Pätzold leads Sharks’ German Prospects in an Eventful Month

By Kevin Wey

Although Germany ultimately was relegated from the 2003 World Junior Championships in Halifax, Nova Scotia, the Sharks’ Dimitri Pätzold won over a lot of fans in Canada as well as opponents with his stellar play.

Fellow netminder Patrick Ehelechner got both starts in Germany’s two exhibition games before the WJC’s began, but when the big-show began, Pätzold was the goalie German coach Ernst Höfner called on. Germany’s first game was against Finland Dec. 26, in which the German team lost 4-0, with Pätzold stopping 33 of 37 shots. Regarding the first game, German forward Markus Kink told Canadian Hockey.ca reporter David Bonner, “Our goalie played a great game, but we did not have as good of a first period as we would have liked.”

Germany’s match-up the next day was against the Czech Republic, where the Czechs also shut out the Germans. Pätzold was in net again, making 27 saves on 30 shots. The Czechs bombarded Germany in the first period, out-shooting the black and gold 12-3, but were unable to put a puck past Pätzold. However, Tomas Fleischman found the back of the net a little over six minutes into the second period, and Fleischman’s goal alone was too much for the offensively challenged German team. Pätzold told Canadian Hockey reporter Forrest Kenney, “We battled and played better defense, but we need to score goals.” The German team went with the 4-men back defense, as seen in the Olympics in 2002, but changed to a more aggressive forecheck from the second period on forth, but to no avail

Pätzold’s best performance came against the host country Canadians, where Pätzold was shelled by Team Canada with 53 shots. Germany actually held a 1-0 lead after the first period on a David Danner goal and 12 saves by Pätzold. But in the twelfth minute of the second period, Canada got two goals (Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau and Scottie Upshall), from where the Canadians never looked back. Carlo Colaiacovo also scored in the second period with a little under 30 seconds remaining, but Pätzold still saved 21 of the 24 shots he faced in the period. (Canadian goalie David LeNeveau only faced 14 shots from the Germans the entire game.) Jay McClement scored for Canada with a little under 10 minutes remaining, giving Canada the 4-1 win. However, Pätzold’s 49 save performance impressed his Canadian opponents. Upshall told Canadian Hockey reporter Gary Caven that Pätzold “stood on his head.”

The honeymoon for Pätzold ended against Sweden though, where the Swedes scored 6 goals on Pätzold in 32 minutes, upon where Höfner pulled Germany’s top player of the tournament to that point for Ehelechner. The German defense’s inability to clear rebounds was ultimately Pätzold’s demise, with the Swedes won 7-2. After Germany’s valiant effort against Canada, the Canadian fans cheered loudly for the German team. Pätzold told Canadian Hockey reporter Jen McCauley that the help (cheering) of the Canadian fans was great, but that “on the ice, we just couldn’t help ourselves.” The four loses meant Germany finished last in Group B and would have to compete against Switzerland, Sweden, and Belarus in the Relegation Round.

In the relegation round Germany faced Switzerland first on Jan. 2, where the Swiss attack managed 4 goals on Pätzold in just over 33 minutes; with Ehelechner finding his way back to the net. Germany managed two goals, but Switzerland managed six, nearly ensuring Germany would be relegated to the DI WJC’s in 2004. Germany managed to beat Belarus 4-0 to finish ninth overall in the tournament, but Ehelechner got the start against last place Belarus and responded with a shut-out.

The shellings from Sweden and Switzerland dropped Pätzold’s save percentage for the tournament to .870, but the stats didn’t tell the entire story of Pätzold’s valiant effort against the best three teams Germany faced to open the tournament, making 109 saves on 120 shots. (Original Shark Jeff Hackett would understand Pätzold’s plight) Although the German team featured a talented duo in net, the rest of the roster was out-classed by the rest of the teams in the tournament except Belarus.

In total, Pätzold missed seven games for the Eagles of Mannheim while in Nova Scotia, where the team went 5-2. Pätzold returned to Mannheim with plenty of time for the team’s Jan. 9 outing against the Berlin Polar Bears, but was Mike Rosati’s back-up. However, the Eagle’s next game against the Frankfurt Lions on Jan. 12 saw Pätzold pick up a 5-4 win in the start, but only faced 25 shots. Pätzold saw himself back on the bench for Mannheim’s last game against Nürnberg.

In 12 games this season, Pätzold’s save percentage is .891 and a goals-against average of 2.68. Mannheim’s starter Mike Rosati has now pulled away from Pätzold statistically with his good performances during Pätzold’s absence. (Danny aus den Birken filled in as Mannheim’s second goalie.)

Hockey’s Future Germany Editor Oliver Janz says that the 19-year old Pätzold is probably the fourth best German goalie in the DEL behind Krefeld’s Robert Müller (Washington Capitals’ 22-year old prospect and German national team member), Nürnberg’s Marc Seliger (28-year old Olympic team hero who was drafted by the Capitals in the 10th round in 1993), and Berlin’s Oliver Jonas. (23-year old undrafted prospect who played college hockey at Harvard.) Some German fans may argue for others like Jan Münster, Alexander Jung, and Christian Kunast, but Pätzold is the youngest and may have the most upside. Given the inconsistency of Miikka Kiprusoff and Vesa Toskala’s struggle, albeit not largely his fault, in Cleveland may mean room will be made for Pätzold if he can impress at camp next year. (Assuming he’s over.) It’s quite possible that the Sharks will have two goalies from Kazakhstan (Pätzold is a German-Kazakh) in the future, having beaten out two solid Finns if this does come to pass.

Marcel Goc, who also plays for Mannheim in the DEL, also made the trek the Nova Scotia to represent his country in the WJC’s. Goc, like the rest of the German team, failed to produce offensively for much of the tournament while centering Germany’s first line with Yannic Seidenberg on his left side and Josef Menauer on his right side for the first two games, and Adrian Grygiel for the remaining four games. Goc managed a power play goal against Sweden and two assists, one on the power play, against Belarus, along with picking up two penalty minutes. Despite managing only three points, Goc did finish second on team scoring behind Christoph Ullmann, who managed four goals in the tournament. Goc tied Ullmann for the team lead in shots with 17, was second behind Alexander Barta in face-off efficiency at 53.5%, good for 16th overall in the tournament. Goc still found himself as Germany’s best all-around player though, while the German has no real weaknesses. (Reminiscent of Marco Sturm, only not as fast as the blazing Sturm, and not quite as physical, although Goc does well along the boards.)

Upon returning to Mannheim against Berlin, Goc teamed with Mike Kennedy and Klaus Kathan, but was kept off the scoresheet. However, Goc picked up an assist in Mannheim’s next game (against Frankfurt) and had a goal and an assist on the power play against the Nürnberg Ice Tigers. So, Goc appears back on track with his scoring antics that he displayed with Mannheim before the WJC’s, and also with the three assists Goc picked up in Germany’s two exhibition games prior to the WJC’s.

In 25 games with Mannheim Goc has six goals and 12 assists for 18 points. Goc’s penalty minutes remain low at 12, but his shot total of 69 means Goc is second only to Andy Roach in shots per game with Mannheim. The face-off circle continues to treat Goc well, as he’s 11th in the DEL in face-off efficiency at 55.1%. (Second on Mannheim behind Wayne Hynes, a Canadian-born German Olympian last season.)

Had Goc not missed 12 games, (Sharks training camp, leg injury, and WJC’s) he’d likely be in the top five in scoring on his team, despite not garnering much power play time for much of the season. Since December, Goc’s DEL scoring is markedly up, with three goals and five assists in eight games. Last season in Schwenningen was difficult for Goc, as he played for a financially struggling team that traded him to Mannheim for cash just to survive, and then broke his wrist. Goc is hitting his stride it seems, which should help Mannheim in its efforts to catch Berlin for the top spot in the league, and hold off the Cologne Sharks and Düsseldorf Metro Stars right behind them.

Goc is expected to play in North America next season and could crack the Sharks. The fact that Goc is a good two-way player with no major weaknesses should help him if San Jose cleans out players like Adam Graves and the offensively disappointing Niklas Sundstrom. Whether Goc will play center is up for debate, as that would have to mean playing on the 4th line at center over Mark Smith, if that were even plausible. A superior set-up would probably be teaming Goc with power forward Scott Thornton and the gritty, ever-hustling Mike Ricci. Because the Sharks have Marco Sturm, and the fact that Goc could probably handle the NHL, means that keeping Goc up with San Jose to be mentored by Sturm from the beginning may make more sense than assigning Goc to Cleveland. By playing in the DEL the past three seasons, Goc has really already received an AHL equivalent education playing against the numerous ex-NHL/IHL/AHL Canadians and Euros that play in the DEL. (Along with the top players Germany has to offer)

While Goc and Pätzold were playing at the WJC’s, Christian Ehrhoff has been helping Krefeld maintain its play-off spot in 7th place in the DEL with 59 points, just behind the Kassel Huskies. (60 points) Ehrhoff’s six games since Hockey’s Future last update has seen Ehrhoff pick up one goal and five assists, based on a three-assist performance against Hannover on Jan. 1 and a three-point night against the Iserlohn Roosters Jan. 17. The 20-year old native of Moers, Germany finds himself 10th in the DEL in defensive scoring. (Fifth in goals and 12th in assists) The 6’2” 195-pound defenseman leads Krefeld in plus/minus with 13, which is good for 13th in the DEL. Ehrhoff’s closest competitor in plus/minus on the Penguins is Daniel Kunce with a plus-10. (Kunce has been a regular on the German national team’s roster) Former NHL-defenseman Darryl Shannon is still Ehrhoff’s defensive partner as Krefeld’s most responsible defense pairing. Shannon’s presence is useful, as he allows Ehrhoff to continue to experiment with his own game. In fact, the Sharks have no comparable answer to Shannon in Cleveland, especially since John Jakopin has suffered two concussions this season and also spent time up in San Jose.

Ehrhoff continues to be one of Krefeld’s most dangerous power play weapons, but also is a regular on the penalty kill, which can be a rarity for young German players in the DEL. As Denis Seidenberg continues to garner regular ice-time with the Philadelphia Flyers, this bodes well for the Sharks. Ehrhoff’s point totals after 35 games are already ahead of Seidenberg’s point totals of the Eagles of Mannheim last season. (55 games, 7 goals, 13 assists.) Another potential edge for Ehrhoff is his 6’2” frame, two inches taller than Seidenberg. The 21-year old Seidenberg has a sturdy build though, equaling Ehrhoff’s 195 pounds. No doubt the Sharks will attempt to bulk up Ehrhoff when he comes over to North America, probably next year, where he should battle for a spot with the big club. After impressing the since-dismissed Darryl Sutter in camp again this season, Ehrhoff will have another season of development and maturing in the DEL under his belt.

It’s unlikely that Ehrhoff will fail to impress Ron Wilson and staff as well, but Ehrhoff faces the specter of battling against fellow prospect Doug Murray for a potential spot with the Sharks next October. The acquisition of Kyle McLaren means there’s one less spot, if nobody other than Bryan Marchment, who is an unrestricted free agent this summer, is available for Ehrhoff or Murray. Fellow prospect Jim Fahey appears to have solidified his spot in San Jose, meaning the top six spots will probably not be up for grabs. Group II restricted free agent Shawn Heins may be in the battle if he re-signs with San Jose. Heins will definitely be pushing for a one-way contract from San Jose, which is where talks could break down, as there’s a good chance Heins will not win a battle between Ehrhoff, Murray, John Jakopin, and himself.

Jakopin is also very unlikely to out-perform Ehrhoff or Murray for a spot with San Jose, and stocking Cleveland with only youngsters (Ehrhoff, Murray, Tero Määttä, Jesse Fibiger, David Cloutier, Matt Carkner, and possibly Rob Davison again) isn’t a winning proposition, as none of these players have any NHL experience to give their fellow defensemen pointers. Jakopin already plays in Cleveland (when concussions allow), so the only challenge would be to keep Heins in the fold, but in Cleveland more often than not.