Posted by Salman Mitha
Posted in Ice Hockey
EHC close out regular season with win, wonder what could have been
Olympic Ice Stadium, Munich, March 12 – EHC München ended their season on a high note, defeating the Hamburg Freezers 4-2 on Sunday.
Munich rebounded from their devastating loss on Friday that eliminated them from the Deutsche Eishockey Liga (DEL) playoffs, getting goals from Martin Buchwieser and Ulrich Maurer in the 1st period, and icing it in the final period with scores from Jason Ulmer and Brandon Dietrich.
The win removed some of the disapointment of missing the playoffs, a goal that this team fully expected to reach the whole season.
“I’m happy we won the game and give the fans something to cheer about,” said head coach Pat Cortina.
“Unfortunately we missed out (on the playoffs). We have to learn from it, we have to get better from it.”
Last year, EHC made the pre-playoffs in their first year in the DEL, the top flight of German hockey. But the team was worn out and were quickly eliminated.
Going into this year, expectations were high and making the postseason was possible. However, coming into this weekend when Munich had to win all their games and get some help, they had lost five of six and dropped out of the playoff picture.
EHC had to recover from injuries all year, but no other injury weighed heavier than the loss of one of the league’s best goalie, Jochen Reimer, just weeks left in the season. His season-ending injury was in a long line of injuries to key players that prevented the club from playing consistently.
“We had a playoff team,” stated general manager Christian Winkler confidently. “For one reason or another, we had lots of injuries, Reimsy, Bryan Adams, Noah Clarke never found his game due his shoulder injury in the preseason. We have to keep our base and we’ll be a playoff team next year.”
Adam’s shoulder injury back in November was one that Winkler described as a catastrophe, one that resonated on the team.
“We missed Bryan Adams work-ethic, he was such an important player for us,” said Cortina. “He’s the type of guy that reflects what are team is all about – hardworking, honest team. With his enthusiasm and work, he was a type of player who can turn a situation, not so much by scoring a goal, maybe just going on the ice, skating and hitting and winning battles and just bringing lots of energy. And that’s what lacked in critical moments, his leadership his presence.”
EHC are limited due to their budget and unlike the bigger hockey clubs, they cannot replace players and keep up the level.
Freezers coach Benoit Laporte sympathized. “With our budget, we can’t compete so if we have some injuries, we can’t get more players, that’s what happened to EHC. Berlin lost some key players and look, they finished first.”
Munich will have to work within their budget and build depth for next year to prevent injuries affecting their season.
“Christian (Winkler) has openly said if we don’t reach our goal, we are going to make some changes,” said Cortina. “And that’s expected. As far as who, it’s too early. We have to assess what we like as a team, look at who we have, look at what’s available.”
While EHC will look to the next season, the Freezers will move on and as the 5th seed, they will take on the 4th seed Mannheim Eagles in 11 days.
“There were no players who were suspended or injured for the next game, so that was our goal tonight,” confirmed Laporte. Regarding the pre-playoff bye and break coming, “we have injured players, minor injuries so (this break) is coming at a right time.”
Both coaches agreed that the DEL is a tough league, the difference between the top seed and the #10 team was only 18 points in the regular season, and the playoffs won’t be any different.
“You have to consider the top four teams as the favorite,” said Laporte. “Mannheim is the best team on paper in the league, we are gonna have to play our best hockey if we want to beat them.”
“Four of the playoff teams this year had bad years last season,” analyzed Cortina. “I knew that they would bounce back, and that made it tough for us this year. We will have to aim to be in the top 10 next season. Just not getting (into the playoffs) hurts, but as bad as we want to make it out to be, our season was not that bad. We are in a competitive league.”
Despite the disappointment, EHC are already focusing on the future, as Winkler said it the best: “I am able to take the frustration and use it as motivation for next year.”
Deutsche Eishockey Liga (DEL) Playoff seedings and pre-playoff pairings
1. Berlin Polar Bears
2. ERC Ingolstadt
3. Grizzly Adams Wolfsburg
4. Mannheim Eagles
5. Hamburg Freezers
6. Straubing Tigers
7. DEG Metro Stars (Dusseldorf)
8. Augsburg Panthers
9. Cologne Sharks
10. Iserlohn Roosters
First round of playoffs (best of three)
Dusseldorf vs. Iserlohn
Augsburg vs. Cologne
Berlin vs. TBD
Mannheim vs. Hamburg
Wolfsburg vs. Straubing
Ingolstadt vs. TBD