Germany’s hockey team looks rather different ahead of the World Championship. Several players who earned Olympic silver are out and NHL stars are back in. Head coach Marco Sturm speaks with DW about his team’s chances.DW: How big is the pressure to not spoil the newly acquired popularity from your silver medal performance at the Pyeongchang Olympics with a bad showing at the Ice Hockey World Championship in Denmark?
Marco Sturm: I believe many people know the relative strength in international hocky. They know that we will not win every game. But sure, we feel pressure. It is bigger than before. We will try to play as well as we did at the Olympics and at the last world championship. If that happens and we play good hockey, we will be satisfied.
The world championship is the second best highlight of the season after the Olympics. What is the appeal of going against the world elite again?
It is a new tournament. We need to forget about the Olympics. The tune-up games before the world championship showed us that there are still things to do. We need to be cleverer and develop more of an edge in front of goal. I think that, despite the different opponents, the players are bringing enough confidence to the world championship. There they can prove themselves anew.
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You said soon after the Olympics that the team for the world championships would not be the same. Did you have such a big squad shuffle in mind?
Some players retired, a few are injured and others are mentally tired. Our outstanding goalie Danny aus den Birken is also out. It is a new start with a new young team. Our team at the Olympics was the oldest in the tournament. Now we have only five players over the age of 30 and 12 who are 25 or younger. Seven of them are at the world championship for the first time.
A little more routine might be useful at the world championship. Did Patrick Reimer, Marcel Goc and Christian Ehrhoff forsake the team with their retirements?
No. The three of them spoke with me last summer about their intention to retire at the end of the season. That wasn’t a consideration when we won Olympic silver. I couldn’t change their minds now. One also has to see that all three had long successful careers. I cannot hold it against them that they wanted to stop after that achievement (at the Olympics).
Three NHL players have now improved your squad. They surely aren’t coming in euphoric moods because their teams were eliminated early in the playoffs.
I am happy about every player that wants to play at the world championship. Leon Draisaitl is a top forward. He helped us a lot at last year’s world championship. Dennis Seidenberg at age 36 is an absolute leader. He gives our team a lot of stability. That also applies to Korbinian Holzer.
Markus Eisenschmid, Marc Michaelis and Manuel Wiederer are new names to surface. What kind of players are they?
They are prospects who play in the lower levels in North America — in the AHL (American Hockey League) or in college. We are searching for the right players, not just NHL players. Frederik Tiffels made a really good impression over the last year. He is now in the squad.
Winning the silver medal was the biggest accomplishment for German hockey. How did you experience it? What has changed since then?
It was unbelievable for all of us, the enthusiasm we had. Also for people, who have never or rarely experienced a hockey game live. We want to take the momentum with us in order to bring our sport further in Germany. We have a long-term project, “Powerplay 2026.” In eight years, we want to be among the world’s elite in ice hockey.
What is required to attain that?
We need to improve our player development: to inspire kids to play hockey, to invest in coaching education, to expand on a physical level — that also means more hockey rinks.
Read more: Sturm has Germany moving in the right direction again
Germany’s group in the opening stages is stacked. In Finland, Norway and Canada you are facing teams who played in the Olympic tournament. Which place are you aspiring to?
We are seventh in the world rankings. That is a position that we want to defend. To achieve that, we need to reach the quarterfinals. Along with the teams you named there is also the United States, Latvia, hosts Denmark and South Korea. We need to have the highest concentration and preparedness in every game.
Marco Sturm, 39, played 17 seasons in North America’s National Hockey League (NHL). He made 938 appearances for the San Jose Sharks, Boston Bruins, Los Angeles Kings, Washington Capitals, Vancouver Canucks and Florida Panthers. He played one season for the Cologne Sharks in the German Hockey League (DEL) before retiring in 2013. He has coached Germany’s hockey team since 2015.
The IIHF World Championship in Denmark begins on Friday, May 4. The final of the 16-team tournament takes place on May 20 at the Royal Arena in Copenhagen.
The interview was conducted by Herbert Schalling