Last night the Eisbären Berlin ice hockey team won their final play-off match against the Mannheim Adlers 3-1. They won the series 3-2 and with it, have won their sixth German title in eight years. The Polar Bears are Meister!
Although last night’s game was good in all the right ways, it was tense and furious stuff, and the Eisbären came back from being a point down early on – it was nothing compared to the game which defined the series, and will probably be talked about for a hell of a lot longer: Sunday’s epic struggle in Mannheim. A game in which the Berlin side were closer to going home potless than they will care to imagine as they wake up today with heavy, hungover heads and aching, but achingly happy, limbs.
On Sunday night the Berlin Eisbären managed the impossible. Trailing by 5-2 on points and having lost two of the three matches so far, in the fourth game they were seemingly dead and buried – the chances of the title were disappearing into the horizon like Alan Ladd at the end of Shane.
“Joey, tell your mother there aren’t any guns in town anymore.”
Tears were welling up within the staunchly loyal fan-base – many of whom have followed the club from the “smallest league in the world” (the GDR’s ice-hockey league had all of two teams), and who often still wear the weinrot colours and the famous “D” badge of Dynamo Berlin, the club they used to be.
It was all too reminiscent of 2010, as Coach Don Jackson’s side had dominated the league all season only to end the play-offs with a loss to the Augsburg Panthers at the first hurdle, and they went home with the whimpering sounds of defeat in their ears.
We don’t know if the eponymous Shane really lived or not as he reached that sunset – his nobler-than-thou exit asked many questions and answered none – but the Eisbären were grimly determined to be the ones with the heroic exit this time against the only team that can match their financial muscle in the league.
They had a response up their super-sized, Robocop-padded sleeves in that game on Sunday. They roared at Mannheim, dragging themselves from 2-5 back to 4-5 when, with only a few minutes left on the clock, T.J Mulock picked up the puck in the faceoff circle to the right of the Adler’s goal. He spanked it inside the far post after a delicious exchange of passes in the centre.
At 4-5 the commentator on SKY was out of his seat. “Der Wahnsinn geht weiter” (the madness goes on). For the equaliser he jabbered as coherently as a Texan drunk at a kid’s party, but for Mulock’s astonishing 6-5 winner in overtime – bundled over the line through a sea of stretched out skates, dancing limbs akimbo and frantically flailing sticks – he was almost blessedly bereft of words with which he could describe the astonishing turnaround.
Jackson compared it to the L.A. Kings coming back from 5-0 down to beat the Edmonton Oilers 6-5 in 1982, and there may well be a truth in that (although, to be honest, all I know about the L.A. Kings could be written on the back of Eazy E’s baseball cap). This, however, was truly an astonishing comeback, one that ice hockey fans in Germany, and not just Berlin, will remember for as long as the game itself is still talked about.
The club themselves will bring back another oversized trophy to sit in residence at their gaudy palace to western excesses, the one with the phone company’s name, ironically facing the remaining stretch of the Berlin Wall, and will continue to be a hugely successful team as long as the fans continue to turn up in their droves.
And they will. It is, to a large extent, the slavish devotion to the capital city’s Ice Hockey team that makes them the power that it is.
For Sven Felski, last night will remain etched on his memory as he completed an astonishing 1000 games for the Eisbären. Felski is a god among Polar Bears, but for most of the fans, they will remember Sunday, and that beautifully ludicrous comeback.