Exciting Times Ahead On The Ice
While most of us are still dwelling on the warm summer weather and enjoying a beer at one of the many beer gardens in town, it’s hard to imagine that we are now just over three weeks away from the opening round of the new DEL ice hockey season.
As usual, a lot has happened over the summer months at Munich’s premier ice hockey club, EHC Red Bull Munich. Our ice hockey man Philip Caspari takes a first look behind the scenes at what exactly has changed at the club and gives hope to all ice hockey enthusiasts for the season ahead.
Some six months ago, with only one game remaining in the 2012/13 DEL season, EHC Red Bull Munich were still alive in the playoff race. Thanks to the club’s star NHL-imports Paul Stastny and Blake Wheeler, Munich actually had a good shot at making the DEL playoffs for the first time in years. After an emphatic 3:1 win at home in early March over eventual league champions Eisbären Berlin, enthusiasm around the club went through the roof. I remember sitting on the edge of my seat at the ice arena at Oberwiesenfeld, thrilled about the game at hand and loudly singing along to the “fighting for the playoffs” chants from the north end supporters. But only two days later, an unlucky 2:1 loss on the road against the Freezers of Hamburg crushed all hopes and brought the season to an abrupt end in the very last round of the season – heartbreak for all of us!
It was time to face the challenges ahead – same procedure as every year – during the upcoming off-season. But there was something different about the club and its usual changes over summer. Red Bull, already naming right and jersey sponsor of the club during the 2012/13 season, took over the club effective as of May 1st 2013. And those that know Red Bull and the way they go about their sponsoring investments, know that Red Bull does not like to do anything in half measures. So instead of talks about a possible relocation of the club as in recent summers, things remained quiet at EHC Red Bull Munich with the sole focus on building a strong and competitive team for seasons to come.
Pierre Gilbert Pagé (65), a French-Canadian born former NHL player (Calgary Flames) who already won back-to-back DEL championships as head coach of the Eisbären Berlin in 2005 and 2006, took over as new head coach from the departing Pat Cortina who is now in charge of Germany’s national team. Together with Pagé, as many as nineteen new players joined the club during the off-season, with only six retaining a spot on the playing roster from last season (Petermann, Reimer, Maurer, Hinterstocker, Pauli, Ritter).
“August is a very special and important time of year in ice hockey,” stressed Pagé recently when talking about the clubs pre-season setup. “There’s a lot of work to be done on and off the ice and there shall be no easy games during pre-season either”.
The club not only started its pre-season campaign earlier than all other DEL clubs, but stacked its off-season schedule with several top quality “friendly” fixtures against teams from the top leagues in Russia and the Czech Republic. Following strong performances and wins against KHL-outfits Magnitogorsk (4:3) and Omsk (4:2), the Red Bulls travelled across the border to face Karlovy Vary (5:0), Slavia Prag (1:5) and Lev Prag (5:10). Goal scorers varied, different players had major impacts on each game and even new young backup goaltender Kevin Reich made his debut. Pagé still experiments with his set-up on the ice in order to find his ideal team.
There may be no more questions asked in defense with the four new US-boys (Richmond, Wozniewski, Smaby, Lewis) forming the top two lines. While up front, everything remains possible. Sean O’Connor and Jon DiSalvatore are both still recovering from injuries suffered during last season, while tryout players Jan Urbas and Colton Fretter are battling for the final import spot up for grabs. “We’re in no rush,” says Pagé. “We have plenty of time and I want to have a good look at all the players before making any decisions”.
It’s August – and it is an exciting time at EHC Red Bull Munich. After what I’ve seen so far during the pre-season games, I personally believe that the new DEL season may be one to be remembered by fans, players and officials in Germany’s southern city. The new signings have top quality and experience. The defensive players bring power and toughness to the team, while the additions in attack give the team new firepower, agility and speed. It’s a matter of when Pagé finds the ideal set-up for the team to work, both on and off the ice. Meanwhile, the club needs to keep the pressure off the squad and allow them their time to set off in style. I’m eagerly awaiting the new season and cannot wait to get one back in Hamburg in Round 1. It’s payback time!
To countdown the time until the opening game of the new season on Friday September 13th against Hamburg Freezers (19:30 pm), Munich NOW will introduce all the new players and officials of EHC Red Bull Munich in a daily column starting Monday September 2nd.
Stay tuned and get yourself ready for a great new ice hockey season ahead!