Panthers fan Tina Taylor describes her recent visit to Germany to watch some DEL

Me and my partner had some days to take from work so after some deliberation we decided to have a few days in Germany to take advantage of the Christmas markets and while we were there we thought we might as well have a look at a game or two of hockey, seeing as we would probably miss a Panthers game we needed something to fill the void.
A complicated few days then followed in which I spent my time collating games, locations, dates and flights.
Finally we decided on Cologne as the where and the when was dictated by when work would be able to let us go, the games we decided on were the Cologne Sharks vs. ERC Ingolstadt and a short train ride north to Dusseldorf to see the DEG Metro Stars take on EHC Munich.

When we arrived at Cologne’s 18,500 capacity Lanxess arena the first difference was immediately obvious. Along with the seats there were also terraces.
I found it quite amusing until it became apparent that due to a clerical error, that’s exactly where we would be watching the game from. I should probably add that a few days before our departure, the other half had discovered that Ingolstadt were informally known as the Panthers and there we were in a terrace full of Sharks with our Nottingham Panthers tops on, we decided against taking our coats off.

The evening’s entertainment started with the crowd all getting out sparklers in the dimmed lights, the players heading onto the ice through a massive inflatable shark with a couple of pyrotechnics thrown in for good measure and some rousing guitar based tracks which included U2’s Vertigo.
The game faced off, with two referees, and a few minutes in we both commented that the home team had come out well and it looked like it was going to be a good game, shortly after we said that Ingolstadt scored but the home team equalised after less than a minute and we were treated to a familiar goal song when the Fratellis were blasted out around the arena.
Sadly, that was to be the only time we heard Chelsea Dagger that evening as the visitors went on to dominate the rest of the first period adding 3 more goals to their tally.

The entertainment in the break was certainly unexpected as a few people started putting sponsorship flags onto the ice and pucks were being lined up at both of the blue lines indicating a shooting competition. We were a little confused when someone drove a Yaris onto the ice but all was revealed when two people got out of the back seats and were handed hockey sticks!
Even after the shooting competition was over, the entertainment wasn’t as we were treated to some NHL highlights.

The second period was a tasty affair with a few more checks coming in and definitely more penalties and also a change of netminder for the home side, Danny Aus Den Birken having been pulled for backup Youri Ziffzer. The visitors again took first blood in the period scoring after just a minute and a half and Cologne became their own worst enemy when a delay of game penalty was being served, Captain John Tripp was handed a 5 minute major, plus game misconduct for checking into the boards and Ingolstadt took full advantage scoring 2 more goals before the 5 minute major was over.

More entertainment in the break was to come with a further shooting competition and more NHL highlights.

At the start of the third we felt the feeling in the crowd was that they were staying more out of obligation that anything else but they stayed in good spirits, singing and chanting away, in a jovial manner you understand, towards one Ingolstadt fan who was dancing around alone in the nosebleed section, there may have been others but the home fans near us had decided to fixate on her!
The Sharks came out in the third and it was apparent that the intention was merely damage limitation, with a 6 goal deficit, I think they had already accepted their fate as the losing team and even with 2 powerplay opportunities they still failed to find the net but, mercifully, so did Ingolstadt; if damage limitation was the plan then mission accomplished in the third I would say!

A few days later into our holiday and we’ve sampled a few markets in Cologne and decided that for game day in Dusseldorf we’ll have the day over there.
We arrive and head over to the conveniently placed Tourist Information to pick up some literature and directions to the ISS Dome for the game later, we’d been prepared for Cologne with a guide book and a few items of interest from Trip Advisor, however, we’d neglected to do the same for Dusseldorf.

After spending some time in the city we had to get back to the train station, go a few more stops north and then get on a free bus laid on to take fans to the arena which was on what appeared to be a retail park, we passed numerous car showrooms and fast food outlets before getting off!
Getting a drink was something of an effort, but other than that the arena was quite impressive with something of a light show happening even before the warm up, subtle but effective boards above all of the doorways with falling snow and shooting stars all nicely co-ordinated to shoot around these boards and it was a nice little set up for what was to come.
The opening sequence was truly stunning, even the NHL would have to take their hats off to the technical team that imagined and implemented it, a sequence of lights and logos with a projected show on the ice featuring pictures of the squads past that had won the various DEL honours over past years and the current team’s pictures mixed in, an effect of the ice cracking from the outside in and being melted by a huge fire, they used the entire ice space to create something truly special with epic sounding music ending with the team coming out to “This Is War” by 30 Seconds to Mars. There seems to also be a running theme of sparklers in the DEL as they were out in force again!

We were also in seats this time away from the hard-core collective in the terraces, also seemingly a running theme in the DEL, and felt we could probably display out shirts without fear of reprisal (The visiting team weren’t called the Panthers either) but the Metro Stars fans in the terraces were being just as vocal as the Cologne fans had been!

The first period was pretty even with both teams finding the net once each and incurring a couple of penalties and nothing truly memorable happened until just past the 18 minute mark when a checking from behind penalty was called on the home side and one of the Munich players decided a slash was necessary for the offender, the referee saw it all and called a 2 minute minor, plus 10 for misconduct for the checking incident on the Stars Marco Nowak and a 2 minute slashing penalty on Munich’s Martin Buchwieser, however Munich failed to capitalise on the powerplay opportunity.

The period breaks are where the Metro Stars really fall down though, nothing at all to see but the Zamboni’s (Yes, plural!) cleaning up the ice!

The second period was dry in terms or goals, both teams defending well and getting good entry to the opposition third but just not coming up with that finishing touch.
Another checking from behind penalty earned the Stars Andrew Hedlund a 2 + 10 sit down, one or two other minor penalties were given for both teams but neither team able to hit the net with the man advantage.

The third period was a cleaner affair with just three minor penalties from both sides combined and we also saw that rarest of things, a powerplay goal from Munich 7 minutes in and for the rest of the period the angry men sat around us were extremely vocal in their disappointment, shame we had no idea what they were saying!
However, the arena erupted in the 18th minute when the Stars buried the equaliser and we were going to overtime, but both goalies had done so well keeping so many shots out that we wondered if the golden goal was going to come, maybe we would be watching penalties very soon!

We didn’t have to wait very long for the decision, just after the minute mark a scramble at the Munich net meant a funny rebound had the puck tangled up in the Stars Jason Holland’s jersey which found its way onto his chest and then into the back of the net, the furious protests of the Munich players did nothing to convince the referee that it was anything other than a good goal.

So all in all, a good holiday and a decent look at how the hockey world operates on the continent.
We both agreed that the skill level isn’t too far removed from that of our own Elite League, it is less physical though and the officials really do clamp down on it, for example at least one of the major penalties that we saw this week we both reckoned would have been called as a 2 minute boarding penalty over here.
The play is a lot quicker, the players seem to skate much quicker, the transition from offence to defence is faster and they change lines with a bit more urgency although they were lucky to get away without any ‘Too many men’ penalties as they were all that keen to get on the ice!

Cologne’s arena wins in terms of location, it’s a steady walk across the Rhine from the city centre and they have a great bar/restaurant which seems to either be affiliated with the arena or goes to great lengths to accommodate the Sharks fans for pre-game drinks and food.
The in-break entertainment was also a win here as they went to great efforts to make sure the whole night was entertaining, not just the game!

We did think the Lanxess arena was quite impressive until we got to the ISS Dome for the second game, although only a modest 13,400 capacity (?) the level of display media was impressive and even down to the executive boxes you could see they’d thought about all the kinds of events they would be hosting.
The Metro Stars also clearly, hands down, without a shadow of a doubt win on the introduction sequence and sadly as the Cologne Sharks lost so handsomely the DEG Metro Stars game was the better one to watch! (Cologne did actually win away to Hamburg on the same night as we were in Dusseldorf so I don’t imagine it’s a regular thing for them to get hammered like that!)

Both teams have a healthy roster of imports with the Sharks having exclusively Germans and Canadians and the Metro Stars having a mixture of German, Canadian, American a Czech and a Dutch player.
A good portion of the North Americans seem to have found themselves over here after the NHL lockout and have never left, some have even managed to qualify to play for the German National Side.

If anyone wants to watch the opening sequence I’ve been raving about so much there is a fan video on YouTube, search for ‘DEG Metro Stars Pre-Game Show 2011/2012”

If you go to Germany for a holiday, as a hockey fan, I would say a game or two should be on your list of things to do!

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