„Realistically, we don’t have a chance,“ winger Daniel Kreutzer said. “But it’s just great to play against big stars like Jaromir Jagr and Mario Lemieux. I’m really looking forward to that.”
Germany, which hasn’t won an Olympic medal since capturing bronze at the 1976 Games at Innsbruck, swept the preliminary round, beating the highly-favored Slovaks, Latvia and Austria.
"That was the hard work," Canadian-born winger Len Soccio of the Hanover Scorpions said after the Germans beat the Latvians to clinch the spot in the round-robin's Group C with Canada, Sweden and the Czech Republic. "Now comes the fun part. It's unbelievable for us. We're in the medal round and we get to play against the top players in the world."
Surprised by Germany’s unexpected run, the German league even had to extend its Olympic break, postponing a gameday that was originally scheduled to take place two days after the Olympic quarterfinals.
Soccio and teammate Klaus Kathan of the Kassel Huskies were the top scorers of the preliminary round, tallying five points each.Reichel brothers face each other
A three-game round-robin tournament will now determine seedings for the playoff round, which begins next Wednesday.
All eight final-round nations will be in action Friday, with Russia and Belarus kicking things off at 1 p.m. ET. Canada, trying to end 50 years of Olympic frustration, faces Sweden, while the defending-Olympic and World champion Czechs open with Germany. The host United States then headlines the day, matching up with Finland at 10:45 p.m.
Germany’s game against the Czechs will also feature the duel of two brothers: Czech center Robert Reichel of the Toronto Maple Leafs meets his younger brother Martin of the Nuremberg Ice Tigers, who’s a winger for Team Germany.Remember 1996?
Since their gold-medal victory at Nagano, the Czechs have tasted nothing but success in international play. They won the World Championship in 1999, 2000 and 2001.
But they might have mixed emotions about the Germans. They only managed a 2-2 tie at last year’s World Championships in Germany. The last time all their superstars faced off against the Germans, the result was even worse.
Goalie Roman Turek allowed four goals before being pulled midway through the first and Jaromir Jagr tallied the only goal as the Czechs got routed, 7-1, at the 1996 World Cup. Among the goalscorers: Jürgen Rumrich, now Germany’s captain, Jan Benda (2) and defenseman Mirko Lüdemann - Discipline is the key
Of course, the Germans don’t think repeat. Discipline will be the key as they hope to stay in the game as long as possible, sticking with physical presence and their effective defense-oriented system, keeping four players back at their own blueline at times and anticipating quick counterattacks.
“We as a team knew that if we played our style, which might be a little boring to watch, if we stuck to that, we could play with any team here," former Washington capitals winger Stefan Ustorf remarked after the win over Latvia.
"I think we are aware of what we've accomplished here," the 28-year-old added. "But the tournament's not over here, we're not going to lay down, roll over and let everybody walk over us. Obviously, I don't expect to win a medal here or anything like that. We're going to try and play as hard as we did in the first three games and have some fun out there, too." Goalies: German stronghold
Netminder Marc Seliger of the Nuremberg Ice Tigers backstopped the Germans to three victories, including a shutout. The 27-year-old former Washington Capitals draftee stopped 83 of 86 shots, posting a .965 save percentage.
“This is the greatest moment of my career," said the 27-year-old Seliger. "I'm so happy. We're just hot right now, we are on fire. Nobody expected us to make the final round, but we did and now we have nothing to lose. It'll be fantastic to play against the big boys".
Seliger has to battle for his starting role, though. Christian Künast of the Munich Barons has had a terrific season and played well in Germany’s 3-3 tie with Canada at last year’s World Championships. And coach Hans Zach has also brought in Olaf Kölzig of the Washington Capitals, who is recovering from a knee injury and might be able to play as soon as Sunday against Canada.
``We have three good goaltenders, and I will decide on a daily basis who will play,'' German coach Hans Zach said.
The Germans also added forwards Marco Sturm of the San Jose Sharks and Jochen Hecht of the Edmonton Oilers to their line-up.