Not many young German prospects have played for a CHL team in the past and this won’t change any time soon. The prospects who are good enough for the CHL prefer to stay in Germany. A good example is goalie Dimitri Pätzold. At 19 years old, he’s still able to play a maximum of two years of junior hockey, but why should he do this? In 2000 – as a 17 year old – he already played pro hockey. The CHL would be a step back from pro hockey. So, the best German talents are already pros in Germany if they’d be good enough to play junior hockey in Canada. The guys from Germany who wants to play at the CHL usually aren’t good enough. Such as is the case, we won’t see many Germans in the major junior hockey leagues: the WHL, OHL and the QMJHL. However, some very talented Germans have played and will play in these leagues. (See “the past”)
Only one German player has officially announced his “opt-in” for this years CHL Import Draft, which will be held on June 26th and 27th. As always, this occurred only a few days after the NHL Entry Draft. Last year, two forwards from Germany, Björn Bombis and Max Kaltenhauser, attended the draft. Neither player was drafted and both played in Germany’s minor leagues last season.
Back to the one player opting in to this year’s draft. His name is >Thomas Ower, a goalie who catches left. He is currently 16 years old and wants to play at the major junior level. First things first. It all starts in Villingen-Schwenningen, a town with 81,000 inhabitants located in the southwest region of Germany. He was born there in 1985, on December, 27th, as were the Seidenberg brothers. Dennis (Philadelphia Draft Pick in 2001) and Yannic (Prospect for 2002) were both born in Villingen-Schwenningen too. Like these brothers, Ower started his hockey career for the local hockey club, the Schwenninger ERC. The pro team of the club are the Schwenninger Wild Wings. This team plays at the highest level in Germany, the German Hockey League (DEL). This team shouldn’t be completely unknown. Marcel Goc, a first round choice of the San Jose Sharks in last summer’s draft was developing there until February of this year.
Thomas’ father Jürgen played hockey in the past and since he knew that his kid also liked hockey, he tried to help him as much as possible in his development. Some private hockey sessions aren’t surprising, but that isn’t all. Jürgen Ower is a member of an organization committee for a goalie camp in Niedereschbach, Germany. The last one took place in Germany with the best goalies in Schwenningen, one goalie from Adendorf and the best goalies in the youth system of Swiss club EHC Kloten. The guys were trained by Ower, Swiss goalie coach Daniel Hüni and the well known goalie coach Jim Corsi. Corsi is a former NHL goalie and trained with goalies like Dominik Hasek. In addition, Hasek is one of Thomas Ower’s hockey role models. The other one is Patrick Roy. The most impressionable thing for Ower is that these guys keep cool in every situation. Especially the fast moves from The Dominator impressed him. He has tried to emulate some moves from him. Regarding Ower’s own playing style, he most likely is a mix of the butterfly and stand up styles. Since he has attended a lot of goalie camps, he believes he’s picked up a bit of every style and that that is the best for him. Thus, he displays many moves that resemble many different goalies and has united them all to find and create his own style.
Ower played in the Schwenningen youth system until the summer of 2001. His main team for the season 2000/2001 was the bantam team, where his father was one of the coaches. He also saw some time in the midget team. However, these teams were the last in Schwenningen. The result of several discussions with his coaches and his father was: Ower needs to leave his hometown to continue his development. Since he wanted to stay in Germany, he chose the “hockeyschool” in Weiden. Weiden is close to the border to the Czech Republic and between Nuremberg and the Czech city Plzen. Due to the geographical placement of Weiden, their youth system teams are often playing against teams from the Czech Republic. Between 1999 and 2001, the junior team of Weiden spent two seasons in the second Czech junior league. Last season, it was reduced to friendly games and tournaments. To say more about the hockeyschool in Weiden, the main concept is to keep regional players in Weiden and add some young talents from other countries to them. In the last few years, guys from Canada, Ukraine, Russia or Poland played there. To develop in all areas, the players are on the ice every day, live together and do their school work together. The families pay fees and some sponsors spend money to keep this project “alive”.
Last season, Thomas was listed as goalie number one for the midget team. The team, 1.EV Weiden midget, appeared in the second German (U17) midget league. Thomas started very good in the first season for his new team. In December, several days before his 16th birthday, the junior team called him up. Both goalies were injured and they needed a goalie for the next few games. Ower, you’ll remember, was just 15 and played against 19-21 year old players, and did so without problems. He’s an intense player with nerves of steel. He had no fear playing against these older players. As is often the case, the forwards from the other team knew that they were playing against a 15 year old goalie and shot as often as possible. This went without much success. More shots, more saves. To say more about his strengths, Thomas is very quick on his skates and has awesome reflexes, which means a very quick glove. This guy should be quick and fast in all sports.
Let’s take a look at the results of the last season. With the midget team, where he played half of the season, he finished as the second best goalie in the league. The team has a 19-3-4 record and a GAA of 2.58. The junior team, where he spent the other half of the season, finished first in the second highest junior league in Germany and was promoted to the first league. Thomas Ower was a main reason for the success of both teams. And that’s not all, he also watched some games from the bench as the back-up goalie for Weiden’s pro team. The pro team is called 1.EV “Blue Devils” Weiden and has many players from their own junior program in their lineup. It wasn’t over there either. Ower was invited to the regional Under-16 team and also attended the German junior national team U-16 camp.
Since this season full of highlights, the 16 year old German decided that the best way for his development is to go straight to North America. Ower needs a place to show the scouts how good he is to have a real chance to go over. He decided to play at the Prospects Tournament in Fort Erie, Ontario, Canada at the end of May. A good – meanwhile the best – place for a young prospect. Over 2400 (!) players were drafted by OHL Teams and over 300 players where drafted at the NHL Entry Draft. In addition, every OHL team sent their head coaches to that tournament. So, the young German goalie was very hopeful and highly motivated to impress the scouts.
Ower played for one of the teams of the International Hockey College which is based in Pittsburgh. Every year, teams from the IHC are playing there. In Ower’s age class, the 83-85 born players, the IHC had two teams. The first was called “IHT White”. The majority of the players from this team were from Europe like Stefan and Lukas Grauwiler from Zurich, Switzerland. Lukas is a candidate for the upcoming NHL Entry Draft.
The second team was called “IHT Blue”. This team was full of talents out of Canada and the USA. However, this was the team for whom Thomas Ower played. He was the only non-North American in that team. Fortunately, the Blue Team was the better one of the two teams. They started with three wins (5-1, 4-0 and 4-1) in the tournament, followed by two losses (1-4 and 2-3). Nine goals-against in five games is not much, a GAA of 1.80. A main reason for the good team result was their “young German goalie”. The guy with the tremendous reflexes. “Pretty fast”, noted a scout. Also notable is the fact that the scout always talked about the “young German goalie”. Thomas Ower was the youngest player in the whole 1983-85 born players age class as he was born on December 27th in 1985.
Ower will become one of the younger prospects for the CHL Import Draft. He’s eligible to play a maximum of four years in the CHL. He most likely won’t play 90% of the games in his first season, but he could fill in the back up role in the first year to learn for the next season. With the beginning of the 2003-2004 season, Ower should be able to backstop his team as their number one. He knows what he has to do in order to be successful. At the beginning of the season 2001-2002 he weighed 160 lbs. Now, he’s at 174 lbs. and he will gain more muscle mass in summer training. His height is currently 5-10. To think in the future, he should reach 6′ or 6’1” with about 190 – 200 lbs. in the next years. So, it’s not over, it’s just the beginning of Ower.
Besides, there are also three other prospects, who should be drafted at the CHL Import Draft. Goalie Patrick Ehelechner, eligible for the NHL Entry Draft 2003, is already under contract with the DEL team Hannover Scorpions, but the Ottawa 67’s of the OHL are interested in drafting him. Also, there is a team from the OHL interested in left wing Yannic Seidenberg. The 18 year old forward will be drafted in the NHL Entry Draft some days before the CHL draft as well. The name of the third is currently unknown. There are rumors that a team from the WHL is linked with an 83 born player from Germany. Which team, which player? Let’s wait until June 26th.
# Robert Francz (Peterborough Petes/OHL)
Three seasons with 143 points in 202 games. Francz was drafted by the Phoenix Coyotes after his first season at Peterborough. Besides, Francz was a fan favorite due to his never quit attitude.
#68 Nils Antons (Kamloops Blazers/WHL)
16 points in 89 games during two seasons wasn’t much. Last season, Antons was the topscorer of the Thunderbirds, the hockey team from his University – the University of British Columbia.
#21 Marco Sturm (Kingston Frontenacs/OHL)
Sturm never played for Kingston, he moved straight from Germany into the NHL.
#53 Thomas Dolak jun. (Kingston Frontenacs/OHL)
Played three games for Kingston before his trade to rivals North Bay Centennials. Dolak finished his only OHL season (97-98) season with a total of 45 points in 51 games. Last season, the 23 year old winger played for the Munich Barons in the DEL.
#60 Markus Pöttinger (Ottawa Senators/OHL)
Unfortunately, one season without a goal for the German defender. Fortunately, he assisted on 20 goals in a total of 67 games (incl. Playoffs). Next season, Pöttinger will play for DEG Metro Stars in the DEL.
#67 Levente Szuper (Ottawa Senators/OHL)
Szuper is a Hungarian goalie who played the season before the draft in Krefeld, Germany.
#47 Franz Fritzmeier jun. (Ottawa Senators/OHL)
Fritzmeier played only eight games (two assists) before he went back to Germany. Next season, the forward will most likely play for Oberhausen (DEL).