Franz Reindl (second from right) and teammates from the bronze-winning German Olympic team in 1976 returned to Innsbruck for the 40-year anniversary of the country’s last ice hockey miracle. Photo: Michael Klein / Eishockey News
Franz Reindl remembers Innsbruck 1976
Franz Reindl hopes for Olympic gold against the Olympic Athletes from Russia. The last time Germany won a medal, he was on the ice in Innsbruck 1976.
Reindl was a member of the team that won the last top-level medal of Germany in either the Olympics or the World Championships. Marked as “Wunder von Innsbruck” (miracle of Innsbruck), the Germans, who would usually finish around 7th or 8th and move up and down between the A and B Pool in the ‘70s, unexpectedly brought the bronze medals back from neighbouring country Austria.
In a tight group with the top-six nations the Soviet Union was a class of its own and won the Olympics without a loss followed by Czechoslovakia. The Germans were tied for third place with Finland and the United States, all with a 2-3 record, and eventually found out they won bronze after their 4-1 win over the Americans because the tie-breaker was the goal quota in the head-to-head games. West Germany with 1.167 (7/6) was ahead with a small margin over Finland 1.125 (9/8).
Legendary Xaver Unsinn was the coach of the team and Erich Kuhnhackl its star. With 10 points (5+5) he was tied in the scoring race with the Soviets’ Vladimir Shadrin, Alexander Maltsev and Viktor Shalimov.
Reindl, who is now in Korea as the President of the German Ice Hockey Association and IIHF Council member, was 21 years old at that time and played his first of three Olympics. He played 181 national team games including nine IIHF Ice Hockey World Championships and a Canada Cup. After the end of his career he turned to coaching and was later the Sport Director, the General Secretary and since 2014 the President of the German Ice Hockey Association.
We caught up with him on the successful German teams of 1976 and 2018 ahead of the gold medal game against the Olympic Athletes from Russia.
You must feel pretty happy here. Normally fans don’t see the German team play for gold in the final game.
It’s unusual although in 2010 we made the semi-finals also after beating Switzerland. I feel very lucky for the team. It’s historic what the players and staff have done here. For German ice hockey it’s a miracle.
You recently initiated the long-term project Powerplay 26 to become a regular medal contender. Now you have one earlier than expected. What’s behind the concept?
Powerplay 26 is a concept to get depth and have the possibility to play for medals in the future. It’s a concept with many pieces of the puzzle: player development and education, recruitment, coaching education, club management. That’s what you need to be competitive. You need to have success on the way so people believe you. That the team made it already now is great. You can just be happy when something like this happens in sport. It’s also a sign that the mid-size or smaller hockey nations with a good team, good preparation and team spirit can reach incredibly much.
Germany beat Switzerland, Sweden and Canada in the playoff stage, all better ranked than Germany. What was the recipe behind the success?
The team has gelled together during the tournament. The tough Finland game showed our weaknesses. They worked fast on it, they worked themselves through the tournament. You cannot plan this, the emotions, the energy that is being created in the dressing room. It feels like electric when you go there.
How would you describe today’s German hockey culture, also with a league that has a strong North American influence on and off the ice?
Our attributes are hard work and battle. But that’s not enough anymore. You need the skill, the skating qualities. You need to make proper passes under pressure. Our team has this. And the most important is to score goals. We’ve been extremely strong in the opponent’s zone, with capitalizing on our opportunities. But in the important moments you also need luck. We didn’t have it in the beginning against Finland and in the first game against Sweden with five post shots but then we had luck. The German hockey culture are these attributes and the performance criteria you need in international ice hockey. And you have to stay away from the penalty box. You need to find the fine line between toughness, battle and penalty minutes and we did. It’s not easily possible to provoke us anymore like in the past. Our players have themselves under control and [head coach] Marco Sturm is pulling the strings.
You were among the last German Olympic medallists when you won bronze in Innsbruck 1976. What remained from that tournament for you?
Always when you go to the Olympic Winter Games you remember it again and media asks you. For me as a young player at that time it was an absolute highlight. I’ve been living on it until this day and am asked about. And that’s how it will be for our players here and what I can tell them. This medal, minimum silver, will help them in their private lives, in their career as a player, in their future professions, the medal will be with them forever. It has such a big impact, it’s hard to imagine it at this moment, it will come after the Olympics. I’m just happy for our players.
How was it as a young man at the first Olympics and what number did you wear?
Usually I had number 10 but at that time as a young player I had number 18 on the Olympic team. There were only 18 players on the roster at that time. I was one of the youngest, I had to collect the pucks and pylons. In the past there was a hierarchy so the young players had to clear up.
What do you remember most from the games?
I remember the most the dramatic moments in the last game against the USA. Ernst Kopf scored the 4-1 goal and we thought that the goal difference would be the tie breaker and we would need a four-goal margin. I remember the battle of the players with the coach. We wanted to pull the goalie and requested the coach to do so but he had this intuition not to do so because it could have ended bad. We were very sad after the game because it ended 4-1 but then we found out about the goal quote as the tie-breaker. Luckily today it’s regulated very clear who wins. The medal today, whether it will be silver or gold, is therefore so much more worth than the bronze medal at that time even though not all my former teammates would like to hear that.
After the semi-final victory the German national ice hockey team was on the front pages of newspapers, got a lot of TV coverage. That’s quite a change compared to previous tournaments. What does it mean for German ice hockey?
It’s a dream for us. We’re almost overloaded. We’re the number-one news before politics, economy and other topics. That’s incredibly important for us. We’re ready for that. It gives us an additional push. We already have this project together with the IIHF “Wir sind Eishockey” (we are ice hockey) to promote the sport, to tell the kids and parents to go to wir-sind-eishockey.de and find information on ice hockey and quick contacts to clubs. I hear from Germany that the clicks on our website and merchandise went up largely. With this concept we want that our sport grows and I’m sure it will.
What will be the future steps in German ice hockey?
We’re by far not done yet. Powerplay 26 is a long-term project. The most important step for us was an agreement with league. We signed an eight-year contract with the league where not money is the most important aspect but youth education and development of young German players to have more homegrown competitive players that are able to take the place of imports. I don’t like when people make pressure from both sides. My opinion is that if you look for similarity and if everybody does their homework, we will progress faster. And when the national team manages to reach the final here, it’s the best proof that these players have everything a professional player needs.