German forward Marcus Kink puts pressure on the Swedish net. Photo: Matt Zambonin / HHOF-IIHF Images
Kink recalls how it all began in Riga
From a late Tom Kuhnhackl goal in Riga to a semi-final shock win over Canada, Germany's Olympic odyssey is not over yet.
To win Olympic gold, the top hockey teams typically face a gruelling schedule of six or seven games in about 10 days. But for Germany, lining up against Canada in Sunday’s final, the journey began way back in September 2016.
Too low in the World Rankings to qualify as of right, the Germans travelled to Riga for a four-team battle against Latvia, Austria and Japan. The winner would book its ticket to Korea. And, for Marcus Kink, that’s where the formidable team spirit among the German players was forged.
“The chemistry here is incredible,” the Adler Mannheim forward said. “Maybe it started when we had to qualify for the Olympics. We had a really tough time in Riga against Latvia.
“They had helluva tournament, it came down to a really close game and a last-minute win for us in Latvia, a crazy atmosphere there. That’s how we got here.
“We missed Sochi four years ago, we made our goal to go to the Olympics. We came here and wanted to enjoy it, to play the best hockey we can.”
In Riga, the Germans were up against it. Big wins over Austria and Japan counted for little in face of a passionate home crowd in that do-or-die showdown. Unfazed, Germany moved into a 2-0 lead, only for Latvia to roar back and tie the scores. A Tom Kuhnhackl goal late on secured a dramatic win – and the team was off to Korea.
But life got no easier for Germany when it arrived in PyeongChang.
“It’s crazy, we started in the toughest group with Sweden, Finland and Norway,” Kink added. “We had a tough start but we kept believing. We have a really tight group of guys here, a lot of us played World Championships together, we’ve had ups and downs but we know what we are capable of.
“Even so, if you start with a loss [Germany lost its first game 2-5 against Finland] it’s always tough. We had a really good game against Sweden but still lost 1-0. We knew we could beat Norway and did that in overtime. And then we were rolling.”
That roll took the Germans past Switzerland, Sweden and now Canada to earn a shot for gold against the Olympic Athletes from Russia. On paper, Oleg Znarok’s KHL-stacked roster should be far too much for Kink and colleagues to handle – but we heard all that before the semi-final.
“You guys saw the game against Canada,” Kink added. “Miracles are possible. We’re playing good hockey right now, really structured. We want to be a tough team to beat.
“We don’t know much about Russia yet. Our coaches will scout them and find their game plan, make it hard for them but they’re the top favourites, so …
“Whatever happens, we’ll be fighting 100 per cent like always.”
After coming through so many high-stakes showdowns, relying on resilience and team spirit to get through the tightest corners, the German players are still rubbing their eyes in disbelief at their progress.
At the same time, they are determined to produce one last sensation – the shock to end all shocks for this tournament.
“It’s one match, and anything can happen in one match, right?” suggested Patrick Reimer. “We saw it here. Nobody gave us a real chance against Canada. I read an article with Peter Forsberg saying Canada for sure would beat Germany... but they didn’t! It’s great to prove him wrong.
“It’s a Miracle on Ice. We all had the dream but it’s coming true. We still play for gold. Maybe we’ll win it, maybe not, but the goal is still there.”