As this summer’s draft is just days away and teams are gearing up for it, I recently had a chance to interview a San Jose Sharks midround pick from last summer, Christian Ehrhoff. As one of three Germans chosen by San Jose alone, Christian made huge strides this past season, having become a regular contributor to his DEL team and the German National team in both the Olympics and the World Championship. So, do continue if you’d like to hear what Christian had to say about the Olympics, his progress and what the future may hold for him.
HF: It’s only just June and yet the year 2002 has already been quite a big year for you. You were in the DEL playoffs, played in the World Championship in Sweden and were at the Olympics in Salt Lake City. You played a decisive roll in your team for all three events. Has all of this been too much for someone who isn’t yet 20 years old (birthday is coming up in July)?
CE: Yes, it is really a bit much when you take my age into consideration, however I don’t spend much time thinking about that. I always held the Olympics and the WC as goals of mine. Still, I never really thought it would ever work out this well!
HF: In reference to the DEL season: your team (the Krefeld Penguins) was fantastic during the regular season. You played a big role in their success. However, the playoffs didn’t go as planned, as you were swept by the Cologne Sharks in the first round of the playoffs. What happened?
CE: We somehow just couldn’t hold onto the rhythm we had before the Olympic break. We just couldn’t recapture it in time for the playoffs. We made very little of our chances which played a big role in our being swept!
HF: The German National team made quite an impression at the Olympics and it all started with a big 3-0 win over Slovakia. Things went well and even the 3-2 loss to Canada and the 5-0 loss to the US earned Team Germany an incredible amount of respect. How would you best describe your experience at the Olympics?
CE: Salt Lake City was just unbelievable – and that’s just taking the atmosphere of the Olympic village and between the athletes into consideration. The ice hockey was just an incredible experience for me, having given me the chance to play against all these superstars that one otherwise only sees in TV. Having been as successful as we were was just the icing on the cake.
HF: The Germans also made some noise at the WC in Sweden. The first round was great and the team came further only to lose to the favorites from Sweden 6-2. However, especially in this game in which you had a goal and an assist in the first period, the ice hockey world got to see the real Chris Ehrhoff. You were a bruiser the whole way through and it was clear to see that you hadn’t given up at any point in the game, having received several penalties as a result of your hard and diligent work. It was as if you were thinking “Sweden who? We’re as good as these guys.” What do you say to the progress of the German team at the WC?
CE: The development of German ice hockey under the guiding hand of coach Hans Zach is incredible! No one expected anything from us before the WC because several of our key players were missing and we brought a very young team there. However, our team chemistry and desire to win seemed to move mountains. The mix between young and old was good, the euphoria was super and we just had so much fun on and off the ice.
HF: What can you say about your personal development as a player this year?
CE: I’ve learned a lot this year and have gathered valuable experience. The training camp for the San Jose Sharks was super and I was able to bring a lot of positive things with me back to Germany before the season. These things helped me develop my game quite a bit, especially in the one-on-one situations with opponents, for example, in the corners or in front of the net. My club coach, Chris Valentine, also invests a lot of time in me and gives me plenty of trust and playing time. At every Hans Zach seminar and practice, there’s always something new to learn….he spends a lot of time helping out and developing the younger players.
HF: Has San Jose kept continual contact with you after the Olympics and the WC? If so, what do they tell you and how do they try to model and mold your career?
CE: During the season, I always had contact with San Jose officials. I met with some during the Olympics, but I haven’t heard much since the WC.
HF: Speaking of San Jose, you were drafted by the Sharks in the 4th round of last summer’s draft. San Jose seems to have a new-found fetish for German players, seeing as how your countrymen Marcel Goc and Dmitri Pätzold were also drafted by SJ last summer, after obviously having good experience with a previous German draft pick. How did you find out that you were drafted and what was your reaction?
CE: I saw it on the internet. Before the draft, no-one thought I would have been drafted so high. As I came home from jogging that afternoon, I simply looked in the internet and BOOM, there I was, having already been taken. I was naturally ecstatic and was pleased to have been drafted by San Jose, considering that Marco Sturm plays there as well!
HF: Have you already been invited to the Sharks’ fall training camp? Were you in North America last fall too?
CE: I spent a week in their rookie camp last September. I still don’t quite know what their plans are for me for this coming fall.
HF: You and your defensemen colleagues Dennis Seidenberg (PHI) and Christoph Schubert (OTT) aren’t just the hope of Germany’s ice hockey future, you’ve all also been drafted and each of you made huge steps in your progress this year. Do you guys have a good bond off the ice and do you exchange stories about your experiences up to this point with your respective NHL clubs?
CE: We get along real well off the ice. In fact, Chris Schubert is my roommate during international events. And yes, we have chatted about our experiences from our various NHL camps.
HF: Has the NHL always been a dream of yours and is it possible that, as a defenseman, Uwe Krupp was an idol for you?
CE: Since I was a young child, I have shared the NHL dream and this dream has since become my goal. Uwe Krupp is surely a role model since he’s the first German who could hold his own over many years in the NHL!
HF: As a last question, did you ever think when you were 16, that at 19 you’d be a regular in the DEL, in the National team at the WC and even a regular at the Olympics, much less already drafted by an NHL organization?
CE: A resounding no … at the best I’d have dreamt of it. Despite all of these things, I’m only at the beginning of my career. I still have a lot to learn and much to improve, and I really must hope that my health remains intact. This is why I continue to work on myself, to keep my feet on the ground and to never lose sight of my goals.