U20 World Junior Championships Preview: Team Germany

Tom Kuehnhackl, drafted in the fourth round by the Pittsburgh Penguins, is expected to be one of Germany's key offensive players at the 2011IIHF U20 World Junior Hockey Championships in Buffalo and Niagara, NY. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

All these years later, Germany remains the great European hope for ice hockey.  Post-reunification, it was hoped that the German hockey program would thrive, as it possessed a tantalizing mixture of economic prosperity, passion for winter sports, and a large population.  In the new Europe, Germany was the nation that could make hockey a sport with reach across the continent.  While that has yet to take shape, and the German national team has found itself surpassed by countries like Switzerland, Slovakia and Belarus at various points over the years, Germany can still rightfully call itself the best untapped hockey market in Europe, and probably the world.  The recent hosting of the IIHF World Championships proved there was a passion for high level hockey in the country, but the national federation remains a pretty shoestring run operation, with little of the money generated by hockey events getting put back into the programs.  In that light, the middling performance of their national junior hockey team over the years makes sense.

In the past eight years, Germany has failed to stay at the championship level, four times finishing ninth overall and being relegated to Division 1, while winning Division 1 three of those other years.  This constant yo-yoing back and forth between quite different levels of competition makes it hard to really measure improvement, so perhaps a better measurement would be the production of NHL draft picks.  Since 2005, when the NHL Entry Draft was reduced to seven rounds, there have been 16 German NHL draft picks, although only one of those was in the first two rounds (Phillip Gogulla in '05).  For this year's team, however, there is a bit more reason for hope:  there are five NHL draft picks on the roster, and a couple more coming up through the pipeline.  

Join me after the jump for a closer look at the Germans:

Team Germany

#

Player

Pos.

S/C

Ht.

Wt.

Born

Hometown

Club

6

Konrad Abeltshauser

D

L

6'4"

196

1992

Bad Tolz

Halifax (QMJHL)

7

Dominik Bittner

D

R

5'11"

168

1992

Weilheim

Heilbronn (Ger-2)

11

Thomas Brandl

RW

L

5'11"

176

1991

Landshut

Fischtown (Ger-2)

18

Laurin Braun

RW

L

5'11"

176

1991

Lampertheim

Berlin (DEL)

21

Marc El-Sayed

C

L

6'2"

212

1991

Wetzlar

Mannheim (DEL)

25

David Elsner

F

R

6'0"

185

1992

Landshut

Landshut (Ger-2)

30

Philipp Grubauer

G

L

6'0"

168

1991

Rosenheim

Kingston (OHL)

10

Norman Hauner

C

R

5'11"

176

1991

Huckeswagen

Koln (DEL)

19

Mirko Hoefflin

LW

L

6'0"

165

1992

Freiburg

Quebec (QMJHL)

5

Benjamin Hufner

D

R

5'11"

172

1991

Berlin

Dresden (Ger-2)

26

Bernhard Keil

LW

R

6'1"

203

1992

Amberg

Kamloops (WHL)

17

Joel Keussman

D

R

6'3"

198

1991

Duisburg

Essen (Ger-3)

14

Tom Kuehnhackl

RW

L

6'1"

187

1992

Landshut

Windsor (OHL)

27

Nickolas Latta

C

R

5'11"

181

1993

Schongau

Sarnia (OHL)

3

Peter Lindlbauer

D

L

5'11"

172

1991

Bad Tolz

Bad Tolz (Ger-3)

9

Corey Mapes

D

L

6'0"

183

1992

Heilbronn

Heilbronn (Ger-2)

28

Marius Mochel

F

L

6'3"

196

1991

Nurnberg

Rosenheim (Ger-2)

15

Marcel Noebels

RW

L

6'3"

209

1992

Tonisvorst

Seattle (WHL)

20

Marcel Ohmann

LW

L

5'11"

185

1991

Neuss

Fischtown (Ger-2)

23

Dieter Orendorz

D

L

6'1"

183

1992

Iserlohn

Hamm (Ger-3)

8

Jan Nicklas Pietsch

D

L

6'2"

207

1991

Bad Homburg

Essen (Ger-3)

22

Matthias Plachta

C

L

6'1"

194

1991

Feiburg

Mannheim (DEL)

16

Tobias Rieder

RW

L

5'10"

176

1993

Landshut

Kitchener (OHL)

1

Nicklas Treutle

G

L

6'2"

185

1991

Nurnberg

Hamburg (DEL)

12

Jannik Woidtke

D

R

5'12"

187

1991

Dusseldorf

Ratingen (Ger-3)

It's a mixture of major junior players, DEL depth forwards (roughly AHL equivelant), and German junior/minor league players (primarily defensemen).   Defense is definitely the most lacking position on the roster, and that will probably stifle the attack a bit.  However, the German national teams under Uwe Krupp's direction have been known to play a suffocating brand of defensive hockey, propped up by excellent goaltending.  Krupp isn't the head coach of this team, but he is on staff as an assistant.  Look for the Germans to play San Jose Sharks draft pick Konrad Abeltshauser a lot.  He's used to playing a lot of minutes on a bad major junior team, so he might be used to this kind of role.  

Germany's nearest competition in their group are definitely Switzerland, and they can compete with Slovakia.  Finishing third in the group, guaranteeing a spot in next year's competition, may not be likely, but it isn't impossible.  The goaltending on this team is fairly strong:  Grubbauer is a solid 19 year old OHL netminder, while Treutle is already a backup goaltender in Germany's top league for Hamburg, posting better numbers (2.57 GAA, .915 SV% in 8GP) than veteran Canadian starting goalie Marc Lamothe (3.05 GAA, .912 SV% in 15 GP).  They do have the potential to steal a game, which could serve them well against their nearest competition.  Against the USA and Finland, there probably isn't much short of a miracle that could help the Germans out.

Forwards returning from last year's team that won their Division 1 Group include Plachta (7 pts in 5 GP), Rieder (6 pts), Hofflin (6 pts), and Hauner (6 pts).  These four forwards should provide most of the scoring at this level, but also expect Tom Kuhnhackl to step into a big role offensively.  He's come a long ways in his first year in the OHL, putting up a point per game pace.  Marcel Noebels had a fantastic U18s last year, leading the team in scoring with nine goals and ten assists at the Div. 1 level, and he's had decent production in the WHL this year so far with twenty points in 29 games.  

Germany ranks ninth in the Junior Hockey Program World Ranking, and that place is what they'll be trying to avoid this time.  Getting two wins against Switzerland, Slovakia and Norway would do the trick, and it's not unreasonable to think that will happen.  

Staff:  Ernst Hofner (Head Coach), Uwe Krupp and Klaus Merk (Assistant Coaches)

Prediction:  4th in Group A, 8th overall.

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