International Ice Hockey Federation

Third year a charm

Third year a charm

Challenges ahead for Coach Cortina

Published 06.11.2014 16:34 GMT+1 | Author Chapin Landvogt
Third year a charm
German national team coach Pat Cortina during an IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship. Photo: Richard Wolowicz / HHOF-IIHF Images
As is the case every year for one week in November, major European leagues take a break to allow fans to support their national team.

In Germany it is the time for the Deutschland Cup, which will be hosted for the 25th time by the German Ice Hockey Association.

Having consisted of many opponents over the years, the tournament has come to feature not only host Germany, but also Slovakia and Switzerland on a yearly basis since 2004, with a specially selected squad of European based participants coming from either Canada or USA in alternating years rounding out the tournament participants. For this weekend, Canada will be sending a squad that consists primarily of players currently earning their money for a DEL club.

This year’s tournament will again feature some top flight hockey action while giving most particularly Germany, Slovakia, and Switzerland an excellent opportunity to test certain players and systems in preparation for the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in the Czech Republic next spring.

The event itself has come to be of special importance for the German Ice Hockey Association, as it serves as its one major preparatory event throughout the year and generally gives the management the opportunity to look at a number of players who have started their pro year off very well, as is the case with Florian Kettemer (Red Bull Munich), Armin Wurm (Grizzly Adams Wolfsburg), Martin Buchwieser (Adler Mannheim), and Sebastian Uvira (Augsburger Panther) this year. All four have now had the somewhat unexpected opportunity to throw their name into the World Championship line-up hat with a strong Deutschland Cup performance.

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For German national team coach Pat Cortina, the meaningful event starting on Friday in Munich is but one of several major tasks this winter, as changes made within the federation this past summer have led to him also functioning as the head coach of the World Junior Championship squad. As such, he’ll be taking the U20 team to his native country of Canada for what will undoubtedly be a truly memorable event.

With Leon Draisaitl technically being eligible for the tournament and having already made German ice hockey history with becoming the third overall pick at this past summer’s NHL Entry Draft, the German hockey scene is all abuzz about making a statement at the U20 level during the holiday season. And that difficult task will largely be up to Coach Cortina to make a reality.

In light of the incredibly busy winter ahead of him, recently took the opportunity to chat with him about the Deutschland Cup, the upcoming World Junior Championship, and other issues that are currently of great importance in the German hockey scene.

The German national team will be participating in the annual Deutschland Cup against Slovakia, Switzerland, and Canada. What does this tournament mean to you as a coach in preparing for (primarily) the World Championship in the Czech Republic next spring?

The Deutschland Cup has become a tradition here in Germany. It’s always an important tournament and it’s our only home tournament this year. The competition there is always good and it’s one of the few chances we have as a national team to be together. That already makes it extremely important. It’s November now and the next time I’ll see the team as a whole will be just before the actual World Championship, as you never know what’ll be happening in February, which is a critical time and month for the club teams. The tournament is the start of the national team season and is one of the rare opportunities we have to be together as a team.

Germany usually sports a team that features players currently playing in the DEL. What type of players and team can spectators expect to see at the tournament?

All of our players will come from the DEL with the exception of one, namely Justin Krueger of the Swiss NLA who will be on the roster as well. We’ll be using this tournament to take a good look at players who will have the opportunity to represent Germany at the next World Championship. These will include players who have had a good start to the DEL season and players who we feel will be part of the program in the future. We feel the team we’ll be sporting should be an interesting mix of the present and the future. As a coach, I and my staff will be looking at players who are proud to wear a national team jersey, especially because we’re playing at home and as I mentioned, this is one of the few opportunities we have to do that in the course of the year.

The spectators should expect to see a passionate group of players.

How have you gone about scouting and selecting the players you’ll ultimately nominate in the course of this fall?

What I’ve done is to try and watch a DEL game on each and every gameday. Of course, contact with club team coaches is important and I go about trying to maintain that. In addition to myself, we have a sports competence group that attends more or less every DEL game. As such, personal scouting and communicating are the best ways to describe how we’ve gone about selecting this team.

After the country’s results at the World Championship in Minsk last spring, will there be certain things that the German national team will be doing differently at the Deutschland Cup?

We will make a few adjustments to parts of our systems, but when you’re evaluating last spring’s World Championship, you have to look at the team’s performance and not just the results. Had we managed to score a few more goals, we would have had a different end result. We felt the team performed well. The team enjoyed performing. I feel the team was exciting to watch and most importantly, we gave ourselves a chance to win in most of the games we were in. So when you think of all that, we feel we were doing most things right. This said, we will make some adjustments and we’ll be sporting a little bit of a different team, so we’re hoping that not only will we maintain that expected and strived for performance level, but we’ll also get the positive results we’re looking for.

The tournament will be held in Munich where you once coached the DEL team in your only DEL station. You had also coached Munich when it played in the second league. Does that make the tournament any more special or nostalgic for you?

I’m a pretty passionate individual and I said right from the first few months I spent in Munich that I felt at home. It reminded me a lot of the city I was born in. There are people from different cultures there. The Bavarians themselves are special people. I’ve developed great friendships in Munich. It’s always special for me to be here especially the ice rink, where I have some great memories from both my second Bundesliga and DEL days. It will certainly be special and I hope and believe it’ll be special for quite a few more years to come. That ice rink there will definitely always have a special place in my heart.

The neighbouring country of Switzerland will be bringing a number of new faces to the event, including no less than their new head coach, Canadian Glen Hanlon. What is your take on the direction Swiss ice hockey has taken in recent years and are there things the German ice hockey scene could learn from it?

Yes, they’ll have a lot of new faces, but the Swiss will have a broad basis from which to select their teams. I think they’ve done a great job of developing their players over the past 10-15 years. Here in Germany when we talk about player development, we often find ourselves asking ourselves what the Swiss do and how they’ve been doing it. For sure we’re looking over to our neighbouring country. I know Glen Hanlon and I’m pretty sure he’ll have a pretty competitive, great skating team. What’s impressed me the most about the Swiss is their skating ability. They’ve worked really well on establishing themselves in that department. They play at a pace that equals that of the top countries in the world.

We shouldn’t forget that ice hockey may actually be the top sport in Switzerland. We unfortunately can’t say that about the sport here in Germany. They’ve done a great, great job in investing in and training their youth. I strongly feel that this is the direction we’ll now be going in here in Germany.

What exactly are expecting from your other tournament opponents?

The Canadian team will be comprised of players playing primarily for teams in Germany with a few additions from teams in Scandinavia and Switzerland. I think that number one, every Canadian is extremely proud to put on the Canadian maple leaf jersey. Number two, every professional wants to justify his employment. These guys are going to want to show that they are good enough to be the ‘Ausländer’, the imports, in the leagues they play in. Of course, they’re going to be proud to wear that jersey and I feel the Canadian team will be extremely difficult to play against.

The Slovaks are very proud players. The eastern European countries are extremely proud of their national colours. They traditionally provide great competition and put up a good fight.

Both are going to make for some really good ice hockey and they ensure that this will be a great tournament to watch.

You’re officially coaching not only the men’s national team but also the nation’s U20 team at the World Junior Championship. Should we expect to see any of the U20 team candidates playing for the national team at the Deutschland Cup, hoping perhaps to use this tournament to test them before the World Juniors?

No. Our under-20 players will be in Fussen playing the 4 Nations Cup and we felt it was important for those boys to be with that team at this point in the season. After all, the World Junior Championship takes place in December and that’s only six or seven weeks away.

You’re originally a native of Montreal. Just how special will it be for you personally to be coaching at a World Junior Championship being hosted by Toronto and your native city, well aware of the huge popularity and importance the event enjoys in Canada?

It’s going to be incredibly special for me, and not only because I’m from Montreal and have been away from Montreal for a while. What makes it special for me is that along with 23 young German ice hockey players I’m going to be able to share what will be an outstanding tournament. Junior hockey during Christmas time has become a tradition. My mother of Italian origin doesn’t follow too much hockey, but she sure knows what the World Junior Championship means. The tournament is a household product in Canada. Everybody talks about it. Hockey Canada will surely do a great job organizing the tournament and it’s going to be special for our young Germans to play in one of the most renowned ice hockey rinks in the world. For me to enjoy that with them is extremely special.

Of course, the fact that I’ll be close to friends and family during the holidays for only the first or second time in 26 years will make this wonderful, but just thinking about the atmosphere that’ll be present is already bringing shivers to my spine. It’ll simply be outstanding for our German kids to experience that. 20,000 some spectators, live TV coverage, sports journals, interviews, and of course just being on the ice against some of the best players in the world at their age is just an indescribable experience. After the Olympics, that might just be the most exciting hockey tournament there is without wanting to take anything away from the senior World Championship.

One of the players you surely hope will be available for that tournament is Leon Draisaitl, who was taken third overall in last summer’s NHL Draft by the Edmonton Oilers. What do you think this young man means for the German national team over the long run and German ice hockey in general?

We’re extremely happy that Leon has had the success he’s had so far. Having Leon already play NHL hockey at the young age he has could do wonders for the German hockey program. Hopefully he can do for ice hockey in Germany what Dirk Nowitzki has done for Basketball, as we really need a face for German ice hockey in the NHL. Naturally, the guys who have been there in the past and who are there now have done a great job and hopefully Leon will be another great ambassador for the sport. He and his success certainly bring much needed attention to our hockey program.

The German Ice Hockey Association underwent some huge changes this past summer and Franz Reindl is now the association’s president. You yourself also exchanged one double-function for another, namely the one mentioned before. What do you feel this new leadership will ultimately mean for German ice hockey? What changes do you feel are on the way?

That’s not an easy question. One of the keys for ice hockey in Germany to grow is that the people involved in ice hockey need to be working together. I think and honestly believe that Franz Reindl and his team were everybody’s choice. I’m quite confident that they’ll be able to bring everybody on board. Everybody here knows about Franz’s experience at the international level. He’s been involved in ice hockey for all his life. German ice hockey is extremely important and it’s dear to his heart, so I think that he and his team are going to do a great job in allowing German ice hockey to develop in a positive, concentrated manner. It was everybody’s choice and for sure, it’s the right choice because this will be about bringing everyone together. Franz Reindl has been around and he can definitely steer this ship the right direction.


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