After four years of battling for a promotion, the nation of Germany is making its return to the World Junior’s top division for the first time since 2015. While countries like Canada, Sweden, Russia and the United States have come to expect success at this event, Germany has acquired the “happy to be here” label that is typically attached to recently promoted teams. Though when analyzing the German’s path to the top division, they have every right to be happy with their promotion — they deserved it.
As Europe’s second most populated country with 83 million people, and a climate suitable for just about any sport imaginable, one might contemplate why Germany’s hockey program hasn’t enjoyed more success to this point.
Perhaps the relatively small market is simply dwarfed by its competition. Look no further than 2018’s Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea where Germany’s 14 gold medals tied Norway for the world’s best. Germany’s men’s hockey team captured silver that year, but with a large asterisk due to the NHL not allowing its players to attend the event.
And who could forget the 2014 Fifa World Cup in Brazil where Mario Götze and Thomas Müller carried Germany to football’s holy grail. While other sports may occupy the limelight, names like Marcel Goc, Marco Sturm and Dennis Seidenberg have carved their way from obscurity to exemplars for the next generation of German hockey players.
This new generation — led by the NHL’s second-leading scorer, Leon Draisaitl — appear more than ready to take the reins from their predecessors, and this year’s tournament provides an excellent opportunity to show their worth.
Participating in 2019’s Championship Division I-A, the Germans went undefeated through five games, finishing with 14 points and a +17 goal differential. Dominik Bokk — selected by the St. Louis Blues in the first round of the 2018 NHL Draft — led the tournament in scoring with eight points while Justin Schütz and Moritz Seider each had seven.
If the Germans plan on replicating last year’s success, Bokk, Seider and Schütz will once again be heavily relied upon, but new additions could transform the team from basement dwellers to a legitimate darkhorse. And make no mistake about it, in the top-heavy group B, Germany is certainly the underdog.
Regardless of where the team finishes in their group, fans should expect the nation’s top prospects to entertain, perhaps none more so than Tim Stützle. After being drafted by the Seattle Thunderbirds in the 2019 CHL Import Draft, the 17-year old forward elected to remain in Germany where he currently plays for Adler Mannheim in the Deutsche Eishockey Liga (DEL).
Through 25 games, it appears that Stützle made the correct decision. His 23 points thus far are good for fourth on his team, and speak to the maturity of the Viersen native who’s doing more than just treading water at Germany’s highest level.
Joining Stützle is a fellow 17-year old, John-Jason Peterka. Currently playing with his hometown EHC München in the DEL, Peterka has posted a respectable 9 points in 25 games. The undersized forward should expect to hear his name called within the first few rounds of the 2020 NHL draft.
Germany’s top-6 possesses plenty of talent, but the lack of skill at the forward position may be their largest hindrance. Due to the overall lack of depth, Germany will have to rely on strong goaltending and big contributions from their captain, Moritz Seider.
The native of Zell led last year’s Division I-A tournament in scoring by defenceman as he captained Germany to first place while also capturing the award for best defenceman. Needless to say, it was a big year for Seider, and the accolades didn’t stop there.
The six-foot-four defenceman was selected sixth overall by the Detroit Red Wings in the 2019 NHL Draft — the third-highest a German-born player has drafted into the NHL. Plain and simple, the German’s need Seider to be at his absolute best from start to finish.
Exactly who slides into goal for the German’s remains to be seen, but Hendrik Hane is the most likely starter for opening day. The 19-year old from Düsseldorf finished last year’s tournament with a .949 save percentage, 0.98 goals-against average and one shutout.
Behind the bench, Germany will be led by head coach Tobias Abstreiter. The 49-year old native of Landshut spent the entirety of his professional career playing in the DEL, mainly with the Kassel Huskies. Abstreiter will now be tasked with directing a German squad that is looking to find a home in the top division for years to come.
Team Germany’s Schedule is as follows:
Friday, December 27: GER vs USA
Saturday, December 28: CZE vs GER
Monday, December 30: GER vs CAN
Tuesday, December 31: RUS vs GER
Photo Credit: Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images