With the new season in the UK having started last weekend, next weekend (14th Sept) will see our friends from Germany having their season facing-off and it also being the 25th anniversary of the DEL (Deutsche Eishockey Liga).
As most witnessed with recent preseasons games up and down the British Isles, the German fans have arguably the most passionate followings not only in Europe but perhaps the world too with their vocal supporters.
Having been lucky enough to attend a couple of German DEL games last November, when you talk about things that instantly hit you when you attend a league game over there, it is a vast difference from one that you would come across in the British leagues.
Even before you reach the Arenas or rinks, the atmosphere is something that you would experience only really at respective playoff weekends, with fans gathering to eat or drink around the buildings and meeting up.
Once inside, whether teams play out of big arenas or smaller venues – the noise is always deafening and makes the game more atmospheric and even has fans waving huge flags and singing in the end behind the net called the ‘Fankurve’ and is even chant during warm-ups.
While the game is in play, the fans get very vocal and some fans will swing their scarfs around their head to celebrate goals too.
Fans in the Elite League and British Ice Hockey have generally been known to be mildly reserved in their support towards their respective clubs during games – of course, there are a couple of exceptions with the odd rivalry game against local rivals (Fife/Glasgow, Sheff/Nottingham or Cardiff).
If you were to take all the support that you get at Playoffs weekends and mash it together, you would still struggle to come close to replicating or even getting close to the noise that you generate with a majority of German clubs up and down the land, whether that be DEL, DEL 2 or even the regional leagues.
Back in 2016-17, the DEL was statistically the second-best supported league within the whole of Europe, with only the Swiss National League ahead of them in the standings, and to which the average attendance was 6,198.
Since the formation of the DEL back in 1994, the most successful side has been that of Eisbaren Berlin (Berlin Polar Bears) who have gone on to lift the Deutsche Meister trophy seven times and are closely followed by their bitter rivals, in Adler Mannheim with six.
In recent years Munich Red Bulls have led the way in the DEL, having won the last three league titles in a row to break up the previous sides that have battled it over the cup since the league began.
Eishockey club Munchen was in financial problems a few years ago and saw the well-known energy drinks company stepping in to buy the club and rename them in 2012 from EHC Munchen to Red Bulls Munich/Munich Red Bulls.
As previously said, I attended a couple of games last year to see what the experience is like when I headed to Berlin, and it was something of a culture shock for me.
Having watched solely British Ice Hockey for twenty-two years and saw one NHL playoff game in Chicago, the two games in Berlin blew those experiences out of the water.
From a fan experience, the Germans certainly know how to do things for the fans. Food and drink are sold at a very good price and is seemingly catered for the whole package. With the hockey thrown in too, it is definitely something completely different to anything I’ve previously experienced in the UK and should be on someone’s bucket list of hockey things to do.
Although the DEL may not be as high up as it was a few years back, it still manages to be a draw for players from North American looking to play in Europe and has seen many players from the NHL (National Hockey League) icing in the league, most notably during the last partial lockout season of 2012.
The six players that participating in the DEL were; Claude Giroux and Daniel Briere from the Philadelphia Flyers who both played for Eisbaren Berlin. Other names were Dennis Seidenberg and Marcel Goc who played together at Adler Mannheim, while Christian Ehrhoff went to play for Krefeld Pinguine and saw Jamie Benn headed to play for the sadly now defunct, Hamburg Freezers.
The style of game is very much that of the North American variety, with a mixture of hard-hitting and skilful play being adopted in the DEL.
In an article that was written not to long ago that covers all the leagues around Europe and the World, it deemed the German league as the sixth best, and was only behind the likes of the main hockey leagues of ; Czech Extraliga, Finland’s SM-Liiga, Switzerland’s National League and the Swedish Hockey League – while obviously the Kontinental Hockey League being deemed head and shoulders above.
As it relates, the second tier of German hockey stands – the DEL 2 came out in 13th position with the British Elite League projected in 15th place, just two spots behind.
In recent years, some Elite sides have invited German opposition over as part of their pre-season preparations and it isn’t that much of a new thing in truth. Back in the old Superleague days, it saw the Superleague and the DEL sides playing off in a Ryder Cup-style tournament called the ‘Aherne Trophy’ that was last played between the two hockey leagues back in 2002.
Since then, it has seen the battle of the Steelers, with Sheffield taking on their German counterparts in the Bietigheim Steelers from DEL 2, while just last year, the Braehead Clan faced off against the champions of the second tier in the Lowen Frankfurt.
Last year saw Sheffield, Nottingham, and Cardiff Devils all facing DEL opposition during their pre-season programme too, with the Krefeld Pinguine and also the Nuremberg Ice Tigers – who were coached up until recently by the former Sheffield, Manchester and Newcastle player Rob Wilson.
There are a few differences that make the Deutsche Eishockey Liga more compelling than say the stale Elite League format. One is the longer playoff format and one that is more in keeping with the rest of the hockey world than the UK system, with a team needing to win 12 games (or 14 if you come through the wildcard round) to lift the Deutsche Meister trophy.
The wildcard series is played over a best of three series, with sides finishing in the standings between 7th to 10th playing out the mini-series.
From there, the winners advance to the traditional best of seven series in the Quarterfinals, and then onto the Semifinals, before the remaining two teams play out in the Finale, to determine the German Champions for that season.
Another difference is the points league points system too. Here in the UK, two points are given for a win and a point for an overtime or a shootout loss, whilst in Germany, a win is 3-points in regulation, 2-for a win in overtime and 1 for an overtime or shootout loss.
It has seen many British hockey fans wanting the Elite to adopt this points scoring system for quite some time now, but as of yet, the powers that be at ‘Elite Towers’ have chosen to stick with the system that has been in place since time began.