The start was a little absurd. The new ice hockey team from Hamburg trained for the first time 20 years ago, and a little later, on August 16, they played their first game – in London, in an ice rink in Docklands. Little went wrong for the debut: The stadium announcer announced the team as “Hamburg Freeze”, only after the first third was the name corrected on the video cube in the hall: “Hamburg Freezers” could now be read there.
The journey of the new team from the German Ice Hockey League (DEL) had begun and it was a successful one, at least for the Hamburg public. Financially and athletically, things should look different over the years. But that was out of the question in August 2002, because club owner Philip Anschutz had big plans for a team that had only been around for a few months: the entrepreneur from the USA had transferred the club from Munich to Hamburg, and the barons became Freezers . Because in Hamburg there was a large arena built by the Finn Harry Harkimo for 13,000 spectators – a hall that Anschutz didn’t have in Munich.
The replanting of a club based on the North American model was new territory in Germany in 2002, well before the excitement about a Leipzig retort football club, and accordingly attracted attention. Anschutz even traveled to London to witness the birth of his team. There was a tournament with six clubs – all of which belonged to the Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) empire at the time. Among the participants were the polar bears from Berlin.
Anschutz was shirt-sleeved in London and even stirred up the press conference once. First he helped himself to the press buffet, then he lounged in the last row of seats and even asked a question. Who gave the guarantee that Hamburg would become an ice hockey city? “There are no guarantees in life,” said Tim Leiweke, then President of the Anschutz Group. There are no secure markets. “But Hamburg has many advantages.” People who are enthusiastic about sports and many potential sponsors. Leiweke served his remarks That means: what we tackle at Anschutz is successful.
Around the club and even in the team, they were not so sure about the chances of success of the project. Hamburg was an ice hockey diaspora, there had been many bankruptcies in many attempts to establish a team in the top leagues. Even HSV’s ice hockey department tried its hand in the second division in the 1980s. When the Freezers were born, the Hamburg Crocodiles eked out their existence in the old ice rink in the Farmsen district. Even the players of the new Hamburg team weren’t so sure about the Freezers. When asked whether spectators would come to the games in Hamburg, attacker Thomas Sjörgen, who had previously played for the polar bears, said: “I don’t know, I don’t know the city. Besides, I would have preferred to play with the Eisbären in Berlin.”
When Sjögren said these sentences on the sidelines of the London tournament, the first Freezer fan club had long since been founded in Hamburg. The anticipation was obviously there, the then Governing Mayor Ole von Beust received coach Sean Simpson in the town hall and was publicly happy that Hamburg finally had a team “in the DSL”. And on the Freezers’ website it was announced that “the kick-off times” for the home games had not yet been determined.
Because it was going to be a while before the first face-off happened in the 2002/2003 DEL season. The Freezers started with a series of away games, and the arena in the Volkspark was only ready for occupancy on November 12, 2022. 13,000 people saw a narrow victory against the Kölner Haie. The club had previously put up the advertising slogan “Welcome on Planet Ice” across the city. The first game was a big party, on the video cube Godzilla raged to “We will rock you”, the wave raged in the stands. “That was a good and promising start,” said Detlef Kornet, then head of the European part of AEG.
The next few years were also quite decent – as far as acceptance by the Hamburg audience was concerned, even if the average audience later on was usually not as high as in the premiere season (over 10,000). But in terms of sport and finances, the Freezers never lived up to their owner’s expectations. They only made it to the DEL semi-finals twice (2004 and 2014), in the play-offs it was always the end of the line for the Freezers against the other Anschutz club, the Eisbären. After no buyer was found for the club, it was actually wound up in 2016 after 14 years and disappeared as quickly as it had appeared.
Thomas Bothstede was with the Freezers for a long time, most recently as “Vice President Business Operations” and ultimately involved in the settlement of the club, whose last manager Stéphane Richer and trainer Serge Aubin are now in Berlin like him. The current managing director of the Eisbären Berlin says: “It was the case that with the Freezers we ran behind the Eisbären in terms of sport and structure and were more like the Gallic village.”
Still, the death of the Freezers is sad, says Bothstede. “They were in the process of reinventing themselves.” A youth program that got off to a good start fell asleep after the demise of the professional department. In the training hall next to the arena there is only hobby ice hockey today, the Crocodiles continue to play in Farmsen, in the third division. To speak to Heidi Kabel: “In Hamburg they say bye, that means goodbye.” The Freezers always played the hit when a guest player had to go to the penalty box. But it will probably take an indefinite amount of time to see each other again: