Daniel Stolpe is a member of the German Eishockey News staff and an enthusiastic expert with profound knowledge on German ice hockey. But his heart is with the German Juniors and the whole development system which is now in the hands of the newly installed head coach of the German ice hockey federation, Greg Poss.
Hockey’s Future asked Stolpe what needs to be done to help the German junior program to advance and establish themselves in the A-Pool.
HF: What is your evaluation of the German pro hockey scene?
DS: It is at a crossroads, facing a crucial decision. The turning point, away from Hans Zach and towards Greg Poss as the new head coach of the German federation took place, but the result of this move isn’t quite known yet. As a matter of principle I feel more confident with Greg Poss than with his predecessor, if one considers to really advancing to a world championship semi final one of these days. Whereas the main objective should still include avoiding relegation from the A-pool for the years to come, besides all commitment to an offensive hockey. What I really don’t like to see is how little time the still Zach-friendly media leaves Greg Poss to implement his system of hockey.
HF: In the past few years the voluntary contingent of non European hockey players for each DEL club was lowered to 11 a team. Are there plans to reduce this number again and how many do you feel should it be?
DS: In my opinion the DEL commission is on a right track: They review how many young German talents are available. For one side, they don’t overextend the ability of those young guys, nor to lower the level of the DEL quality on the other side. I am for the support of our talents, but for the moment, 11 aliens seems to be a good number. A German talent playing in the second tier league learns a lot more, than another one filling the bottles on the bench in the DEL.
HF: Who benefits most of that reduction of foreign players, the older German players or the youngsters?
DS: The best players of both sides, respectively. The return of Tobias Abstreiter or Guenther Oswald as older players to the DEL see the benefits of this agreement as well as all the talents like Ehrhoff, Seidenberg, Schubert, Goc, Paetzold and Ehelechner. The same applies to the average of five to six young players you will find in each DEL team.
HF: Even though the reality looks like most young German players get very limited ice time in the DEL. Not to even speak about the special teams, where even the German federation players have a hard time to get ice there.
DS: Unfortunately yes. I tie this to the fact that right now there is just one German coach in all of the DEL teams. It’s a matter of nature that those foreigners as coaches don’t bother too much to develop their assigned young players. It is his contract which matters and it might also be an affiliation to those foreign players. And there are exemptions of course, Greg Poss in Nuremberg and Pierre Page in Berlin.
HF: Actually there are very few clubs right now which engage in developing young local talents. Is this enough or must there be a lot more engagement?
DS: Even a lot more! Well, not all teams have a family like the Hopp’s in Mannheim backing such a program. But I still believe there is a lot more possible. I often was very demanding on this issue, to tie the DEL license to a DNL team within the same club as it is common in soccer. I am sorry to say that it is more wishful thinking than anything else. So we have to find ways to make it attractive for under-tier league clubs to develop young players. We are hearing of an interesting pool model which is currently worked out by the DEL and the German federation which could already be implemented this coming season.
HF: In the past few years the German hockey federation DEB focused on their junior league DNL. Is this enough or should they start a lot earlier?
DS: Even if the DNL doesn’t get the recognition it really deserves, how could it look like in the leagues below? We should be grateful to places like Fuessen and Rosenheim and a lot of others that they didn’t stop developing young players below the DNL years ago and say, let’s stop it altogether. On one side I’d like to see the DNL start with a one year younger group, on the other side I feel that the guys are just too young to make it in a pro team with the age of 17. So my dream would be a DNL II for 14 to 16-year-olds and above that one for 17 and 18-year-olds, but again, who should pay for all that?
HF: Unfortunately we saw the result of the latest WJC’s including the one in Grand Forks, USA, where the German team failed to succeed. What could be the reasons considering that we are now in the fifth year of the DNL?
DS: To me there are many reasons. Just for the record, I would not want to tie the quite common ups and downs of the German U-20 team to the DNL. This year’s roster had the true potential not to be relegated, though there must have been made mistakes on other levels.
HF: Of course it’s a lot tougher on international levels but nations like Switzerland made the adjustment to those levels. Why did we Germans fail?
DS: Well, why? In the past we were told the Germans were mentally “tough” and the Swiss “soft“ – may be it’s the opposite now? I don’t know. The current situation is rather frustrating. Because, if we don’t succeed on international levels of hockey, it will not encourage other clubs to join the rest and by following their example of developing young German players.
HF: If we keep close looks at Switzerland, the Germans never succeeded at the crucial games against them to avoid relegation.
DS: It depends a lot on the momentum for sure and not to forget the self confidence. The Swiss could acquire at least one win at most round robin rounds or would not devastated by their opponents. If you don’t score for four games in the round robin it will stay in their heads.
HF: Since the whole Swiss development system is also quite known in Germany, couldn’t it be a model to be copied?
DS: I have to admit that I don’t know their development system well enough to compare it with the German one. However, I trust Greg Poss’ ability for analysis, which I got to know at one time very well. He will certainly draw the right conclusions after he becomes head coach of the German federation. Combined training camps with A team and U-20 team, elite programmes, those are all steps in the right direction.
HF: After the final cancellation of the entire NHL 2004-05 season even more North American players signed contracts in Europe. Will the German juniors benefit from that or will it just take away from their ice time in the DEL?
DS: Here too the DEL commission proved to be farsighted enough. Conditions like in Russia, Sweden, Czech Republic or Switzerland, where you won’t find anymore juniors getting sufficient ice time, are not to be found here. They abdicated the idea to open the league to players which are gone after receiving their first call from at home to resume playing there again. I really applaud that. I also agree with Pierre Page who stated that young players can benefit from NHL pros and learn what they are still missing to make the NHL someday themselves.
HF: Which short term steps are necessary in your opinion to advance with the German junior program? And, even more important, which decisions are necessary to keep them there long term.
DS: Two vital steps. First, enough time for Greg Poss to implement his system across all federation teams. This doesn’t happen overnight, but postulating will lift them to the next level. Second, the willingness of other DEL clubs besides Mannheim, Cologne, Berlin and Krefeld to spend 150,000 Euros on 22 German talents in a DNL team, instead of investing it in another foreigner.
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