Danny Aus den Birken: Coming from the woods

By Oliver Janz

by Angelika von Buelow

He is the number three of German goalie prospects for the NHL Entry Draft 2003, behind the CSB-ranked Patrick Ehelechner and Patrick Koslow. But there is something special with him.

It’s his name. Canadians love the name of WHL’er Robin Big Snake, Germans now have also a name to remember. The one of goalie Danny Aus den Birken, which means translated Danny From the Woods.

But not his name is something special, after the last months, you would not recognize Danny Aus den Birken. The young man was still pretty shy about a year ago – now he has grown in self-confidence. He knows what he is worth and how important he is for his team between the posts. He is easy-going in interviews and isn’t hesitant when answering questions. He laughed when he heard that one player called him ‘Player of the game’ after last years’ semifinals in the German Under-18 League.

“Oh no”, he says, “it’s never one person who wins a game. Everything depends on the team.” Well said, which makes it very clear that his current advisor is the living goalie legend from Germany, Helmut de Raaf. He always tells his boys they are only strong if they stick together and if everyone fights for the team.

Aus den Birken was born in 1985. He will have to leave the Mannheimer Jungadler at the end of the season due to age regulations, since it’s his graduation year. He currently doesn’t know where he will play next season. Also, he doesn’t want to reveal the kind of offers he’s already received. The only words on that topic were, “There are some”.

One thing he already knows is that he will miss his teammates and all the things around the Jungadler project like living together in a boarding school. For sure, he would like to finish his schooling and then, perhaps, admitting in a moment of carefulness, “Maybe I won’t have to go”.

He already has a junior license from the DEL team Adler Mannheim and belongs to the team as a number three goalie behind former Washington Capital Mike Rosati and San Jose Draft Pick Dimitri Pätzold. He could find the solution here. Yet to this question, Danny remains silent again “No comment, sorry.”

The young goalie prospect was born in Duesseldorf, but he never played hockey there. “Somehow”, he says, “it just never happened.“ Instead he went to Neuss and Krefeld before de Raaf scouted him and introduced him to Mannheim.

This happened three years ago and he has developed well since that time. He became the number one goalie of the junior team and the number three on the pro team. His greatest moment yet came in the playoffs last season. Danny was between the posts and had all opportunities of success in his hands.

His team seemed to be unbeatable during the whole season, but then they lost the important second game of the semi-finals against SC Riessersee. The boys from Garmisch-Partenkirchen (Riessersee), coached by Alfred Weindl, showed more strength than all the other teams in the league.

They won and Mannheim was getting nervous. Everything depended on the round of penalty shots – and on Danny Aus den Birken and his competitor from Riessersee. Wasn’t it horribly exciting? “Well, yes!”, Danny says, „But I knew I could rely on my teammates – I just knew they would score with their penalty shots.“

Of course, it wasn’t that easy and without Aus den Birken between the pipes, Riessersee would have gone to the finals and Mannheim would have had to say goodbye to their championship dreams. Once again, Danny doesn’t want to hear anything about that “Player of the game” title. He doesn’t care about anything like that. “Nonsense”, he thinks, “a single person doesn’t count in a real team”.
But he loves it to remember the day of the final against the Cologne Junghaie (Young Sharks). What a joy to play for a crowd of more than 3,000 spectators who shouted their lungs out for their boys and celebrated the game. That, Danny admits, was the true highlight of his young career!

”I’ve always wanted to win the German championship! You never know if you will ever get the chance to win it again.” Well, it could happen again at the end of this season, but the careful young man would rather not talk about that. He doesn’t like to think too far in the future.

And then – then, there was a second highlight, shortly before Christmas. The calendar read: December, 22nd. The game between the Adler Mannheim and the team from his birthplace, the DEG Metro Stars was scheduled. On this day, Danny was the number two of the pro team, Adler Mannheim. The number two, Dimitri Pätzold, was far away in Halifax to play for Germany’s junior national team at the U20-World Junior Championships. The number one, Mike Rosati, was in great form. Nobody seriously would have thought that he would have to play.

What else should the number three in a team expect? And then everything happened very fast. Faster than lightning. The time played was 29:19. After a big fight on the ice with many players involved, Rosati got a game misconduct penalty. “Mike was totally astonished”, Danny remembers, and he also remembers the moment when one of coaching staff came to him and told him: “Now, you have to play.”

His feeling were just overwhelmed. It was quite a joy, but he also got very nervous. In the goal and between the pipes, the Metro Stars’ players continually shot and shot and shot. “This”, he laughs, “was really totally different than in the DNL! It was much faster, a better playing style and a lot harder.”

Fortunately, he didn’t stay nervous for long, the first shot he saved helped get him into the game. He felt safe now and his defensemen worked very hard for their Youngster in the goal. Aus den Birken faced 16 shots and saved them all. Nobody had success with scoring against him and one of the players who shared Danny’s happiness most was the number one goalie, Mike Rosati. He later told his friends how great it was to see Danny smiling after the game.

The fans celebrated him with standing ovations for minutes. “That was pretty nice, they were all on my side.” He was touched… and happy… and proud. Actually, at least, everyone all at the same time.

His teammates celebrated his performance as well and congratulated. However, the nicest of all was Rosati who talked to him and told him that he did a great job.

A couple of days later, Mannheim had to play in Nuremberg. They were without Rosati, who had been suspended for one game by the league, so Danny was on his own and had to play his first full game. Mannheim lost the game, mainly because of the defensemen didn’t have their best days, however, it wasn’t very bad for Danny. “I’ve noticed I really want to play in the DEL… it’s so much fun!“

His plans for the future are already made and big. First on his agenda is to train, train, train and train as much as possible so he can develop in the best way. “Being fast and energetic is the most important thing for a goalie”, he says. He is on the best way. The last three years brought so much progress, that he is overjoyed that he got the chance in Mannheim.

If he had to chose again, he would go the same route again, he tells. When he first got on the ice at age six, he already wanted to be a goalie. “I had the same position in soccer,” he says and
laughs, “it’s the best place for me. Maybe because I am too lazy to run a lot…”

This article was brought to you by guest writer Angelika von Buelow from Mannheim, Germany.