Sprechen Sie Deutsch? The Sharks will soon.

By Kevin Wey

Christian Ehrhoff turned heads with his performance at the Sharks’ training camp this September, but is Ehrhoff and the rest of the Sharks German contingent making the progress needed to become contributing players with the Sharks in the near future?

So far the answer is yes.

Ehrhoff was able to play the first two games of the season for his German team, the Krefeld Penguins. The first game was a 5-1 win over the Hamburger Freezers in which Ehrhoff had an assist and was on the first defensive pairing with former NHLer Darryl Shannon. However, two nights later the Berlin Polar Bears beat Krefeld 6-3. Ehrhoff shortly found himself on his way to San Jose for the Sharks’ 2002 Training Camp.

While in San Jose Ehrhoff flashed his offensive skills as well as his defensive abilities. Ehrhoff played in two exhibition games for the Sharks before returning to Krefeld, where he returned to pair with Shannon on the first defensive pairing. During Ehrhoff’s stay in San Jose, Krefeld went winless with four losses.

Since Ehrhoff’s return Krefeld has won six games and lost three, with Ehrhoff spending most of his time on the first defensive pairing with Shannon, as well as the first power play unit and penalty killing unit. Ehrhoff has played in 12 games for Krefeld this season, with four goals and three assists. His eight penalty minutes for the season are at a far reduced pace than he had last season, which had Ehrhoff in the top five in penalty minutes per game. Two of Ehrhoff’s goals are on the power play, which is where Ehrhoff is at his best offensively. He has 45 shots, which is second on the team despite missing four games while in San Jose. In his game against Nürnberg, Ehrhoff scored the game-winning goal in a penalty-shot shootout.

A development in Philadelphia bodes well for San Jose.

German defenseman Dennis Seidenberg, a teammate of Ehrhoff’s on the Olympic team and the World Championship team last season, cracked the Flyers’ beating out Bruno St. Jacques, a defenseman heralded this summer as a physical defenseman who might help replace Luke Richardson. Seidenberg is not an overly physical defenseman, like St. Jacques or Chris McAllister, a veteran fringe NHL defenseman of many season, but Seidenberg earned his spot nonetheless.

This wasn’t the Atlanta Thrashers’ blueline that Seidenberg cracked, this was/is one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference that the 21-year old Mannheim native cracked. Seidenberg has played in six of the Flyers eight games so far, averaging 16:05 minutes of ice-time.

What bodes well for San Jose is the fact that in 55 games last season (regular season and play-offs), Seidenberg had 7 goals, 13 assists, 56 penalty minutes and only 64 shots. Ehrhoff, who is now 20, is on pace for 30 points if he plays 55 games, and Ehrhoff is bigger and also more physical than Seidenberg. Ehrhoff has topped Seidenberg in accomplishments at each turn, except offensively at the Olympics last year, where one sometimes wondered if 84 (Seidenberg’s number) was a forward. Nope, the IIHF rosters listed him at defense. Seidenberg did/does not have Ehrhoff’s power play abilities, and Ehrhoff is just a better prospect and player.

This is no slight to Seidenberg, but a boost to Ehrhoff. Fellow teammate on the Olympics and Junior Championship teams last season, Christoph Schubert, is currently in Binghamton of the AHL, the Ottawa Senators’ farm team. Schubert, who had great play-offs for Munich last season (now the Hamburg Freezers), was also outdone by Ehrhoff. The comments by German fans last season was that Ehrhoff was noticeably improved and taking more chances after his training camp with the Sharks in 2001. Ehrhoff keeps making progress and his transition to the NHL could be smoother than that of Jeff Jillson’s, as Ehrhoff will have three seasons of DEL experience to draw off of. The DEL features many former NHL players, which helps push those young Germans who do crack the DEL and play with regularity.

The German game has a distinct North American influence, which likely helped Seidenberg in his achievements in North America in his first season with the Flyers, and should serve Christian Ehrhoff, quite possibly the Sharks’ top prospect. Ehrhoff does not have any major question marks like Jonathan Cheechoo has regarding his skating. The Sharks’ future power play quarterback may not be skating with another NHL team right now or even be skating in North America, he’s skating in a city unknown to most of the North American hockey world in a league that does not garner the respect it deserves.

Seidenberg and Ehrhoff are two Germans who can wake the North American hockey media to the level of play in Germany and the fact that the DEL’s influence from North American “Ausländer” (foreigners) is a strength in developing NHL and AHL players.

Another German joining Ehrhoff in San Jose this September was center Marcel Goc, the Sharks’ first round pick in 2001. Goc, a surprise as 20st overall in 2001, had a disappointing season with the Schwenningen Wild Wings and the Mannheim Eagles last season, which ended with a wrist injury. Goc appears to be rebounding so far this season in the DEL, after appearing in three exhibition games for San Jose, in which he picked up an assist and two penalty minutes for the Eagles of Mannheim. Mannheim currently leads the German Elite League standings.

Goc has three goals and six assists in 13 games, with six penalty minutes, an even plus/minus and has won 54 percent of his face-offs. Goc has spent most of the season playing with Mike Kennedy and Andy Roach, who used to play defense as his wingers. Goc has also had Yannic Seidenberg, Tomas Martinec, and Devin Edgerton as linemates.

The 19-year old German center is only 8th on Mannheim in scoring, but Goc missed four games while attending the Sharks’ training camp. Goc provides strong two-way play, and his revival on offense is a good omen, although former NHL winger Kennedy and top Eagle-scorer Roach both deserve some of the credit. Mannheim is a team full of former NHLers and other North American players. Only former Washington Capital Stefan Ustorf has more points than Goc of the German-born players on the Eagles.

Goc’s future with the Sharks probably lies as the second or third-line center, likely paired with fellow German Marco Sturm. Goc plays a good two-way game, has had success in the face-off circle and has, so far, reacted well to a year of adversity. Goc had a sub-par season with a weak DEL team, Schwenningen, and was injured with Mannheim. Goc also only managed to become an alternate for the German Olympic team.

Goc will, health permitting, represent Germany at the World Junior Championships this winter, and will continue to be an important member of the Mannheim Eagles in their quest for the DEL championship. Goc’s solid skill-level, ice awareness, and face-off proficiency, should help him win over head coach Darryl Sutter next fall, who expressed satisfaction in both Goc and Ehrhoff this September.

“Both are good kids with a great work ethic,” Sutter said of Goc and Ehrhoff in a Sharks press release, “Their skill level is at the top end here and the attitude they have reminds me so much of Marco. They are mature beyond their years.”

A teammate of Goc who is probably familiar to many Shark fans is goaltender Dimitri Pätzold. Pätzold backed Chis Rogles in Cologne last season with appearances few and far between. The 19-year old German goalie also played some games for Duisburg in the Second German Federal League last season. The highlight of Pätzold’s season last year was his dominating performance in the IIHF 1st Division World Junior Championships. This season, Pätzold has looked pretty good in his five appearances with Mannheim.

Pätzold spent about three weeks in San Jose, where he attended the Sharks’ training camp. The young German goalie who was born in Kamenogorsk, Kazakhstan (birthplace of Evgeni Nabokov) did not appear in any exhibition games for the Sharks and was back in Germany in time for the Eagles’ September 22 game against the Hamburg Freezers. Mike Rosati, Mannheim’s starting goalie this season, won that game, but the next game he was shelled for four goals in a little over 30 minutes and was pulled in favor of Pätzold. Pätzold responded with nine saves on nine shots in just over 28 minutes of play.

Pätzold backed up Rosati for the next three games, but received his first start of the season on October 6 against the Kassel Huskies. The Eagles won 3-2 and Patzold made 20 saves on 22 shots. Pätzold started the Eagles’ next game against the Frankfurt Lions and won again, making 20 saves on 21 shots in a 4-1 victory. However, the Berlin Capitals broke Pätzold’s hot streak in the Eagles next game when they scored four goals on 25 shots.

Rosati then started the next three games for the Eagles, all of which Mannheim won. Pätzold received another chance against the DEG Metro Stars on Oct. 27, but for the first time in eight games, Mannheim lost. Pätzold faced 27 shots, stopping 24, but Mannheim only managed two goals against Metro Star goalie Alexander Jung.

In his five appearances Pätzold has played 267:09 minutes, has a record of 3-0-1-0 (wins, shoot-out wins, loses, shoot-out loses) a 2.25 G.AA, and a save percentage of .904. Rosati has put up a G.AA of 2.40 in 13 appearances, and a save percentage of .903.

When Pätzold is brought over to North America will largely depend on what first happens with the Sharks’ netminders already in North America. In the meantime, if Pätzold could supplant Rosati, a perennial representative of the Italian national team in the World Championships, his stock will continue to rise. If trends continue, Pätzold’s playing time in the DEL should triple over last season.

Possibly more.

Hockey’s Future’s Germany Editor, Oliver Janz, says that Rosati’s stock is currently falling, and that Pätzold has the opportunity to supplant Rosati. Were this to happen, Pätzold’s situation with Mannheim could be similar to Kari Lehtonen’s last year in Finland, where Lehtonen, the 2nd overall pick in this year’s draft by the Atlanta Thrashers, lead Jokerit to the Finnish Elite League championship as a young goaltender. Mannheim has a good chance of winning the German Elite League championship this season and Pätzold’s decision to stay in Germany this season could pay off. Pätzold may not have Lehtonen’s supreme talent and it’s difficult to know exactly how high Pätzold’s upside is. However, as long as Warren Strelow is the Sharks’ goaltending coach, it’s safe to say Shark fans will eventually know how high Pätzold can go. Strelow has been a vital factor in the Sharks’ success the past few seasons, as San Jose has come to rely on the strong netminding of homegrown prospect goalies.

At this time, a prediction as a future third-stringer appears a very safe bet for Pätzold, but if the 19-year-old can surpass Rosati this season his future with the Sharks and with the German national team, will be much brighter.

Cleveland could face a delightful dilemma next season in net: too many good young goalies to choose from. It’s quite possible that Toskala, Pätzold, Nolan Schaefer, and Marc Kielkucki will all make serious charges for two spots available in Cleveland. Even if Toskala is traded or up with San Jose next season (meaning Kiprusoff will have been traded), the Sharks have definitely established themselves as franchise with strong depth in goal now and the future.

Meanwhile, Germany as a nation has established itself as a top-ten ice hockey nation. Ehrhoff, Goc, and Pätzold are all part of the reason why Germany should maintain its position and perhaps challenge Slovakia, regarded by most as the 7th best nation hockey-wise in the near future.

All three will likely represent Germany again in the World Junior Championships in Halifax and Sydney, Canada Dec. 26-Jan. 5. Germany is the 10th seeded team in the 10-team tournament. However, it would not be surprising to see Germany finish ahead of Belarus. Germany is usually good for at least one upset in every tournament, as was the case in the World Cup in 1996 and the Olympics in Salt Lake City. Perhaps had Slovakia and Latvia had all their NHLers, things would have been different, but only Marco Sturm made it for one game in the preliminary round, and Germany beat Latvia with Arturs Irbe in net without Sturm.

It’s likely that Ehrhoff and Goc will play in North America next season; and both, especially Ehrhoff, could contend for a spot with the Sharks. Current Shark Marco Sturm will no doubt be relied upon to help Ehrhoff and Goc in their transitions to North American hockey and culture.

The success of the Sharks’ German trio should help the German national teams, help San Jose in the future and open doors for other young German prospects in the process by waking NHL teams to the talent in Germany that lies untapped by all but a few clubs.

The days of BMW’s, Mercedes, and Porsches as the only German imports at the HP Pavilion and Logitech will soon be over.