The German team celebrates in black-red-gold in the dressing room after beating Switzerland in the qualification playoffs. Photo: Yannic Seidenberg (@seids36) / Instagram
Germany looking for another “Wunder” vs. Canada
Not many have considered the German men’s team, back after missing out on Sochi 2014, a medal contender. But now they’re among the final four teams.
The German men’s ice hockey team got its first win at the Olympic Winter Games since 2002 or 15 games against Norway and then followed up with overtime victories in the knockout stage against teams ranked higher than them, first against archrival Switzerland, then against world champion Sweden. A miracle, or “Wunder” in German. Now the team has the chance to win the first Olympic ice hockey medal for the country since bronze in Innsbruck 1976.
The only issue: the Germans have never beaten Canada in nine match-ups in Olympic history. But just playing in the semi-finals is a huge achievement for the Germans, who recently moved up to 8th place in the IIHF Men’s World Ranking after a strong performance at the 2010 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship on home ice in Cologne.
“It's a little bit surreal because nobody really thought it was possible. At the last Olympics we didn't qualify so it's been a long time since we've been on a big stage like that,” said Christian Ehrhoff.
“It's been a crazy 48 hours. We never thought we were going to come that far and I think we are hungry for more, and why not?” asked head coach Marco Sturm.
For Germany it means much. Although there is professional hockey and there are hockey towns with good attendance figures, the nationwide coverage on the big channels and papers is often limited due to the dominance of football.
“It's huge because there's football and there's nothing and then there are other sports. For us, every year we try so hard to get more out of it from the media, TV, anything, and all of a sudden everybody talks about hockey. It's great for our sport in Germany and it's already a big accomplishment,” Sturm said.
The Germans came to PyeongChang 2018 with the underdog role and hoping to win games after two winless Olympics (2006, 2010) and failing to qualify for 2014. And now they’re on a three-game winning streak having only lost the first two preliminary-round games. Games against Finland (5-2) and Sweden (1-0) from which they learned.
“I think we really learned from it, how to play good defence, how to maybe score at the right time, how to stick together as a team, as a unit on the ice. That really helped us. In the end we believed that good things can happen,” said Sturm.
The results and the increased coverage moved the expectation up. A win against Canada or in the bronze medal game would earn the Germans their first ice hockey medal in 42 years.
“Semi-finals – just the word itself is unbelievable. The expectations changed a little bit, I got to be honest. It's our dream and we're allowed to dream. I think all the athletes who are at the Olympics are allowed to dream and our dream came true and now we're in the top four, so it can't be better that,” said Sturm while adding that nothing will change with their underdog role. “Canada's the better team, like all the other teams we played so far, almost. For us, nothing really changes. That's why I think it's going to come down to us. We know how Canada plays and we just need that same effort and that same kind of togetherness tomorrow.”
Against Canada they will play an opponent with a similar mentality. The German DEL is heavily influenced by Canadians on and off the ice. More than 140 players come from North America, almost as many as there are Germans in the league. The top-30 scorers in the German league include 10 Canadians, 10 U.S. players, 8 Germans, a Slovene and a Swede. Tough play and battling hard is engraved into the mentality of the top German hockey players.
“We knew that it wouldn’t be easy but battled from the first till the last second. That distinguishes ourselves. We couldn’t realize what we reached [in the quarter-finals] but we believed in us and came to the tournament to win games,” Yannic Seidenberg told German TV channel Sport1. Coming that far is also gratification for him. “Unfortunately it’s a fact that in Germany there’s almost only football on TV. We don’t get much attention, and if we do, it’s often negative headlines. We’re really happy how it works out here, that’s what we’ve dreamed of. It’s just incredible. In our locker room there’s a big sign with the motto “Believe!”. That’s how we go into each game. We have to be ready against Canada, they will bring a lot of pucks to the net.”
Canada is meanwhile wondering who will be in the net. Ben Scrivens suffered an injury and didn’t practise yesterday. Goalie Justin Peters, the only player from the German league on the roster, and Kevin Poulin would be the alternatives.
“It's a real tight-knit group of guys. A lot of their guys have been together for a long period of time. They play really well as a team and have a lot of experience at the national level playing together for so long. They play a solid team game. It's a huge test for us, an exciting opportunity,” Peters said about the German team.
“They've got an older group. They've been together for a while and I think that's a huge advantage for them to have that chemistry. They have a lot to prove. They have an awesome opportunity. So do we.”
After the two upset wins the Canadians will be well advised not to underestimate the Germans despite the lopsided winning record in the head-to-head games. Germany has only won twice in 45 games at Olympic and Worlds, that was a 5-3 victory at the 1987 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship and a 5-1 win at the 1996 Worlds.
“They belong in the semi-finals, they're playing well. They've won two overtime games and last game [against Sweden] they were in control. They were up 3-1 in the third period, so we need to be at our best against them. We need to stay in the moment and focus on them. We can't look too far ahead,” said Canadian forward Chris Kelly. “We'll be looking ahead to a very confident German team.”
“Germany is playing well. You can say whatever you want but they beat some good teams, so that means they're playing well,” warns head coach Willie Desjardins.
The Canadians will be looking for their 15th consecutive win at Olympic Winter Games to reach the final once again after winning gold in Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2014.
The game starts at 21:10 local time (13:10 in Germany, 7:10am ET in North America).