Germany is penning one of the most unthinkable stories in Olympic hockey history, and this could be the beginning of a bright on-ice future.
There will be plenty of time to dissect this stunning, stunning result from Canada’s perspective. When that time comes, someone will have to figure out how a team could be so adept at beating itself, of being undisciplined, both in terms of penalties and puck management, and generate only 17 shots through two periods in a game so vitally important. How a Canadian team could allow a country that didn’t even qualify for the 2014 Olympics dictate the pace of play for 40 minutes. Somebody will have some ’splaining to do.
Yes, lots of time for that. But more importantly, this is a time to celebrate the Olympic team from Germany, which with its earth-shattering 4-3 win over Canada in the semifinal has put itself in a position to possibly knock off the 1980 Miracle on Ice as the most dramatic and impactful moment in hockey history. (And while we’re on that subject, let’s dispense right now any notion that an exhibition series between a bunch of out-of-shape Canadian NHLers and the Soviets almost 50 years ago deserves that distinction. In reality, the Summit Series would have a tough time getting into the top five.)
If you’re not a Canadian hockey fan, this is a wonderful result. The Germans, seeded eighth in the world, have gone on a truly stunning run of hockey here, one that almost certainly would not have been possible if The League That Shall Not Be Named™ were competing in PyeongChang. Far too often in international tournaments of late, both on the men’s and women’s side of the game, the same old countries have come away with the haul of medals. It can be nothing but good for the game globally that this unlikely team from Germany will come away from here with at least a silver medal. And if it can maintain its magical run for just one more game against another international heavyweight, it will leave with gold. That would be nothing short of earth-shattering. It would be one of the most, if not the most, incredible stories ever carved out on a sheet of ice.
And it would be wonderful.
Think about it. When a group of college kids shocked the world in 1980 with a gold medal, it spawned a generation of NHL stars, many of whom took to hockey over baseball, basketball and football because of the inspirational story that team created. It resulted in a cohort of players that finally elevated the U.S. to a world power that is regularly churning out elite players. Perhaps a gold medal could do the same thing for Germany, a relatively untapped hockey nation that has more than twice the population of Canada and has the financial wherewithal to build a hockey program and afford to produce willing players. A victory by this team might give some young German kids the notion that someday they might be able to do this, too. And instead of trying to become the next Franz Beckenbauer, Michael Schumacher or Dirk Nowitzki, perhaps they’ll want their parents to go out and buy them hockey equipment and enroll them in minor hockey so they can become the next Patrick Hager.
According to the International Ice Hockey Federation, Germany has almost 21,000 registered players of both sexes. It has 216 indoor rinks and 45 outdoor rinks. In a country that size, hockey has an enormous opportunity to grow. And nothing would grow the game more than winning a gold medal at the Olympic Games.
There’s really nothing to suggest this team is more than a one-off, a spectacular fluke that is somehow finding a way to win games it has no business winning. But that was the case with the Miracle on Ice team, too. But the thing that makes this team so unique is that of the 25 players on the roster, 14 of them have played all their hockey at home, growing up through grassroots organizations before graduating to the DEL, which is the top league in Germany. In fact, only four of them have experience in The League That Shall Not Be Named™, two of them with just one game in the big league.
The average age of this team is 29, which probably makes it the oldest one in this tournament. It is clearly without star power, relying on a bunch of no-name, hardworking players guided by the steady hand of Marco Sturm, who is looking very much like he will someday be behind a bench in The League That Shall Not Be Named™. There’s little reason to believe this is anything more than what it is. It does not mean Germany is suddenly a country on the rise internationally, but a win in 2018 could mean it will be 10 or 15 years down the road.
When you look at the matchup on paper, Germany should have no chance against the Olympic Athletes of Russia in the gold medal game. And there’s almost always a time where the underachieving underdog comes to the grim realization that it is playing out of its element and the whole thing comes crashing down. The Germans will have to stave that off for one more game and they might, given the fact they bent but didn’t break in an overtime game against Sweden and did not succumb to a Canadian onslaught in the third period of the semifinal.
They weren’t supposed to win those games and they’re not supposed to win the gold medal game. It could provide the perfect script for a truly stunning ending.
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