially the goalies who need more time to develop, although some young goalies recently made the jump into the lineups of some NHL teams. So it would be great if I got drafted, but the real work comes only after that.
HF: There are also some other candidates for 2003. For example, your competitor on the goalie position in Germany’s Under-18 national team, Patrick Koslow. Offensively, Markus Kink and Denny Albrecht have been very impressive. Since you’ve played against those players in the past and know them from the national teams, who, in your opinion, will also be drafted?
PE: I am sure that my friend Kossi will be drafted sometime and my teammate Yannic Seidenberg will probably go in the draft this year. I can’t really say who from the other players should be drafted because the criteria is so complex. Size, weight, skating, skills and so on….. it is simply not enough to play only good hockey.
HF: Lets have a role exchange at the Draft. The teams don’t select the players – the players are allowed to select their team in the NHL. For which team would your selection fall and why would you chose that team?
PE: I believe I’d chose the Maple Leafs because hockey isn’t only a sport in Toronto, it’s a philosophy, religion and lifestyle in one. Additionally, I saw my first NHL game in the Air Canada Center and wasn’t just enthusiastic, but simply overwhelmed!
HF: The recent talents in the German hockey scene are now receiving more chances to prove themselves. Sometimes, this process moves too quickly for some players. Wrong consultation, cash placed in front of kids’ eyes and a lot of concentration on the substantial – the hockey then goes by the wayside. Does this danger also exist for you?
PE: That’s one thing I couldn’t judge at first. The responsible persons would have to know this. I can say for myself, that I don’t just hope, I know, that all coaches who have worked with me so far found errors in my game again and again. Therefore, I don’t have time to take off because I must work on some things which need to improve.
HF: Hans Zach has stated before that only German goaltenders should play in the DEL. This rule won’t become reality anytime soon and Zach probably just wants the attention from the media with such statements, in order to put some pressure on the governing bodies. Are you of the opinion, that Germany needs an extra rule for German goalies in the leagues?
PE: Perhaps we should begin with these regulations in the third league and then eventually in the second league. That will give the German goalies a chance and the time to develop. Honestly thought, I would rather play in the DEL because I am good enough and not just because I’d be there to fill a quota.
HF: The number of foreign players in the DEL is being reduced again for the coming season. In your opinion, what would be the perfect number of foreign players per team so that the skill level remains comparable to today’s standards and the German prospects get enough ice time?
PE: The DEL coaches surely know it better than I which number of foreigners would be best. A reduction of foreigners is already happening. Now he have to look what happen in this process. The number of players doesn’t really mean much, it’s about where and how they are used. Do they play in the special teams or not, if the German goalies play or not? It’s often the case that more and more games are decided by special teams.
HF: Not only the spectators were impressed by your play and your skills as you were goaltending for the Hannover Scorpions. Two things were especially noticeable to me. You actually remained very calm all the time. It didn’t matter how often the forwards shot at you. Ups and downs didn’t really happen. Only from time to time you didn’t hold the puck and that resulted in too many rebounds. What’s your biggest strength and what things do you have to work on?
PE: I think, my biggest strength is my knowledge which I have to constantly develop and improve. Usually, some small things always continue to development, but you have to consistently work on things. I’m actually not doing anything special. My style just developed over the years. It is also correct, that my coaches said that I played quite consistently without ups and downs over the whole season. The biggest problem during my games for Hannover was the fact that I hadn’t even played one game in the season so far. So I had to make priorities. First of all, I had to concentrate on saving the initial shot. Then I had to get the rebound or push the puck into the corners. Anything other than the simplest probably wouldn’t work. Also, it gets better game to game, and the level of play that the opposition brought to the table was very high. Cologne, Mannheim, Augsburg, Duesseldorf, Nuremberg and the Eisbaeren Berlin are good teams and are in the playoffs.
HF: I have a question about your short term future and the next season. Mike Rosati will stay in Mannheim. Robert Müller should be replaced by San Jose Sharks draftee Dimitri Pätzold. Will you remain the number three in Mannheim and where do you plan to collect your playing time next season?
PE: I will surely leave Mannheim. Not due to the fact that Rosy (Rosati) is staying, Robert goes out and Dimitri comes in, but because I must play to develop. However, the last two years in Mannheim helped me very much in my development. From the midget player of the SB Rosenheim to the fourth league player of the Jungadler Mannheim, and then finally with eight games in the DEL – what more could you want?
HF: Last but not least: The Under-18 world junior championships aren’t far away. What are your expectations and how far does your team want to come?
PE: The U18-WJC in Piestany will surely be very heavy this year. This time, three teams will be relegated due to the fact that only 10 teams will be presented at the next WJC. We are already very close to the other teams, proven by our 1-0 win against the Czech Republic last year. It’s only a question of whether we can extend our good play over the course of the whole tournament. In my opinion, each game has to be played before we can say anything else.
HF: Thanks a lot for answering my questions. Best wishes and good luck in Piestany.