Banners On The Road – Rostocker EC Piranhas vs IceFighters Leipzig 26/2/12

Rostock Piranhas 3-2 IceFighters Leipzig

Marsall                      Vrba

Stratmann                 Müller

Sulcik

 

The story so far: Many of you know of my love of Germany, in particular the city of Rostock where I worked during my year abroad as part of my university course. It was the city I first watched live hockey in and I’ve never stopped following the Rostock Piranhas ever since.

Rostock play in the 3rd tier of German hockey, the Oberliga which is divided into 4 regional league; Nord (north), Süd (south), Ost (east) and West (err…west). Rostock have played in the Oberliga Nord since this structural change 3 years ago and have won the league 3 years in a row.

The only problem with the Oberliga Nord is it’s a lot weaker than the other 3 leagues. The way the playoffs and promotion to the second division work is a complicated mess where teams from the Nord, Ost and West leagues playoff for the right to face the teams from the Süd and that decides promotion to the 2nd division. The Oberliga Nord has been a cakewalk for Rostock for 3 years but they couldn’t compete with teams from the other leagues in the playoffs. Winning games 24-0 and 17-0 was no preparation for teams like old rivals Halle Saale Bulls or Rote Teufel Bad Nauheim. The goal this season was to make a real push for the 2nd round of the playoffs and the right to properly challenge for promotion.

Leipzig play in the Oberliga Ost which is, on the whole a more competitive league than the Oberliga Nord. The IceFighters finished 2nd in the Oberliga Ost, securing their place in the playoffs on the last day of the regular season.

Rostock and Leipzig faced each other in the 3rd/4th place playoff in the Nord/Ost Cup, a competition thrown together to flesh out the fixture list. It was a highly competitive but violent 2 legged affair. The 2nd leg in Leipzig saw the game abandoned close to the end when Rostock claimed they didn’t have enough fit players to continue. In protest at the “thuggish” actions of the Leipzig players, Rostock coach Wolfgang Wünsche pulled the team from the ice. Let’s just say there was a teeny bit of bad blood heading into this game.

 

Pre-game:

 

I’d not made the walk in a long time. From my friend Mirko’s flat where I was staying, you walk up the Karl Marx Strasse then hang a right onto the Schillingallee and walk straight up the road, past the hospital until you hit the rink. The Eishalle Rostock was built in 1972 during the communist era but has been modernised to a degree since then.

The concourse just inside the doors has been modernised a fair bit with various food stands, a bar and a merchandise stand with one end behind the goal having it’s own bar and sponsors die Futter Kutter, a local fish eatery, having their own stall.

You go up one of the flights of stairs to get to the seats and see the ice. There are no actual seats per se, just long wooden benches. The side with the team benches nearest the changing room has no seating at all but behind both goals and the other long side with the officials’ box and penalty boxes hosts the main bulk of the fans. It’s a bit like Swindon’s Link Centre in that respect only with the penalty boxes opposite the benches rather than next to them.

Outside I met up with Sprotte (his actual name is Stefan but everyone calls him Sprotte) and the other members of Ostseepower which is the fanclub I belong to and headed inside. I was having a swift beer with Mirko and Heino when Sprotte re-appeared. “Come with me, we have a surprise for you.”

As I was standing with the other Ostseepower members having a chat for 30 seconds suddenly a voice appears. It was Ecco, the rink announcer suddenly announcing that Emily and I were there. I was motioned to head towards the back of block D around centre ice where Torsten, the club’s spokesman presented me with the club’s t-shirt celebrating the 3 back to back league titles. Suitably embarrassed in front of 1000 people, I was asked to say a few words and then headed back to block C for the introductions and the start of the game.

 

Game on: The game itself had a real playoff atmosphere for 60 minutes and was a really good game of hockey. It had that tightness that a really good playoff game should have.

Rostock came out the harder of the two sides and looked the better for it. They had the more chances going forward and came close on a number of occasions early on. Leipzig seemed to have come out rather flat but Erik Reukauf in the IceFighters net appeared to be on stellar form even if his team mates didn’t seem at the races. At the other end, Leipzig did have chances but Rostock’s goalie Tobias John (pronounced Yon) was equal to them. Rostock kept the pressure on but you wondered if their inability to convert good chances would lead them to be frustrated and make mistakes but with time ticking down in the first period, the home side got their deserved breakthrough. With the Piranhas putting pressure on the net down low, top scorer Peter Sulcik fed the puck out to the point where Max Janke blasted a shot goalwards. Reukauf couldn’t hold the rebound and Toni Marsall appeared in the doorstep to poke the puck home to give Rostock the lead at the first break.

The second period started much in the same way as the first, the only difference being that I’d bought myself a new Piranhas hat. It was a case of Rostock making the running but slowly, more and more Leipzig came into the period and looked more and more dangerous. Their attacks looked more potent and it seemed they were troubling Tobias John more and more. From my vantage point the Piranhas were letting their guests back into the game too much. As Rostock started to put their foot down a bit more, disaster struck. Former Piranha Kevin Nighbert forced a turnover at the blueline which let Lars Müller and Tomas Vrba sprint away 2 on 1 with Vrba firing into the net to tie the score with 4:30 to play in the second.

The third period was more like the first. The Piranhas it seemed, hadn’t let the goal bother them and went out all guns blazing but it seemed that Reukauf was going to frustrate them. Sulcik, Bartanus and the others kept firing and Leipzig kept playing their road game and trying to hit on the counter.

As the game entered the last 10 minutes the atmosphere was getting tense. In Germany, wins in regulation get you 3 points and OT or penalty wins get you 2 points. It helps you more to win inside the 60 minutes and the home crowd were desperate for the win. With 8 minutes to go Chris Schimming and Peter Sulcik got the cycle going down low and the puck was bouncing off the back of the net and fell to Piranhas legend Paul Stratmann. The club’s record appearance maker walked out from behind the net, paused, picked the top corner and fired it too fast for Reukauf to get his glove to. The crowd erupted and Stratmann celebrated his effort by tossing his stick across the ice towards his own bench like he was trying out for the hammer at the Olympics.

The crowd was trying to buoy the team home. Leipzig called their timeout with 2:23 to play and kept looking for the right moment to pull the goalie but never really got the chance to get the extra attacker on. Vitali Blank set Peter Sulcik away who took the blueline, dangle round the defenceman and shot high glove to make it 3-1 with 23 seconds to play and the crowd went nuts. They went so nuts they didn’t even notice Leipzig running down the other end and Lars Müller scoring with 16 seconds to play. Time wound down and the rink exploded with noise. The illusive playoff win had finally come.

 

Overall: Now that was playoff hockey ladies and gentlemen. We had a real goalie battle between two netminders who were both really on their game. The home team tried to go all guns blazing and raise the crowd and the road team tried to play sensible counter attacking hockey. The crowd were a factor as they really, really got behind their team which obviously meant a lot to the players at the end in the celebrations.

For my first game back in Rostock I couldn’t have been more delighted. Where I stand is the place with all the songs and all the drumming so it’s loud, raucous fun from start to finish. I did find myself switching between English and German during the game which confused a few people around me but I did explain some of what I was saying.

The real difference there is that the game isn’t as physical there. On a couple of occasions some really good open ice hits people thought were overly rough but were no different to anything I see in the EPL week in, week out. That’s not to say there wasn’t an element of physicality in the game but there aren’t those bone crunching hits you see from time to time.

The league has 2 imports in but the standard was probably akin to that of EPL hockey on that one game. Oberliga Nord, as I mentioned is around that sort of level but would you pay to watch 17-0 games? Probably not but this playoff game was an excellent example of what to expect at that level. For 10€ entry on the night you can’t really go wrong. Personally, I was just happy to be back.

 

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