In itself, everything is as beautiful as it has been for years. The German national ice hockey team has never won five preliminary rounds in a row at a world championship. It’s a proud record. Especially in a year in which there was nothing at all against teams that were far weaker at the Olympic Winter Games in Beijing, except for an embarrassingly narrow victory against the ice hockey fringe nation China.
And yet they aren’t beaming with happiness with the German national team at the World Cup in Finland these days, rather self-criticism is the order of the day – and not too little. After the penultimate preliminary round game, hardly anyone in the German camp could gain anything from the 5:4 against Kazakhstan. “We have to play more consistently and analyze it now,” said Berlin-born defender Leon Gawanke, currently active with the Manitoba Moose in the American Hockey League.
As after the Halligalli 9:4 against Italy, national coach Toni Söderholm was once again not satisfied with the defensive performance of his players. The Finns always prefer a 1:0 – like against the strong Danes – to a 5:4. Söderholm was then reportedly absent on Tuesday due to “a minor illness”, which should have nothing to do with the Kazakhstan game.
Despite all the self-criticism and criticism of the German game, one decisive factor is often overlooked: the Germans, apart from the 3:5 against world champion Canada at the start, always found a way to win the games and were convincing overall in attack: 23 goals in six games is a good mark.
Whatever may come next, the tournament has already been successful from a German point of view with the safe participation in the quarterfinals. The players from Söderholm will hardly do worse than sixth place.
It is also possible that – as in 2021 at the World Cup in Latvia – it will go beyond the quarter-finals. The last group game against Switzerland on Tuesday (11.20 a.m., Sport1) is a good test run on the way to the knockout stages. Even first place in the group is still possible, with a clear German victory, which cannot be assumed.
The Swiss have their strongest team at the start for years, play at an incredible pace and, after their six wins in a row, including the 6:3 against Canada, have clearly grown into one of the favorites for the title. And of course there is still an open account from 2021: The Germans won the World Cup quarter-finals against the Swiss after a 2-0 deficit after a penalty shoot-out.
However, says Gawanke, who scored the goal to make it 2-2 a year ago: “At the time everyone thought they would sweep us out of the hall and then things turned out differently.” goes along and plays as dynamically as at times against Canada or in the 2-1 win against Slovakia.
And it will depend on the goalkeeping performance. Söderholm may have gambled a bit recently when he put Mathias Niederberger (against Italy) and then Dustin Strahlmeier (against Kazakhstan) in goal – Philipp Grubauer could have lost his rhythm. However, the game against Switzerland is also a good warm-up for him for the quarter-finals on Thursday – probably against Sweden.
The recall of Tim Stützle at the World Cup by his NHL club Ottawa Senators after his rather harmless injury is certainly not productive for the German game. Of course, with Leon Draisaitl, Dominik Kahun, Frederik Tiffels and now Stützle, the best German strikers are missing from the team – but the trick is to play well with those who can and want to play.
Söderholm is annoyed that there is sometimes a lack of consistency in the game. “But that’s whining at a high level,” says the national coach. It’s correct. In 2021, his team failed in the preliminary round of the World Cup against an opponent like Kazakhstan. It can’t get any worse.