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German hockey team's strong Olympics is no big surprise

Penfold Charles Kommentarbild App
Chuck Penfold
February 21, 2018

Germany pulled off a major upset, beating Sweden to advance to the Olympic semifinals. While this particular result was an upset, Germany's strong performance in Pyeongchang is no surprise, writes DW's Chuck Penfold.

Olympische Winterspiele 2018 in Südkorea Eishockey Deutschland - Schweden
Image: Reuters/K. Kyung-Hoon

Perhaps no team in sports is as dependent upon who happens to be their coach as Germany's men's ice hockey team. 

Germany at their best have proved themselves capable of giving the true hockey nations like Canada or Russia serious tests in major tournaments.

One needs only to think back to the 2010 World Championship on home soil, when Germany, under then-coach Uwe Krupp twice gave the Russians a scare, losing both matches, including the semifinal, by a single goal. One year later in Bratislava they went one better, beating Russia in the preliminary round 2-0. 

Then there were the 1992 Olympics in Albertville, when under Ludek Bukac, Germany forced Canada to overtime in their quarterfinal, before losing in the shootout. No German fan old enough to remember Peter Draisaitl's final penalty will ever forget seeing the puck squirt between goalie Sean Burke's pads, before coming to rest on the goal line. Victory, however slim, was Canada's.

Germany at their worst though, can be embarrassing, like under short-term bench boss Jakob Kölliker, when they finished 12th at the 2012 World Championship. German fans wish they could forget the 12-4 drubbing Germany suffered at the hands of Norway in Stockholm. Under Pat Cortina, Germany didn't even qualify for the 2014 Sochi Games.

A turnaround overnight

Those dark days ended overnight in the summer of 2015, when the German hockey association (DEB) appointed Marco Sturm as the national team's general manager and head coach.

Penfold Charles Kommentarbild App
DW Sports editor Chuck Penfold

The turnaround on the ice was almost instant. He led Germany to a title in his first tournament as coach, the 2015 Deutschland Cup - admittedly a minor competition. But suddenly every German available was eager to play for the national team again, something that hadn't been the case under a couple of Sturm's predecessors.

When you hear German players speak about their head coach, it's clear just how much they believe in this guy. And maybe that should come as no big suprise.

The right fit

Being German — although he has spent most of the past two decades in the United States — was bound to make it easier for him to develop a rapport with his players than it was for someone who struggled with the language. His age also helps, having only hung up his skates five years ago.

But it's not just that. His players know that he's been there, done that, as a player, in more than 900 games in the world's top league, the National Hockey League (NHL), as well as several international tournaments, including three Winter Olympics. Put all of that together and it should come as no surprise that not only do his players listen when Marco Sturm speaks, they believe.

Marco Sturm
Marco Sturm spent five seasons with the Boston BruinsImage: picture-alliance/Icon SMI/M. Tureski

It's not that he hasn't done other good things since taking over as coach and belief is not all it takes to win hockey games. However, without it, you don't stand a chance. Under Sturm, Germany have steadily built that belief – a process that has continued in Pyeongchang.

After getting their backsides handed to them by Finland, they bounced back to hold Sweden to a single goal in the preliminary round. Then came a win in a penalty shootout over Norway, and an overtime win over the slightly favored Swiss

Making a single opportunity count

Nobody in their right mind could have predicted Wednesday's upset over Sochi silver medalists Sweden, which put Germany through to the semis. And when they gave up a two-goal lead in the third, German fans feared the worst was inevitable.

However, by then, Marco Sturm's men had developed the confidence and belief that they could make good on what turned out to be the only opportunity they would need in the extra frame. Patrick Reimer proved them right by jamming the puck past a sprawled Swedish netminder for the winner.

Absolutely nobody in their right mind thinks Germany will stand a chance against Canada on Friday. But wait a minute. Where have we heard that before?

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