The Germans have staked their claim on a permanent spot at the World Junior Championship. For years, they were a bubble team, but since jumping up to the top division in 2020, they’ve proven that their hockey program can compete with the best in the world, despite their lack of star power. Last year, with just three drafted players on their roster, none of which were selected higher than the third round, they finished in sixth place. The Americans, who finished fifth after a surprising quarterfinal loss to Czechia, were equipped with 19 NHL prospects, three of whom were first-round picks.
This year, the Germans once again lack all-world talent, but they’ll make up the difference with plenty of experience. Eleven players will rejoin the U20 team from the 2022 tournament and reassert the hard-working, efficient playstyle they’ve perfected over the years. Last year, it gave them a fighting chance against some of the biggest hockey nations in the world, and Germany will once again use that to face down the Pool-A giants Sweden, Canada, and Czechia, all of whom will be bringing a host of top NHL prospects. But simply being there isn’t good enough for the Germans anymore. They are here to win and will give everything they have to upset a bigger nation, which is slowly becoming more of a reality each passing year.
Nikita Quapp (Eisbären Berlin), Rihards Babulis (EC Ban Nauheim), Simon Wolf (RB Hockey Juniors)
Nikita Quapp takes the reigns as Germany’s starter this year after a solid debut in Edmonton last year. Although he didn’t record any wins, the Carolina Hurricanes prospect was Germany’s best goalie at the 2022 tournament, turning away 45 of 50 shots in their opening game against the Americans, then stopping 22 of 25 shots in a relief effort against the Swedes. With his calm, patient approach to big games and strict diligence in playing his position, he’ll give the Germans a fighting chance against any team they face.
Germany’s backup will likely be Simon Wolf, who has been good with the Red Bull Juniors, recording just one loss in 10 games as well as a shutout. He also holds an incredibly low 1.02 goals-against average in international play so far this season, albeit that was in one appearance. He has a history of stepping up, too. At the 2022 World U18s, he was selected as one of the three best players from Germany.
Rihards Babulis joins Germany as the third-string option, but that doesn’t mean he won’t play. Germany has made it a point to play each of their goalies at least once in the past two tournaments. It would have been fitting if the Latvian-born German could play against Latvia, but Latvia is in Pool B, so he may have to settle for facing the Austrians instead.
Adrian Klein (Straubing Tigers), Nils Elten (Iserlohn Roosters), Leon van der Linde (ESV Kaufbeuren), Philipp Bidoul (ESV Kaufbeuren), Markus Freis (Löwen Frankfurt), Julian Waser (Lausitzer Füchse), Rayan Bettahar (Eisbären Berlin), Phillip Sinn (RB Hockey Juniors)
The Germans know they aren’t the most skilled team in the tournament, so to counteract the difference in skill, they’ve structured their defence to shut down opponents and prevent their team from being run over. Their three returning players -Adrian Klein, Nils Elten, and Leon van der Linde – give the Germans a big (none of them are smaller than 6-feet or 183 pounds), experienced blue line that will know exactly what they’ll have to do to handle Canada, Sweden, and Czechia. Elten is especially worth watching this year, as the defender leads all Germans in U20 international competitions this season with two goals.
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Rayan Bettahar is an intriguing addition to the Germans. In 2021, he was selected fifth overall in the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) Import Draft by the Swift Current Broncos and made his debut with the team in 2021-22, where he put up 15 points in 63 games. Scouts liked his mobility and puck-handling skills, and there was plenty of room to grow on a young Broncos team, but after recording just one assist in 14 games this season, Swift Current released him. He returned to Germany, joining the DEL’s Eisbären Berlin, where he’s played seven games and has yet to register a point. But at the World Juniors, Germany will look for him to add a bit of aggressiveness and competitiveness to their blue line, so long as he doesn’t cross the line.
Phillip Sinn has been all over the place already this season, playing in the DEL, Austria’s AlpsHL, and Czechia’s Under-20 Second Division. But it’s a good sign that his parent club, EHC Red Bull München, wants to use him as much as possible. He’s a skilled puck-mover on the back end and loves to join the rush, evident by his six assists in five playoff games last season with Salzburg’s U20 team that went on to win the league title. This year he’s been one of Red Bull’s best offensive defencemen, scoring five goals and 13 points in 23 games while also leading the team with a plus-20 rating.
Bennet Rossmy (Eisbären Berlin), Thomas Heigl (RB Hockey Juniors), Nikolaus Heigl (RB Hockey Juniors), Ryan Del Monte (Barrie Colts), Luca Hauf (Edmonton Oil Kings), Håkon Hänelt (Gatineau Olympiques), Yannick Proske (Iserlohn Roosters), Julian Lutz (EHC München), Quirin Bader (RB Hockey Juniors), Robin van Calster (Kölner Haie), Sebastian Cimmerman (EHC München), Eric Hördler (Eisbären Berlin), Roman Kechter (Nürnberg Ice Tigers), Philipp Krening (RB Hockey Juniors), Veit Oswald (EHC München)
Without a bona fide star, Germany’s offence will be a bit more of an unknown than in previous tournaments. Last year’s goal leader, Bennet Rossmy, has continued to be a dominant force with the Eisbären, putting up four points in 26 games. Assist leader Yannick Proske has also looked better; he made a pitstop with the Western Hockey League’s Spokane Chiefs in 2021-22, putting up 30 points in 58 games. He returned to Germany for this season, where he ranks third in both games played and points in the DEL for U20 players.
Håkon Hänelt and Luca Hauf also return and have a great chance to break out at this year’s tournament. Hänelt has been solid for the Gatineau Olympiques with 17 points in 28 games this season, while Hauf has 15 points in 29 games with the Edmonton Oil Kings. Although both have just three goals on the season, Hauf will be expected to find the back of the net regularly. At the 2021 U18 World Junior Championship, he led the team with three goals in four games. But Hänelt is no slouch around the net, scoring a beauty last year against Switzerland.
However, the big ticket this year is Julian Lutz. It was surprising to see him miss last year’s tournament and then go in the second round to the Arizona Coyotes, but a few things worked against him in 2021-22. First, a fatigue fracture of his lumbar spine kept him off the ice for seven months, forcing him to miss the later-cancelled 2022 World Juniors. When he returned, he looked as good as new, finishing ninth in scoring among under-20 players in the DEL and led the U18 World Championship team with four points. Although he was ready to play at the rescheduled World Juniors, Germany decided to let him fully recover from the tumultuous season and get ready for 2023.
Now Lutz is finally getting the chance to prove that he is Germany’s next big star. After returning from the Coyotes rookie camp, he got down to business and now leads all under-20 players in the DEL with six points and 10 penalty minutes in 13 games. It’s not even close; Rossmy, who is second, has played 13 more games yet has two fewer points. Lutz has shown that he’s tenacious, highly competitive, and a great skater, and having him on the team this year gives the Germans a much better chance to win games.
The rest of the roster will likely struggle to make their mark on the score sheet, but there are a few names to keep an eye on. Quirin Bader leads the RB Juniors with 13 goals and 29 points in 25 games, while Nikolaus Heigl is just behind him with 26 points but needed only 14 games to get there. Thomas Heigl, twin brother of Nikolaus, sits fourth on the team with nine goals and 18 points in 16 games. Both brothers played on the World Junior team last year, but only Thomas registered any points, scoring a goal and an assist. Ryan Del Monte didn’t score last year in three appearances, but he’s been doing well with the London Knights this season, scoring four goals and 10 points in 15 games.
Finally, there’s Veit Oswald, the youngest member of the roster and one of the youngest players in the DEL this season. Yet he is one of two players under 19 years old who has hit the 20-game mark in the league, the other being World Junior teammate Roman Kechter, and he’s the younger of the two. But Oswald is also making an impact with EHC München, with three assists.
Bottom Line for Team Germany
Germany doesn’t have a dynamic offensive player or top two-way defenceman, but what they do have is hard work and plenty of all-around skill. Lutz, Hauf, and Hänelt will lead the charge for the Germans, with Rossmy, Proske, Del Monte, and the Heigl brothers filling out the top nine. Quapp is a calm, steady goaltender who will give his team the best shot at winning, but he’ll have to be well-rested as he’s likely going to see a barrage of shots that the weaker defence won’t be able to prevent.
The World Junior Championship is never an easy tournament for smaller nations like Germany, but the Germans are no longer just happy to be here. In the past three years, they’ve beaten Czechia, Slovakia, and Switzerland while holding the Russians to just two goals in 2021. The hockey program has developed exponentially since the days of Leon Draisaitl. Now Germany is set on staying in the top division for the foreseeable future.
An elementary teacher by day and an avid hockey fan, Dayton joined The Hockey Writers in 2019 and currently covers the Ottawa Senators, World Juniors, and NHL Entry Draft.
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