HALIFAX – The year was 1999 and Dany Heatley had a decision to make.
He wasn’t invited to the evaluation camp for Canada’s world junior team when the German federation called and tried to convince him to join their program instead.
“We asked the question years ago when Dany wasn’t at the U-20,” German GM Franz Reindl said Friday. “He was not selected. We talked. We tried. We negotiated.
“He was 18 years old and was not the biggest thing. Of course we tried.”
Heatley ended up holding on to his Canadian eligibility and has been more than rewarded for that decision. He wore the Maple Leaf at the the next two world junior tournaments, the 2006 Olympics and is currently playing in his fifth IIHF World Hockey Championship.
It’s interesting to consider how differently things might have turned out. Heatley was born in the German town of Freiburg while his father Murray was playing pro hockey there and holds a passport from that country.
Had he made a different choice almost a decade ago, Heatley could easily be playing for the other side when Canada faces Germany on Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET).
“My dad played over there a lot of years and my mom’s from there,” said Heatley. “I have some family I’m sure that will be watching the game.
“It’s always fun definitely to play that team.”
The German connections continue for the family. Heatley’s younger brother Mark will play for a second division team in Munich next season after spending two years at the University of Toronto.
Murray Heatley arrived in Halifax on Friday along with roughly 60 other family members of the Canadian team. They’ll all be at the Metro Centre on Saturday afternoon, when Murray will have a chance to chat with his former teammate Reindl.
They played together with Riessersee for three seasons and won the German League title in 1978.
“Murray Heatley was a hot shark,” said Reindl. “He was really dangerous. He scored like hell.”
He didn’t quite have the size of his famous six-foot-three son and never made it to the NHL.
Dany Heatley hasn’t see any old footage from his dad’s playing days but is still able to offer a scouting report.
“I play with him oldtimers in the summer so I get a feel for his game from that,” he said. “He’s still good. He can still score goals.”
Like father, like son.
In Friday’s games, Finland beat Latvia 2-1, Russia edged Belarus 4-3 in a shootout, Slovakia hammered Slovenia 5-1 and France won 3-2 over Italy.
Heatley leads the tournament with six goals and 10 points in four games. He found instant chemistry on the top line with Rick Nash and Ryan Getzlaf – three big guys that Canadian head coach Ken Hitchcock believes are pretty much unstoppable together.
“They’re not going to have success like they’re having every night,” said Hitchcock. “It’s impossible. …
“But you’re not going to shut it down totally. They’re competitive. They’re not going to get discouraged because somebody’s playing them hard.”
Nash was responsible for yet another good YouTube clip during Thursday’s 2-1 win over Norway, when he skated the length of the ice before scoring the winning goal late in the game. Hitchcock also coaches Nash in Columbus and says he saw seven goals as good as that one from him this season.
The 23-year-old winger missed most of Canada’s training camp after having minor throat surgery after the NHL season and appears to be picking up steam after taking some time to recover.
“I knew I had to use the first round as kind of my own training camp and getting ready,” said Nash. “Each game I’m starting to feel better and my legs are starting to come back.”
Everything seems pretty quiet around the unbeaten Canadian team as there have been no major setbacks or controversies during the first four tournament games.
Their next opponent wishes it could say the same thing.
Germany has already had one player (Jason Holland) kicked out of the tournament and another (Florian Busch) become the subject of a doping scandal.
“To say the least, this hasn’t been a quiet world championship for us,” said German coach Uwe Krupp. “We’ve had quite a bit of drama and turmoil.”
He added to it on Thursday night by telling the media that some of the team’s unsupportive fans should leave Halifax immediately on one of the three flights back to Germany. Krupp was upset that a few Germans in the stands for a game against the U.S. held up signs calling for the firing of Reindl.
The fans were angry after the Canadian-born Holland was ruled ineligible two games into the event because he had only spent three years playing in Germany instead of the necessary four. Essentially, the German federation made a clerical error when it added him to the team and Reindl took full responsibility for it.
Fan protests aside, everyone involved with the German team has been supportive.
“They really backed me up,” said Reindl. “It’s a great feeling getting so much support.”
The country only boasts a handful of NHLers so it always needs more support on the ice. That’s why the federation tries to lure any good players with German ties to the national team.
That could have been Dany Heatley.