With the prospect of an NHL lockout looming, Pucked in the Head is taking measures to ensure our hockey nerdery can continue unabated. So it is that we delve into the hitherto unexplored realm of European hockey. Jason has chosen the Belfast Giants of the UK’s Elite Ice Hockey League to tide him over. Having German heritage on my mother’s side, I’ll be turning my attention to the Deutsche Eishockey Liga. For the duration of the lockout, and maybe even beyond, I’ll be following the (let’s face it, hilariously named) EHC Wolfsburg Grizzly Adams. Finally, a chance to use that first year German course I took in 2001.
Wolfsburg looks to me like the lovable underdog in the DEL, playing in the smallest building of the 14-team league. Filled to capacity, Wolfsburg Eisarena holds only 4,660 fans. Despite three successful seasons in a row, however, the club averaged a league-lowest 2,459 fans per game last season. That’s well below the DEL’s average of 6,059.
The attendance woes haven’t hampered the on-ice product in recent seasons. After finishing near the bottom of the table in 2008 (Wolfsburg’s first back in the top flight, after two seasons in the second division), The Grizzly Adamses have finished in the top half of the regular season table each of the last four years. 2010-11 was the most successful for Wolfsburg, when they finished 1st place in the regular season and followed that up with an appearance in the championship series, losing 3 games to 0 to Eisbaren Berlin (the Berlin Polar Bears).
This season is all about revenge for Wolfsburg. After a competitive 2011-12 regular season, in which they finished third, they suffered an ignominious 4-game quarterfinal sweep at the hands of 6th-seeded Straubing Tigers. Returning this season for Grizzly Adams are the dynamic duo of centre Kai Hospelt and right winger Norm Milley. Hospelt, a 27-year-old German national, who represented his country in the Vancouver Olympics, finished last year’s campaign with a league-leading 25 goals, tacking on 25 assists. His linemate Milley, a Toronto native who’s played 29 NHL games with Buffalo and Tampa Bay, won the 2012 DEL scoring title with 14 goals and 44 assists for 58 points. Also featuring on Grizzly Adams Wolfsburg will be NHL journeyman Niko Dimitrakos, and two more current German National Team players: 30-year-old forward Sebastian Furchner, and 24-year-old defender Christopher Fischer.
Jason is on record as saying he will, funds permitting, buy me one of these fantastic EHC Wolfsburg jerseys if I continue blogging about them for the rest of the season. You can therefore expect Pucked in the Head to take a definite turn for the German this year. Wolfsburg’s first league match is this Friday, September 14, away to the Hamburg Freezers (!?!). Check back here for a match report soon after.