No Tim Stutzle. No Lukas Reichel. No JJ Peterka. Doesn't matter.
Germany pulled off a mini upset at the World Junior Championship, beating a battered Czechia team 2-1 in overtime on Monday to grab its first two points of the tournament. The Czechs only played with five defensemen, but with 11 total NHL drafted prospects, they definitely came in as the favorites.
They worked their butts off and took advantage of the situation. It wasn't easy, but they'll be happy to take the victory.
And while they were expected to win at least one game in the round-robin -- the meeting with Austria -- Germany's play so far has been noteworthy. They lost 3-1 to Finland on the opening day, but they were inches away from tying things up at two apiece late in the game, which would have changed just about everything.
After two games, Germany proved they can fight with the big boys.
Germany has been in the top division for three years now, but the 2021 one will always feel like the one that got away. After two crushing defeats due to a multitude of players missing time due to COVID-19, and with Moritz Seider electing to stay in Sweden to continue his development, Germany had no chance of showing just how strong of a team they were capable of being until it was too late.
Without those star players in the lineup this year, Germany was expected to battle with Austria for the spot in the relegation round. But so far, so good for a team that hasn't had an issue punching above its weight.
While the U-20 level doesn't contribute to world rankings, Germany currently sits fifth on the men's side ahead of Czechia, Sweden and Slovakia. That's largely due to the team's silver medal effort at the 2018 Winter Olympics sans NHLers, but they've had some decent showings at the World Championship, too, and not having a 2020 men's event helped keep them in that spot. But strong performances at any level are vital for future development, and that's why a win like this means a lot to everybody involved in German hockey.
"It's the best feeling ever," goaltender Florian Bugl said after the win.
Winning a round-robin game against a team most don't expect to make it out of the quarter-finals doesn't match the all-world status of making the Olympic final. But it's the small victories, especially when everyone writes you off because your top eligible players didn't make the trip to Edmonton.
The Germans have just one NHL prospect, Luca Munzenberger. The University of Vermont defender scored his first national team goal ever against Finland, and he's been with the team dating back to the U-17 level in 2018-19. Offense isn't really part of his game. But that's what the Germans have to deal with: there isn't a big-time game-changer this year like Stutzle was, so new names need to step up.
Alexander Blank was that man on Monday, scoring both goals for the Germans. He's not really high on scouting radars, having bounced around four different German leagues this season. Most of the German lineup will never come close to reaching the NHL, but many will have a chance to represent their country at international events at higher levels -- maybe one will be lucky to go to the Olympics in a few month's time
The Germans haven't had to worry about relegation for the past two years after just avoiding it in 2020. That's a luxury most teams near the bottom of the latter never get to deal with, but it's extremely helpful for a team to work on building a foundation and ensuring games are broadcasted and covered by local media.
And that's how it begins. Hockey has always had some popularity in Germany, but they've never been able to turn it into success at a major level. But it continues to grow thanks to the likes of Stutzle, Seider, Leon Draisaitl, Philipp Grubauer and the many others that found success in the NHL in recent years.
So a win like Monday's, no matter how small, means something. And it's up to Germany to continue building momentum for a positive hockey future.