Sports enthusiasts in Germany still are abuzz over the NBA championship and playoff MVP award won by native son Dirk Nowitzki. But there is another compelling story for Germans taking place in the Stanley Cup Final. At the conclusion of Game 7 in Vancouver, there will be a German-born and -trained player lifting the Cup for just the second time in NHL history.
The only question: Will it be Boston Bruins defenseman Dennis Seidenberg or Vancouver Canucks defenseman Christian Ehrhoff? Both players have been crucial contributors to their respective clubs’ success, in the regular season and the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Seidenberg, 29, has been on the ice an average of 27:34 per game during the postseason while playing stellar defense alongside Zdeno Chara. He also has 1 goal and 9 points in the playoffs after totaling a career-best 32 points in 81 regular-season games. A skilled puck-mover, Seidenberg also is one of the NHL's best shot-blocking defensemen. After snuffing out 174 opposing shots during the regular season (eighth-most in the League), he's blocked a playoff-high 72 shots heading into Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final.
The offensive-minded Ehrhoff, 28, has contributed a dozen points in the Playoffs despite missing a pair of games in the Western Conference Finals. During the regular season, he scored 14 goals and a career-high 50 points while playing an average 23:59 per game. His 28 points on the power play tied for fourth among defensemen.
The first German-born and -trained player to win the Stanley Cup was defenseman Uwe Krupp, who scored the triple-overtime, Cup-clinching goal for the Colorado Avalanche against the Florida Panthers in 1996. A sturdy and reliable -- but injury prone -- blueliner during his 729-game NHL career, Krupp was known for his play in his own of the ice than as a scorer.
Now the coach of Team Germany, Krupp has gotten to know Seidenberg and Ehrhoff on a professional and personal basis. The fact that either player will follow in Krupp’s footsteps as a Stanley Cup winner is not lost on any of the three. Krupp recently contacted both players to wish them the best of luck in bringing the Stanley Cup this summer either to Schwenningen (Seidenberg's hometown) in southwestern Germany, or Moers (Ehrhoff's birthplace), along the banks of the Rhine River.
"It will be nice to have another German player win the Cup this year -- so long as it's me,” said Seidenberg. "Seriously, though, it's pretty special for German hockey to have two players playing for the Cup this year since it's never happened before. There are some good things going on with German hockey -- one of which is that Uwe has been a real good coach for the national team -- and since the NHL is the best League in the world, to have two players in the Final is definitely a positive."
Although North American fans rarely pay much heed to the DEL -- Germany's top league -- the circuit is a good proving ground for young German players on the rise. The league traditionally has been heavy on imported players, and it is not uncommon in any given season for the league to feature dozens of players with AHL or NHL experience. While the heavy reliance on imports can cut into the ice time available for domestic players, it also elevates the caliber of competition for the German players who have what it takes to make it in the domestic pro league. The playing style in German hockey also is among the most physical in Europe, which can help prepare young players for the North American game.
Ehrhoff and Seidenberg reached the DEL level as teenagers. Seidenberg played two seasons with Adler Mannheim. A converted forward, Seidenberg often was paired with former NHL defenseman Yves Racine. Ehrhoff became a regular for the Krefeld Penguins at age 18 and playing there for four seasons.
In addition to their time in the DEL, Seidenberg and Ehrhoff gained considerable international experience before coming to North American, playing for the German junior national teams in various age categories and graduating to the senior national team to play in two World Championships and the 2002 Olympics. Their head starts enabled both players to make NHL rosters in their first training camps before each was sent to the American Hockey League for additional seasoning.
"I think it helped me to take a little extra time to play at home," said Ehrhoff. "I felt a little bit more ready when I came over to play here with San Jose. When I was with the Sharks, I also got to play with some other German players (Marco Sturm, Marcel Goc), and that helped a little bit, too. I felt comfortable."
Even without the services of Ehrhoff or Seidenberg, the German national team has taken enormous strides under Krupp's leadership. At the 2011 World Championships, Germany was the story of the preliminary round and played solid hockey throughout the tournament until losing 5-2 to Sweden in the quarterfinals to finish in seventh place. A year ago, the Germans lost the bronze medal game to finish fourth.
This season, nine German players (eight skaters plus young Anaheim Ducks goaltender Timo Pihlmeier) suited up in at least one NHL game. With several prospects knocking on the door of the NHL, the numbers likely will grow in the years to come.