Lukas Reichel Nr.73 of Germany Leon Gawanke Nr.9 of Germany in the match GERMANY - ITALY of the IIHF Ice hockey, Eishockey World Championship, WM, Weltmeisterschaft Group B in Helsinki, Finland, May 20, 2022, Season 2021/2022

It’s not just the figure skaters who are based here who train in ice rink 2 of the Sportforum Hohenschönhausen these days. Because the ice is still thawing in the corrugated iron palace next door, numerous pros from the polar bears and players who want to make the leap into the DEL team one day are chasing after the pucks. Among them was a trio who have legitimate hopes of playing in the NHL, the best ice hockey league in the world, next season.

Leon Gawanke, 23, Kai Wissmann, 25, and Lukas Reichel, 20, have in common that they were all trained by the reigning German champions. The paths from Hohenschönhausen to the glamorous ice hockey world of North America were very different and could cross in the coming season.

Gawanke was drafted in the fifth round by the Winnipeg Jets five years ago. While it is now almost the rule that clubs from overseas choose German players, the excitement in 2017 in this country and especially at his Berlin training club was still very high. “It was something special for me,” says the defender. “The latest development is very positive. We can look forward to the years to come.”

Of course, the national player hopes that this also applies to his personal development. Gawanke embarked on the once-common route to approach the NHL dream. At the age of 17 he went to North America, first played in a youth league and since 2019 in the AHL for Manitoba Moose, the Jets’ farm team.

Despite convincing performances and good statistical values, he has not yet been able to play in the best league in the world, although he was closer than ever. “Of course you’re frustrated when you see that everyone around you can take this step, just not yourself – for whatever reason,” says Gawanke. “But it also inspires.”

The fact that Gawanke has already played against his friend Lukas Reichel in the AHL is because the striker, who is so talented, first had to get used to his new environment. The Chicago Blackhawks selected him in the first round of the 2020 draft. Which reveals the high expectations. Before the North American adventure really began in 2021, Reichel initially stayed in Berlin, where he won the title with the polar bears.

Despite this development, he did not experience a dream start on the other side of the Atlantic. “It was difficult at first,” Reichel recalls. Some of the critical commentators were harsh on the then 19-year-old.

After he also impressed with the farm team, the Rockford IceHogs, and collected 57 points in 56 games, the NHL dream came true in early January. Against the Montreal Canadiens he ran for the Blackhawks for the first time; he has already worn the jersey eleven times. “At some point it just clicked and I found a series,” says Reichel, who, however, has noticed in his short time, “that there is a lot more to do with business than here”. It can be assumed that Reichel will have further assignments.

Kai Wissmann, on the other hand, is an NHL career changer. Thanks to his strong development, which was crowned by two titles and World Cup appearances with the national team, the defender earned a one-year contract with the Boston Bruins. “I had the NHL in the back of my mind, but didn’t give it that much thought,” he says, “but it shows that no matter your age, you should never stop believing in your dreams.”

The three ex-Berliners are happy to accept that fulfilling a lifelong dream involves a lot of drudgery. “I’ll work even harder in the summer to achieve this goal,” said Gawanke on his behalf. Berlin is exactly the right place to approach this.