As was expected pre-tournament, Team Germany is locked in a relegation round battle at the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship with Latvia. Germany finds themselves on the brink of relegation to Division I, Group A as a result of a 5-3 loss to Latvia in the first game of a best-of-three series. Latvia can retain class with a win on Friday.
The goaltending for Germany at this tournament has been split between two 2016 prospects, Patrick Berger and Mirko Pantkowski. Pantkowski has appeared in four games at this tournament, posting a 9.16 goals-against average and .779 save percentage.
Pantkowski spoke with Hockey’s Future at the end of the preliminary round, a conversation included in Q&A form below.
Hockey’s Future (HF): Mirko, you saw a lot of shots against the USA. What was it like for you as a goalie to be kept that busy?
Mirko Pantkowski (MP): For me as a young player, it was definitely a good – and eye-opening – experience. I have to make the best of it and learn from it.
HF: What did the USA do in its 13-1 victory over Germany to conclude the preliminary round that you hadn’t seen from the other opponents?
MP: They control and possess the puck pretty much until they can push it into an empty net. They are so strong going to the net and are so dangerous in the offensive zone that I can’t say any other team compares.
HF: Do you see them as the tournament favorite?
MP: Yes, I feel they are the heavy favorite at this point.
HF: What will Germany need to do in the relegation round against Latvia?
MP: It’s simple. We have to stick to the game plan and work really hard. We have to fight. If we do that, we’ll create chances and this will eventually lead to goals.
HF: Latvia gained promotion and is an unknown opponent. What are expecting from them?
MP: I can’t say a lot about them, but I have watched them online and we will watch some video in preparation. What I know is that they are technically well-schooled and do not shy away from physical play. Judging by the results, they believe in themselves and aren’t afraid of any opponents.
HF: What are your plans for next season?
MP: I will return to Mannheim for another season of DNL play. I have to complete my high school and have one more year to go. What comes after that isn’t yet planned, but I will look to take advantage of whatever option is the best for my development and my career.
Germany’s squad at this U18 has not been an offensive juggernaut, having scored just eight goals in five games. Two players are tied for the scoring lead with three points apiece, with 2016 prospect Tobias Eder being one of those two with two goals and one assist.
Hockey’s Future spoke with Eder after the preliminary round for this Q&A session.
Hockey’s Future (HF): The preliminary round is over. What is your take at this point and how has the U18 World Championship experience been for you?
Tobias Eder (TE): The games are much quicker and much harder than I’m used to back home. As a team, we naturally give it our all, do whatever is necessary, and go for the win.
HF: What do you think Germany will need to do to beat Latvia in the relegation round?
TE: We have to stick to the game plan and play in a very compact way. If we do that, we should have a good chance at staying in the A group.
HF: Germany hasn’t scored much, but you had the nation’s first two goals. Did you expect to be able to provide offense coming into the tournament?
TE: Not necessarily. I’m playing on the third line and coming into the tourney, the coaching staff made it clear that we’re responsible for playing a solid defensive role and shutting down opponents. So it’s been a bit surprising that things are going well for me offensively and that I’m getting a good amount of chances. This said, it means nothing if the team isn’t profiting from it.
HF: You were the DNL Player of the Year. How was your season back home?
TE: It was pretty good. I played on a line with my current linemate here, Christoph Kiefersauer. We understand each other well on the ice. My team had a number of ups and downs, but all in all it was a very positive year of development on and off the ice.
HF: One of the youngest players in the tournament, what would you say are your strengths as a player?
TE: It’s tough to analyze and talk about myself. I think I’m pretty strong in the skating department and although I need to bulk up, I can handle myself physically on the ice. Here I’ve seen that I can present a good understanding of where to be on the ice and how to make myself available to my teammates. Of course, all this has to improve.
HF: Your brother Andreas was the captain of last year’s team. How’s your relationship with him?
TE: It’s pretty good. He gives me lots of advice about how to be in a team and how to show leadership. He also gives me tips on where to be on the ice and what I can do better.
HF: The two of you play relatively similar. Do you look up to him?
TE: You can say that. In addition, he’s pretty much been through everything you can do for a kid his age. He’s played several international tournaments for Germany, captaining the team last spring. He plays in the Russian MHL now. He’s played with the WHL and as a pro in the German Oberliga.
HF: You mentioned that he played in the WHL, Vancouver to be exact. Are you open to playing abroad?
TE: Yes, no doubt about it. I need to finish this tournament and then think about what comes next.
HF: Things didn’t work out for your brother in the WHL. Would you yourself like to play in the CHL, if you would have the option, or might you even have an ambition to play for a college team one day?
TE: Well, the thing is, if I were to play college hockey, I’d have to finish my German high schooling. I have another two years to go for that. I’d have to spend those next two years in Germany. With this in mind, I can say that I’d prefer to go the CHL route if that option comes along.
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