Germany faces rough road
Germany faces rough road
Little star power for Cortina's squad
The Germans almost always take their game to new heights in front of their home crowd. However, Deutschland won’t host again until Cologne shares that honour with Paris, France in 2017. And the odds are greatly against the 2015 team’s replicating 2010’s fourth-place finish in Cologne. That was the best World Championship result Germany has achieved in modern times. You have to go all the way back to 1953 for its last medal (silver).
Head coach Pat Cortina, entering his third straight Worlds behind the German bench, doesn’t have many weapons in his arsenal. In fact, he’s got just one NHL player. This nation has seen a disturbing recent trend toward relegation, with its U20, U18, and women’s teams all being sent down. Improving on last year’s 14th-place finish has to be the goal for the men’s national team. But how much room for improvement is there?
Dennis Endras has ranked among the DEL’s top netminders for years, and if the acrobatic 29-year-old can even approximate his bravura performance at the 2010 Worlds, that would boost Germany’s hopes immeasurably. In 2010, he earned a 1.15 GAA and 96.1 save percentage en route to Best Goalie, tournament all-star, and MVP honours. Although Endras wasn’t as spectacular at his last three Worlds, he’s coming off a DEL championship with Adler Mannheim, and that can’t hurt his confidence.
Timo Pielmeier, a 2007 third-round pick of the San Jose Sharks who played one game for the Anaheim Ducks in 2010-11, could also see some action in a backup role. After spending years abroad, he was named the DEL’s rookie of the year in 2014 and also captured a title with Ingolstadt.
When Christian Ehrhoff suits up for Germany, it’s not unusual for the swift-skating 32-year-old rearguard to log over 30 minutes per game. Unfortunately, due to an upper-body injury suffered in March, the Pittsburgh Penguins veteran won't participate in this tournament. The unavailability of Dennis Seidenberg, who is healing an injured wrist after Boston’s disappointing season, compounds the woes on the blue line.
Puck-moving panache isn’t this group’s forte. At last year’s tournament, German D-men combined for a grand total of five assists – and none of those three contributors (Frank Hordler, Torsten Ankert, Sinan Akdag) is back for 2015.
The work ethic and positive mentality won’t be a problem – after all, Justin Krueger (SC Bern) is the son of former Swiss national team coach Ralph Krueger, who doubles as a motivational speaker. Oliver Mebus (Krefeld Pinguine), making his Worlds debut at age 22, boasts a hulking 207-cm, 105-kg frame that could come in handy against the likes of Jaromir Jagr and Taylor Hall. But there isn’t enough talent here to truly stifle top opposing forwards.
This DEL-heavy attacking corps is likely to be offensively challenged. Tobias Rieder is the lone NHLer. The 22-year-old completed his rookie season with the Phoenix Coyotes with 13 goals and eight assists in 72 games. He made a little franchise history by scoring two shorthanded goals on the same penalty kill against the Edmonton Oilers on December 1. But that kind of lightning rarely strikes twice.
If 26-year-old Thomas Oppenheimer (Hamburg Freezers) can step up again as he did in his Worlds debut last year (4-2-6), that’ll help. Veteran Patrick Reimer (Thomas Sabo Ice Tigers) placed third in DEL scoring this season, and Kai Hospelt (Adler Mannheim) is another go-to guy. But there is no true game-breaker on this roster, no second coming of Marco Sturm.
Head coach Pat Cortina knows international hockey inside-out, having previously led the national teams of Italy and Hungary. The expectations are greater with Germany, but the 50-year-old Montreal native is accustomed to making the most of what he has to work with. Expect a traditional, hard-hitting German game, with the objective of keeping other teams bottled up along the boards for as long as possible.
The Germans were weak on special teams last year, ranking 14th on the power play (10.7 percent) and 15th on the penalty kill (70 percent), and that’s something Cortina will need to address. Still, the more he can get his team to play 5-on-5, the better its chances will be.
Germany’s odds of breaking its long medal drought this year are about as good as Bayern Munich’s odds of relocating to Antarctica. With that said, the Germans, who sit 13th in the IIHF World Ranking, still have the tenacity to make it hard on any opponents who don’t come prepared to work hard. Unlikely to upset the traditional powers, they’ll have their best opportunity to pick up some Group A points against the likes of Latvia and Austria.
The May 5 clash with cross-border rival Switzerland will be interesting. Even though the Swiss won silver two years ago and are seventh in the World Ranking, they always have tight games against Germany. The last three meetings have been decided by one goal (two Swiss wins, one German win).
Seeing Germany finish somewhere between 10th and 13th place wouldn’t surprise anyone. This year should be about taking steps in the right direction.
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