With a ferocious tackling crew in front, Germany’s Seliger racked up save after save, blanking Slovakia 3-0 to open the Olympic hockey tournament Saturday at the E Center. Jürgen Rumrich, Jan Benda and Klaus Kathan scored for Germany.
Seliger, a backup netminder with the Nuremberg Ice Tigers of the German DEL, finished with 29 stops – 29 stops that drew the talented Slovakian star forwards almost into insanity. The Slovakian squad had nominated only 16 players for the game against the young German team, thinking it would be way enough to cruise past the underdogs on their way to the medal round.
But Seliger had other thoughts: “I think our team played really well defensively," he said. "Even without 'Olie the Goalie' [Washington Capitals and German national netminder Olaf Kölzig], we are able to win against the big teams. We proved it today. We played as a team, not as individuals, and I think that's why we were able to beat them."
Slovak head coach Jan Filc tried everything to avoid the frustrating loss. He even put L.A. Kings sniper Ziggy Palffy onto the ice as the game progressed - even though he was not supposed to play according to the agreement with his NHL.
Miroslav Satan of the Buffalo Sabres once again criticized the NHL's failure to let all players go for the Preliminary Round. "I don't think the system is fair. I've said it before - but I wish the people who are running things and making these decisions would realize it."
The first period remained scoreless because of a German squad which played a tight checking and defensively strong game. A four men protection shield at the blue line and one busy forechecker proved to be Germany’s key to success.
In a game that saw only few scoring opportunities, the best Slovakian chance came in the first period when defender Peter Smrek fired a mighty shot from between the hashmarks - the only time Seliger was beaten. But the shot rang off the goalpost.
The German goalie turned out to be a nightmare for the Slovakian players. They could not solve Seliger. Even on a 5-on-3 powerplay they failed to score.
A shock second for the German team came when Jörg Mayr was hit in the face by a shot from Buffalo Sabres forward Miroslav Satan on a blocking attempt. He was taken to the locker room immediately and – apart from losing five teeth – was diagnosed with a broken jaw.
The Germans jumped out to a 1-0 lead early in the second, capitaluizing on an error by a Slovakian defenseman who mishandled the puck at the blueline on the powerplay. German captain Jürgen Rumrich picked it up and came in all alone on a shorthanded breakaway. As you would have expected from the Slovakian star forwards, Rumrich beat the Slovakian goalie with a nice wrist shot over the blocker and put Germany up on the board.
Seven minutes into the middle frame, Team Germany excelled on special teams again, this time with the man advantage. With Mark MacKay muscling out the Slovakian defenders and creating traffic in front of the Slovakian net, Jan Benda sent a low wrister at the net. Screened by MacKay, goalie Pavol Rybar could not muster up with the shot. Goal for Germany, and a 2-0 lead heading into the third period.
Slovakia came out the locker room and you should have expected pressure from the first minute on. But Germany stayed calm and sticked to its game plan - which meant checking, checking, interfering, blocking shots, and checking. It was quite frustrating for the Slovakians to have their shots blocked – or finally stopped by an outstanding Marc Seliger in net.
With under two minutes to play Slovakia pulled its netminder for an extra attacker. But it backfired – Mark MacKay and Len Soccio intercepted the puck and sent it to Klaus Kathan who took the invitation of a wide open net and scored from just behind the blue line after faking out a Slovakian defender to seal Germany’s 3-0 win.
A great team effort by a surprisingly strong German squad. Let’s see if they can repeat this performance against Barons captain Simon Wheeldon and his Austrian teammates tonight... (6pm ET)
Thomas Neumair/Frank Johne