There weren’t many arguments why Bremerhaven could win the quarter-final series against EHC Red Bull Munich. Sure, the Fischtown Penguins are as bulky as their name reads; since their appearance in the German Ice Hockey League (DEL) in 2016, they have still qualified for the playoffs with heart and tenacity and a Slovenian magic trio. However, they never made it past the quarterfinals. The two encounters with Munich each ended clearly: with 0: 4 (2017) and 1: 4 victories (2018). And the Munich team, champions from 2016 to 2018, also went into the current series as the big favorite. While Don Jackson’s team, as winners of the main round (122 points in 56 games, club record), was seeded early for the quarter-finals, the men from the North Sea coast first had to get through the qualifying round against Nuremberg, which they, however, confidently defeated in two games (3:1, 4:2) won.
Since Thursday there has been at least one more argument that Bremerhaven could perhaps be more than a sparring partner for Munich this year. It’s called Maximilian Franzreb and stands between the posts of the penguins. The 26-year-old saved 50 shots on his goal, a total of 34 more than his opponent, national goalkeeper Mathias Niederberger, who was tested only 18 times in the 3-1 (0-0, 1-0, 2-1) away win of the outsider at Start of the best-of-seven series in Munich. Niederberger played flawlessly and at times spectacularly. But Franzreb showed why the goalie is the most important position in ice hockey. Like a soccer defender with one flying tackling he saved against Julian Lutz, he parried in the splits against Austin Ortega, and when he actually had no chance once, the post helped him. Afterwards he summarized the evening precisely: “We showed in Nuremberg that we can also get a narrow lead over time. And then we worked our way up and, to put it in German, scored two shitty goals. That’s what playoffs are like.”
In the middle of the Munich pressure phase, Markus Vikingstad played Ross Mauermann so cheaply into the skates that the puck jumped off his runners into the goal (29th), then he tapped the disc himself after a Bremerhaven counterattack to make it 0:2 (42nd) from Munich view of the network. And when Don Jackson had taken Niederberger off the ice for a sixth field player and actually reduced Ortega to 1:2 (58th), the same Ortega stumbled in the next scene and Vikingstad again scored the decision into the empty goal (60th). And match winner Franzreb, the man with the golden hand? Was “glad I can get one out too”. A nice understatement.
Bremerhaven leads 1-0, but – that’s also a playoff – it’s just one win, Thomas Popiesch’s team needs four to reach the semi-finals. “We won’t let ourselves be fooled,” said Munich captain Patrick Hager. “We did a lot, a lot right, just didn’t put the puck in the goal.” Because there was Maximilian Franzreb, and they have to get past him in game two this Friday (7.30 p.m., Magentasport). “They have to play for us first,” said Franzreb with a smile. “We don’t have the pressure.” And that, of course, is also an argument.