On Wednesday morning, when most people in Germany were asleep, Leon Draisaitl in distant Denver in the US state of Colorado once again set a record.
In the first semifinal game of his Edmonton Oilers’ series against the Colorado Avalanche, the native of Cologne again scored two points, for the sixth time in a row in the playoffs. No one in the National Hockey League (NHL) has done that before Draisaitl.
Leon Draisaitl, 26 years old, is considered by many to be the best ice hockey player in the world, but that hardly matters in his home country. His level of awareness is surprisingly low. But there are reasons for that, and interestingly, the NHL itself is partly to blame.
“If you’re not seen, you don’t exist,” said hockey coach Don Jackson, a former Oilers player in their glory days in the ’80s. This is particularly true in the case of Draisaitl: if the sport of ice hockey has enjoyed more public attention outside of its fan bubble than usual in recent years, then the national team was also involved: in 2018 at the Olympic silver medal, millions of people also got up at night, to cheer.
Or in 2021, when there was fourth place at the World Cup in Riga, the odds were good – or most recently at the Olympic Games in Beijing. Draisaitl wasn’t there every time, most recently he was in the German squad at the 2019 World Cup – and it could have been the last time for him in the national jersey for a long time.
The World Cup is on when the best teams in the NHL are still playing in the playoffs. And for the Olympic Games, the North American professional league last stopped playing in 2014. They haven’t measured hockey against their best national teams in eight years – a sad mark for a sport that plays a bigger role in the northern hemisphere.
If Draisaitl could then play at the World Cup – like in 2021 – then his NHL club would veto it. Because of the risk of injury. Or the superstar’s participation fails because the sum insured is simply not affordable for the German Ice Hockey Federation.
Now the NHL can rightly be accused of selfishness, in fact the world’s largest hockey league only cares about the rest of the hockey world when it comes to scouting young talent to play in the NHL. Of course, that’s weird from a marketing standpoint. The basketball league NBA, which operates more skilfully worldwide, arouses far more interest in Europe and also in Germany than the NHL.
The latter tries to somehow conquer the European market every few years with friendlies (“Global Series”) disguised as a great event. For example, the San Jose Sharks are coming to Berlin on October 4th – at completely exorbitant ticket prices for a test game.
If the Sharks asked around in Berlin who knows their players, then they would probably lose their faith. The German ice hockey fan still prefers their own team, their own stadium experience, to what happens thousands of kilometers further west, mostly at night in North America in Colorado or Edmonton.
Leon Draisaitl is simply hardly present in Germany. Two years ago, after being named the best player in the NHL, he checked out everything that was on the relevant television hours in the summer. The native of Cologne also came across as quite smart, but it’s not quite clear what he stands for.
That was a bit different with Dirk Nowitzki, who had only spent his career overseas and in the NBA. The basketball player was and still is an advertising medium in Germany. There are no TV spots with Leon Draisaitl.
His childhood friend Ferderik Tiffels, himself a professional ice hockey player in Munich, says: “Leon’s path has become apparent. I think it’s incredible what he’s doing there. I’m really happy for him. If you believe in dreams, then a lot is possible.”
Draisaitl would probably only be well known at home if he played successfully with the team at the Olympic Games or the World Cup – but that doesn’t happen. At least he can work on his already huge reputation in North America if the German attacker actually succeeds in fulfilling his big dream of winning the Stanley Cup this year.
The Oilers lost the first game of the best-of-seven series in Colorado 6-8 in a Halligalli game on Wednesday. Leon Draisaitl then said: “Shake once, adjust a few things and then we will be better.”
A lot of people in the USA and Canada will definitely follow that, but it should be different in Germany: The second semi-final game in Colorado is on Friday morning at 2 a.m.