With soccer by far the most popular sport in the country, junior hockey clubs in Germany often have great difficulty recruiting outstanding young athletes. As recently as 1986, Canada humiliated West Germany’s best juniors 18-2 in Kitchener, ON, during the IIHF World Junior Championship.
The turning point in German youth hockey came in 1995 when Jochen Hecht and Marco Sturm, now with the Edmonton Oilers and San Jose Sharks, respectively, led their country to a silver medal at the European (Under-18) Junior Championship. It was an historic day for the Germans, who had never won a medal of any color in that tournament before.
However, with former Soviet republics like Belarus and Kazakhstan creating more competition at the top level of world junior hockey, Germany tumbled to the "B" pool after finishing last at the 1998 World Juniors in Finland. The Germans had problems getting back to the top group, finishing fourth in the "B" pool in 1999, then second in both 2000 and 2001 before climbing back up last year, mainly through the efforts of two outstanding defensemen Christian Erhoff and Christoph Schubert, who finished 1-2 in team scoring.
The Germans are coached by Ernst Hofner, who played in three Olympics between 1980 and 1988. They won promotion to the top pool when they won the second level tournament in Austria in December of 2001.
Erhoff, the San Jose Sharks’ second draft pick in 2001, and Schubert, fifth choice of the Ottawa Senators in the same year, are both ineligible this year and that will leave a huge hole on Germany’s blueline.
The 2003 German National Junior team will boast centre Marcel Goc, the younger brother of Tampa Bay defenseman Sascha Goc. Goc had four goals and six points in five games in Austria last season.
For the last two seasons, Goc has been a boy playing against men for Schwennigen at Germany’s top level of hockey. Selected by San Jose in the first round (20th overall) of the 2001 NHL entry draft, he became the highest ever German-born player chosen.
Goc developed so rapidly that when Germany hosted the Senior World Championships in 2001, coach Hans Zach added him to the team when Canadian-born Mark MacKay went down with an injury.
Goaltender Dmitry Patzold is back after posting excellent numbers with a 1.00 GAA and .955 save percentage in five games in Austria. A native of the former Soviet Republic of Kazakhstan, Patzold is one of the growing number of so-called "Volga Germans", players born in the former Soviet Union, but with German family backgrounds, who are boosting the calibre of German ice hockey. He was drafted by the San Jose Sharks in 2001.
Also returning for Germany this year is Martin Hinterstocker, who contributed four assists in five games last year. Hinterstocker’s father Martin Sr. was a member of the West German team which won a bronze medal at the 1976 Olympics in Austria.
Yannic Seidenberg, one of the country’s brightest young prospects, graduates from Germany’s Under-18 squad. He was scheduled to join the Peterborough Petes of the Ontario Hockey League for the 2002-03 season, but has decided to play in Germany for one more season.