Undermanned. Under-appreciated. And possibly one of the more exciting teams to put on a show at the 2021 World Junior tournament, Team Germany leaves Edmonton following a quarterfinal loss to the Russians with one word on their tongues. Success.
After all, that’s exactly what they should be considered after falling 2-1 to Team Russia on Quarterfinal Saturday. While the loss might sting a little, at least for the players and their coaching staff, the tournament as a whole has to be looked at as a true success for a German squad that has never seen playoff action at this particular tournament.
Two Losses to Open 2021 WJC
Let’s be honest, it wasn’t looking pretty for the Germans after their first two games of the round robin. Heck, even prior to taking the ice for their first game against Finland, the team was undermanned due to players testing positive for COVID-19. That and the fact that Lukas Reichel didn’t travel with them to Edmonton, nor did Moritz Seider, Germany was looking at an uphill battle from the onset.
Still, a 5-3 loss to Finland to open the tournament wasn’t a horrible result considering. But a 16-2 massacre in the second half of a back-to-back at the hands of the Canadians, didn’t exactly provide confidence for a team led by JJ Peterka and Ottawa Senators’ prospect Tim Stutzle.
But, given the option to push the game against Canada, the Germans stumbled through their opening two games knowing they were against tournament powerhouses and stood back up, ready for game three against the Slovaks after being figuratively knocked down in their first two games.
Still, positives could be taken from both their losses. They had five goals against two of the tournament’s best teams and Florian Elias was quickly becoming the third to Stutzle and Peterka’s three musketeers. Through the first two games Elias led the German squad with four points.
But as social media quickly began debating whether teams like Germany belonged at the World Junior tournament, the Germans made us eat our words with a hard fought battle against the Slovaks, followed by another big game – at least from their perspective – against the Swiss.
Two Wins Away From Quarterfinals Play
Offence wasn’t the problem for Germany in this tournament. In fact, after five goals in their first two games, the Germans backed it up with four against the Slovaks and another five against the Swiss.
The trio of Peterka, Stutzle and Elias accounted for 87 percent of the team’s goals through round robin play and were all among the top five in tournament scoring. On top of that, the team’s special teams were making a huge difference – as the only team to score eight power play goals during their preliminary round play.
The two wins earned Germany a 2-2 record in round robin play and the country’s first quarterfinals berth in tournament history. That alone should be considered a major success for a team that has, so often, been relegated from tournament play over the years.
Even in their wins, the Germans didn’t have their full squad. As mentioned, Reichel didn’t make the trip to Canada, and it wasn’t until the win over the Swiss that the Germans had their players back from quarantine.
Of their five games played at the 2021 WJC, Germany had their full lineup for just two games. It’s not easy to build chemistry when that’s the case – especially when one of those games is their quarterfinal matchup with the pesky Russian squad.
But they weren’t looking for excuses and I’m not looking to make any for them. In fact, this isn’t a piece about how they couldn’t get further in the playoff rounds, it’s a story of the success they had at the tournament this year.
Bugl Came Up Big
Aside from their offence, their goaltending had some issues early in the tournament. Say what you will about the overall numbers, but Florian Bugl might’ve been part of the resolution when it came to Germany’s turnaround in this tournament.
He played three games for the Germans after missing the team’s first two – both losses – and helped turn the tournament around for them. In his three games, he finished with a 2-1 record with his loss coming at the hands of the Russians in the quarterfinal round. He posted an alright save percentage at .897 and a 2.95 goals against average.
But Bugl also saw 87 shots in his three games – an average of 29 shots per game while only giving up an average of three goals per game. Still, not the numbers of a top-end tournament goaltender, but surely a step in the right direction for a nation that has struggled for far too long at this tournament.
While a quarterfinal exit might not cut it for many countries involved in this tournament, the Germans need to take this as a learning experience and see the 2021 World Juniors as a national success story – at least until next year.
Andrew is in his 8th year reporting for The Hockey Writers covering the Toronto Maple Leafs. He began his broadcasting with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada team as well as being part of their coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. He’s the former play-by-play voice of the London Jr. Knights for Rogers TV and currently hosts the Sticks in the 6ix podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes.