GANGNEUNG, SOUTH KOREA - FEBRUARY 16: Germany's head coach Marco Sturm talks to the players during a timeout in the third period against Team Sweden during preliminary round action at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games. (Photo by Matt Zambonin/HHOF-IIHF Images)
Gold-medal game rare air for nation
There were no indicators that this might be the year for Germany, not in its recent past, not in its distant past.
Indeed, Germany joined the IIHF on 19 September 1909, and in the ensuing 109 years or so it has won exactly five medals in competition. It has never won a medal at the World Junior Championship, never won a medal at the men’s U18, never won a medal in women’s hockey.
Of the 218 inductees in the IIHF Hall of Fame, 13 come from Germany. But one is Dr. Gunther Sabetzki, a past IIHF president, another is referee Josef Kompalla, and two others are Builders: Heinz Henschel and Xaver Unsinn,
Yet the Deutsche Eishockey Liga (DEL) is thriving, and hockey is popular as a winter sport (although it commands nowhere near the audience and coverage for football).
The golden era of hockey in Germany can be said to be the 1930s. In that decade the Germans won a silver and bronze at the World Championship and a bronze at the Olympics, all coached by Erich Romer. But even those achievements, which look impressive on paper, were not that spectacular.
To wit, the bronze at the 1932 Olympics in Lake Placid occurred at an event with only four teams. Poland, winless in six games, finished last, and Germany was third with a 2-4 record and a goals for/against difference of 7-26.
At the 1930 Worlds, Germany went to the gold-medal game before losing to a strong Canadian team, 6-1, and in 1934 the Germans had a 5-3 record but scored only 10 goals and allowed 14.
They earned a bronze in 1953 at the World Championship, but that was in a tournament with only three teams, the Czechoslovaks withdrawing after the death of their president, Klement Gottwald.
The team’s last medal of any sort came at the 1976 Olympics in Innsbruck, where the top six teams played a simple round robin of five games each. West Germany finished third with a 2-3 record, identical to Finland and the United States, but it received the bronze by virtue of having the better goal quote than the Finns and the Americans.
That event saw Erich Kuhnhackl, one of the 13 IIHF Hall of Famers from Germany, tie for the lead in scoring with 10 points, the finest achievement by a German at a top-level event.
The other most prominent name in the IIHF Hall is certainly Uwe Krupp. He had a distinguished NHL career and was the first German to win the Stanley Cup (scoring the Cup winner in the process, another first).
Other Player inductees include Rudi Ball, Dieter Hegen, Gustav Jaeneke, Udo Kiessling, Hans Rampf, Alois Schloder, and Joachim Ziesche.
One name noticeably absent from this list—perhaps not for long?—is Marco Sturm, the coach of Germany’s miracle team here in Korea and coach of the national team since the 2016 World Championship.
Sturm had a fantastic career in the NHL, from 1997 to 2011, playing nearly 1,000 games, and he also represented his country at every level: two World Juniors, three World Championships, three Olympics, and the 2004 World Cup of Hockey.
Germany has played under both East and West Germany. It has played in B Pool and Division I at every level of participation, and it has had various levels of success. But nothing, absolutely nothing, can compare to what will transpire on Sunday afternoon at Gangneung Hockey Centre when the team will win Olympic gold or silver.
And nothing could have anticipated this incredible string of victories that have taken the team to the final game. It may be a miracle; it may be signs of things to come; it may be because of the NHL’s absence. For Deutschland, it doesn’t matter. They’re here, and they’re making history.