At the end of a long and still difficult season in the German Ice Hockey League, some normality returns at the start of the playoffs. Spectators are allowed to enter the arenas.
04.04.2022 | From 4:08 p.m.
Just in time for the highlight of the season in the German Ice Hockey League, the halls are full again. After two very difficult years during the corona pandemic the fans’ return to the upcoming DEL playoffs will provide additional emotions.
For the first time in three years, a champion will be chosen in front of the spectators. The first round of playoffs begins on Tuesday.
In the series Ingolstadt against Cologne and Nürnberg two quarter-finals will be played against Düsseldorf. After a long failed season, the Kölner Haie were the last team to break into the top ten and are in particularly good shape. “Our journey is not over yet,” Haie coach Uwe Krupp said emphatically. At the Rhine rival Düsseldorfer EG, the atmosphere is depressed. In addition to the four recent losses, head coach Harold Kreis has been absent. He has returned to his native Canada due to an “urgent family emergency” and is not expected to return until Friday at the earliest. But then the best-of-three series could already be over.
They only intervene from Sunday at the start of the quarter-final series. The big favorite is defending champion Eisbären Berlin, who easily won the main round and has to play against one of the pre-qualifying participants. Coach Serge Aubin is confident: “We’ve been pretty consistent throughout the season. We have never lost six or seven games in a row. Every time we had to fight back the guys showed what they were capable of. Third Grizzlys Wolfsburg have also been surprisingly consistent, but in the quarter-finals they have to play against their northern rivals Bremerhaven and have always had considerable problems in this duel. The most in-form team is EHC Red Bull Munich, who have won the last four preliminary round games with 23 goals and are also playing against one of the four pre-qualifying participants.
The biggest surprise of the season so far has been the Straubing Tigers, who have left top side Adler Mannheim behind in fourth place in the table and have excellent prospects for Champions League participation. In the quarter-finals, it was against these same eagles, in which coach Pavel Gross, considered unpopular with the players, was to go shortly before the playoffs. In the case of the Mannheimers, Bill Stewart, who once championed Adler, is expected to do it again. But that was 21 years ago.
At the height of the season, fans once again flock to the arenas. On Sunday, 14,862 spectators watched Cologne’s 1-0 victory over Ingolstadt. After the 2019/2020 season, which was canceled due to corona, and the 2020/2021 Ghost Games season, the return of the fans provides additional motivation. “We need the fans,” Polar Bears coach Aubin said. “They remind the players of their responsibility and bring passion to the room. The boys can feel it.”
Even if spectators are now allowed to enter the corridors and there have recently been no more team quarantines and therefore no more missed matches, there is still a residual risk. Because theoretically, the virus could decide the new champion in the end. If a team cannot play a game in the playoffs because of too many corona cases, the game is automatically lost – but not the whole series. From the quarter-finals, three wins are needed to qualify (“Best-of-Five”). After two losses, a Corona-affected team could theoretically progress. The decisive final match could just as well be decided without a fight by too many corona cases. It’s not unthinkable in a season with a number of unusual games.
© dpa-infocom, dpa:220404-99-789787/3