International Ice Hockey Federation

German déjà vu?

German déjà vu?

World Juniors team here to stay, again

Published 21.12.2013 15:11 GMT+1 | Author Chapin Landvogt
German déjà vu?
German forward Leon Draisaitl, a potential first-round draft pick for 2014, returns at the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship after helping Germany defend the spot in the top division in the deciding game against Latvia. Photo: Matt Zambonin / HHOF-IIHF Images
Returning to the IIHF World Junior Championship this winter is the German U20 national team and that can’t be taken for granted.

The country has had its difficulties sporting teams at the top level that have regularly been able to avoid relegation.

The 2013 edition, which avoided relegation in an all-decisive 5-2 victory over Latvia in their last game of the tournament, is the first to do so since 1998 and has now paved the way for a whole new generation to make a name for itself. Still, this year’s squad will only be icing a select few players who were part of the magic in Ufa last January.

“For a German team in the top U20 division, it’s always a difficult task to remain amongst the top teams in the world. For us, the goal is to avoid relegation. One little advantage we may have in comparison to the situation in Ufa is that some of our absolute key players are returning and bringing that World Junior Championship experience in the top class with them,” says the team’s Technical Director Michael Pfuhl.

Without a doubt, Pfuhl is referring to particularly goalie Marvin Cüpper, winger Domink Kahun and Germany’s top young offensive talent, Leon Draisaitl. All three play in Canada’s top junior circuit and Draisaitl is currently widely expected to be a top-10 draft pick in this summer’s 2014 NHL Draft. In addition, he and Kahun know each like the back of their hands.

The two have not only played together for Germany’s top junior circuit team with the Adler Mannheim organization, but also spent last year’s World Juniors in Ufa and the 2013 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship in Sochi as linemates.

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“We are hoping and certainly are convinced that these two players will once again lead our team and hopefully also score the decisive goals. They’ve developed excellently with their CHL teams and have matured into leaders for their clubs. They are ready to assume responsibility and they possess the necessary physicality to make things happen against the best,” contests Pfuhl.

The NHL will also have its sights on particularly Draisaitl, who is currently the top scorer of the WHL’s Prince Albert Raiders and fifth overall in WHL scoring with 51 points in 33 games. There has never before been a German-born and raised player held in such high esteem heading into his draft year.

Still, despite his incredible talents and the chemistry he shares with Kahun, much more will be required to get this German squad anywhere close to the playoff round.

“These two aren’t going to win us any games by themselves. We are going to need the whole team in order to be successful,” says goaltending & defensive coach Klaus Merk.

More so than is the case for just about any team in this tournament, Germany is desperately dependent on the performance of its goaltenders.

“The goalies for German teams are always very important, because especially in the games against the best nations in the world, we tend to face a relatively high amount of shots on our net. As such, an above-average performance from the goalies is an absolute necessity,” claims Pfuhl. And the team feels it may get just that.

Cüpper stood in goal last winter and was nothing short of spectacular against Slovakia and Latvia, the only teams against whom Germany was able to gain at least a point. His mental fortitude was on heavy display in the all-important class retention victory over Latvia, where Cüpper made 25 saves on 27 shots.

“We’ll be going with Marvin Cüpper in goal to start things off. He was incredibly strong in Ufa. In Patrick Klein and Kevin Reich, we have two very talented young goaltenders. We are confident in all three of them and each has provided some great play and some strong tournaments for various German entries to date,” says Merk.

What the team doesn’t have much of entering this tournament is experience. Aside from the aforementioned Draisaitl, Kahun and Cüpper, only future Western Michigan University Bronco winger Frederik Tiffels saw action in Ufa. The rest of the team will be making its World Junior Championship debut next week.

In addition, the roster could feature up to twelve players who are 18 and younger. Of particular note is that not one member of the defensive corps has ever played in this tournament, but Pfuhl doesn’t feel that this fact has to be a disadvantage: “Even if the World Junior Championship is new territory for our defencemen, our boys are not inexperienced. Many of them have seen time at the U18 World Championship, played in men’s pro leagues, and are well aware what’s in store for them. “

Expected to lead the way on the blueline are London Knight Tim Bender and up-n-coming bruiser Thomas Botzenhardt.

Bender, considered one of Germany’s most offensively talented young defencemen, has made appearances this year for Munich of the DEL and London of the OHL, where he is sporting a +12 rating in 16 games.

The 190 cm tall and 100 kg heavy Botzenhardt has spent the majority of this season in Germany’s third highest men’s pro league with talent-factory Füssen, while also seeing five games of action with Ravensburg one level up.

Of the remaining defencemen likely to be on the team in Malmö, only 190 cm tall Jonas Noske has spent the year playing predominantly in Germany’s top men’s league, the DEL, where he’s made 23 appearances for Düsseldorf. Much of his duty there has been thrust upon him somewhat unexpectedly as the team has suffered through a rash of injuries and entered the season lacking a certain amount of veteran presence to begin with.

Other likely candidates for the defensive corps include Janick Möser and Dominik Tiffels, both of whom are taking a regular shift for their respective junior club in North America.

Up front, the team will search for answers from players who are still an open book internationally. Several probable forwards have spent some time playing in the DEL, including Düsseldorf’s Jari Neugebauer and Krefeld’s Kevin Orendorz and Patrick Klöpper. The latter two are in the midst of their second DEL seasons.

All three have roles in their pro teams that require them to place their chief emphasis on being responsible in their own end, but their ability to play with well-established international pros, many of whom have spent time in the NHL, could serve as quite an advantage when facing particularly the USA and Canada in the preliminary round.

Bruising winger Kai Herpich has split this season between Red Bull Munich of the DEL and their junior partner in Salzburg, a team that is participating in the Russian junior league MHL. There he has managed nine goals and 13 points in 15 games. Sven Ziegler has long been considered one of Germany’s top up-and-coming players, but has primarily played a top line role for a men’s pro team at solely the country’s third highest pro level, where he’s scoring at a point per game clip.

Almost all of the rest of the forward crew will consist of players who are currently playing somewhere in North America. Markus Eisenschmid, Max Kammerer and Marco Sedlar are all playing CHL hockey, although none of them is making much of an offensive impact for his current team.

Interestingly, several of the team’s more hopeful forwards are playing in the widespread NAHL, a league in which they can maintain NCAA college eligibility. These include Lennart Palausch, Lukas Laub und Parker Tuomie.

Tuomie, whose father comes from the U.S. state of Minnesota, could end up being one of the most interesting players for Germany at this year’s World Juniors. Small and feisty, he was far-and-away the top scorer in Germany’s top junior circuit last season, is off to a strong start this season, and found himself lining up with Draisaitl and Kahun at the U18 Worlds in Sochi. His tenacity and offensive instincts make him both an exciting and effective player.

A noticeable trend in the construction of this German outfit is the number of players spending this season abroad. “12 or 13 of the kids we’ll have on this team are playing for clubs in North America. The teams there certainly wouldn’t have brought them in if these players didn’t have a certain level of quality,” states Pfuhl. Coach Ernst Höfner will have his hands full incorporating a number of players coming from a variety programs and levels of play.

On whether this trend will be an advantage or not for the team, Pfuhl says. “It’s certainly not a disadvantage that so many of our players have the opportunity to develop their games in a professional environment in North America.”

Merk mentions a vital point in relation to this aspect: “We’ll see if it’s an advantage. They’re all going to have to alter their games to our system. They certainly do have the skills to do this.“

This system is one that will have to deal with two fairly distinct types of opponents in the preliminary round, where Germany will face Canada, Slovakia, the USA, and then Czech Republic, in that order. One can expect the team to have its hands full with the North Americans, although a physical game is something Germany should be able to deal with aptly in light of their many North America-experienced players.

Slovakia and the Czech Republic will be another story, although the team has been able to do particularly well against Slovakia at various levels of international play in recent years.

“We’ll be going from game to game. At the end, we’ll have a result of some sort. You naturally always want more, but avoiding relegation is definitely a goal in and of itself,” Merk mentions.

Should Germany find itself in the relegation round to conclude the tournament, its key players will find themselves in a familiar situation. It’s safe to say that they and the team be ready for this possible déjà vu experience, very aware of what it takes to stay amongst the world’s best at the U20 level.

NOTE: Germany named on Saturday 24 players who will travel to Sweden. Three goalkeepers and 20 forwards can be registered for the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship.

German U20 national team

Marvin Cüpper, Shawinigan Cataractes (QMJHL)
Patrick Klein, EV Duisburg
Kevin Reich, Red Bulls München

Tim Bender, London Knights (OHL)
Thomas Botzenhardt, Ravensburg Tower Stars
Janik Möser, Muskegon Lumberjacks (USHL)
Jonas Noske, DEG Düsseldorf
John Rogl, EV Landshut
Dorian Saeftel, Jungadler Mannheim
Dominik Tiffels, Minnesota Wilderness (NAHL)
Fabio Wagner, EV Landshut

Leon Draisaitl, Prince Albert Raiders (WHL)
Markus Eisenschmid, Medicine Hat Tigers (WHL)
Vladislav Filin, Eisbären Juniors Berlin
Kai Herpich, Red Bulls München
Dominik Kahun, Sudbury Wolves (OHL)
Maximilian Kammerer, Regina Pats (WHL)
Patrick Klöpper, Krefeld Pinguine
Lukas Laub, Odessa Jackalopes (NAHL)
Jari Neugebauer, DEG Düsseldorf
Lennart Palausch, Aberdeen Wings (NAHL)
Frederik Tiffels, Fargo Force (USHL)
Parker Tuomie, Wenatchee Wild (NAHL)
Sven Ziegler, Eisbären/FASS Berlin


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