Saturday, 15 December 2018

Germany Moves Up

It's always bittersweet to see the teams who qualify to move from IIHF U20 Division 1 World Championship to the main tournament. Often, those teams have players who will have aged out of the tournament the following year when they make their appearance, likely making that team one of the two who play to avoid regulation. It's a bit of an unfair cycle, but this is the reality we live in when it comes to the promotion of teams for an annual tournament. The 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship will take place in Ostrava and Třinec, Czech Republic, and a familiar foe will return to the big tournament after winning the Division 1 tournament that took place over the last week in Fussen, Germany. And this team will have returning players who can participate next year as well!

The six teams who competed in the 2019 IIHF U20 Division 1 World Championship in Fussen included host Germany, France, Latvia, Belarus, Norway, and Austria. Latvia and Belarus are often up and down in terms of being included in the top tournament, but Germany is always a surprise in needing promotion after years of success at the U20 level. They had struggled the last three years at this event, failing to gain promotion over countries like Denmark, Kazakhstan, and the Latvia.

In 2020, the tournament in the Czech Republic will feature a German squad once more after they claimed promotion in their home country!

It didn't look like this outcome would happen at the start of the week as Germany barely squeaked by Austria in a 3-2 shootout victory. Germany held a 2-1 lead through two periods before Austria tied the game, sending this one to overtime. With nothing solved there, the shootout was necessary. The two teams traded goals in Rounds Two and Four before Austria's Niklas Wurschl mishandled the puck in Round Five, setting up Germany for a possible win. Alexander Ehl made no mistake in beating Austria's Paul Mocher, and Germany claimed the shootout win for two points in the tournament.

Perhaps that game against Austria was the wake-up call that Germany needed because they came out on December 10 and played some solid hockey in shutting out Norway by a 4-0 score. Taro Jentzsch, Tim Brunnhuber with a pair of goals, and Justin Schutz tallied all the offence for the Germans who limited the Norwegians to just 17 shots in the game compared to the 35 they fired at the Norway net. With the regulation-time win, Germany moved to five points, but still trailed the 2-0-0-0 Belorussians in the standings.

December 12 saw Latvia as Germany's opponent, and this game was played much like the Norway game. Tim Brunnhuber, Nicolas Appendino, Marco Bassler, and Dennis Lobach staked Germany to the 4-0 lead before a late power-play goal by Latvia broke Hendrik Hane's shutout, but Germany still claimed the 4-1 victory. The victory kept the Germans on pace with Belarus who won their third-straight game with a 5-0 win over Austria, so it appeared that these two teams would decide the tournament when they met the very next day.

Thursday's game showed just how ready Germany may be to take on the world's best. It was 3-0 within the first 12 minutes of the game for the Germans with Justin Schutz, Marco Bassler, and Tim Wohlgemuth scoring in a 4:38 span to put the Germans way out in front to end Andrei Grishenko's night in the Belorussian net at 11:54. The two teams would trade goals in the middle frame to put Germany ahead 4-1 before Dominik Bokk iced the game with 3:27 to play when he pushed the score to 5-1 with his goal. This victory all but guaranteed promotion as Germany moved to 3-0-1-0 while Belarus fell to 3-1-0-0.

With one game left on the schedule, Germany needed just one point against France to guarantee themselves promotion to the top level in 2020 while Belarus needed to win and have France defeat Germany if they were to advance. Germany had the earlier game, so Belarus would find themselves scoreboard watching as the game began.

The Germans would start the game off right with a power-play goal on their first opportunity from Yannik Valenti to make it 1-0 through 20 minutes of play. Nicolas Appendino made it 2-0 five minutes into the second period before Antonin Plagnat answered back with a power-play goal for France with seven minutes left in the period to make it 2-1. However, Taro Jentzsch restored the two-goal lead just 43 after the French goal to make it 3-1, and Belarus needed France to make a big push in the third period if they had any chance in being promoted.

The only problem was that Germany was on a mission. Taro Jentzsch scored 2:29 into the period and added his third goal for the natural hat trick at 11:37 to make it a 5-1 game. Dennis Lobach added one more goal at 16:56, and the celebration was on as Germany downed France 6-1 to earn the promotion to the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship!

What's key for this team as they make their way back to the top level is that 10 of the 22 players who played in this tournament were born in 2000 or later meaning they'll be eligible to participate in next year's World Junior Championship. That will help Germany immensely as they look to stay in the top group for more than one tournament. Of the players who are eligible to return, they include goaltenders Henrik Hane and Florian Mnich, defenders Niklas Heinzinger, Leon Huttl, and Moritz Seider ('01), and forwards Justin Schutz, Dennis Lobach, Dominik Bokk, Taro Jentzsch, and Yannik Valenti. Yes, a number of those players played large parts in helping this German team get promoted, so it will be interesting to see how they fare next year against the world's best.

Just as a note, the game between Belarus and Latvia that ended up meaning nothing was won by Latvia by a 3-1 score in which the Belorussians simply looked disinterested in playing. I feel for them, but there's still pride and country for which they should be playing. In the end, it seemed the disappointment of missing the chance to be promoted got the better of them.

Congratulations to Germany on their victory and their promotion to the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship in Ostrava and Třinec, Czech Republic! This might be the best holiday gift these kids have ever received as they can all start preparing for a guaranteed trip to the Czech Republic next Christmas, and I look forward to having Germany back at the big dance next year!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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