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DEL: Wolfsburg quintet lighting up scoreboard

Wednesday, 12.07.2011 / 11:00 AM / Across the Pond

By Bill Meltzer - Correspondent

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DEL: Wolfsburg quintet lighting up scoreboard
The team from Germany's DEL possesses four of the league's top-six scorers and a young defenseman who is third in scoring at his position.
It's not too often that four of the top-six scorers in a 14-team league are all members of the same club. That's the case so far this season in Germany's DEL, where Grizzly Adams Wolfsburg forwards Matt Dzieduszycki, Tyler Haskins, Kai Hospelt and Norm Milley rank among the league's top six overall point-getters and young defenseman Christopher Fischer ranks in the top three scorers at his position.

Calgary native Dzieduszycki, 31, is in his first season with Wolfsburg after spending the four previous campaigns with the Hannover Scorpions. Although the winger, whose nickname is "Diesel," was a productive player for Hannover, this is the first time he has been among the DEL's scoring leaders at this point of the season. To date, he has registered 11 goals and 26 points in 25 games to rank second only to Krefeld Penguins' native German center Daniel Pietta (12 goals, 27 points in 24 games).

Germany set to host Division I WJC

The Division I (Group A) portion of the 2012 World Junior Championship will take place in the Bavarian mountain resort town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen from Dec. 11-17. Germany was relegated from the elite level tournament last year, and will attempt to work its way back up to the top for 2013. The German junior national team has frequently been in the conundrum of being a little too good for the Division I level but not quite good enough to hold a spot at the top level for an extended time.

Apart from the host nation, the participants in the tourney are Belarus, Austria, Norway, Slovenia and Great Britain. The Germans are the odds-on favorite to take the gold and earn a promotion, with Belarus as its main (and perhaps only realistic) challenger.

The final German roster for the tournament has yet to be posted. The preliminary roster features nine players who are currently playing major junior hockey in Canada, including five players who have been selected in the NHL Entry Draft: forwards Tobias Rieder (Edmonton Oilers), Marcel Noebels (drafted and already signed to an entry-level contract by the Philadelphia Flyers), David Elsner (Nashville Predators) and Mirko Hofflin (Chicago Blackhawks) as well as defenseman Konrad Abeltshauser (San Jose Sharks). 

Additionally the preliminary German roster includes Barrie Colts goaltender Mathias Niederberger, Oshawa Generals forward Sebastian Uvira, Acadie-Bathurst Titans forward Nicolas Krammer and Sarnia Sting forward Nickolas Latta. The rest of the roster consists of players suiting up for German teams.

-- Bill Meltzer
Dzieduszycki, a former University of New Hampshire forward, shuttled for years between the ECHL and AHL before trying his fortunes in European hockey. His most productive North American season came in his final minor league season (2005-06), when he scored 34 goals and 78 points in 68 games for the ECHL's Las Vegas Wranglers.

Former San Jose Sharks' prospect Hospelt, 26, is in his third campaign with Grizzly Adams after transferring from his hometown Kölner Haie (Cologne Sharks). A member of the German team at the 2010 Olympics, Hospelt has been a rising star in the DEL in recent seasons. Two years ago, the center notched his first 20-goal season and, with 11 goals and 25 points to date this season, is third in the league in scoring.

Haskins, a 25-year-old former New York Islanders farmhand originally drafted by the Detroit Red Wings in 2004 (fifth round, No. 162), was generally a third-line player in the AHL but has played almost exclusively on scoring lines for Wolfsburg in his two seasons to date. With 10 goals and 25 points so far this season, he is one spot behind Hospelt on the league scoring leader board.

Adler Mannheim right winger Adam Mitchell and Wolfsburg's Milley also have 25 points to date, but Milley has one fewer goal (7) and one more assist (18) than Mitchell. The 31-year-old Milley, who played 29 NHL games with the Buffalo Sabres and Tampa Bay Lightning over parts of four seasons, was a prolific scorer in junior hockey and a very productive AHL scorer as well.

Now in his fourth season with Wolfsburg, Milley has generally ranked among the team's top two scorers, along with frequent linemate John Laliberte. The latter, a former Vancouver Canucks pick in the 2002 Entry Draft (fourth round, No. 114), ranked among the league's top 10 scorers in each of the two previous seasons but is off to a relatively slow start this season (7 goals, 18 points) by his standards.

In the meantime, 23-year-old German defenseman Fischer has asserted himself as a rising two-way player the last couple of seasons. He had an outstanding playoff run last season and has picked right up where he left off in the spring. A hulking specimen (6-foot-5, 215 pounds) with a booming slap shot, Fischer ranks third among defensemen this season with 3 goals -- all on the power play -- and 19 points to date. He also ranks among the league plus-minus leaders with a plus-10 rating.

Despite all of the team's firepower, Wolfsburg is currently in fifth place. Including games decided in overtime or via shootout, coach Pavel Gross's team has won a disappointing 13 of 25 games after finishing in first place during the regular season last year. It is not even as if the team has been giving up lots of goals -- with 64 goals against, Wolfsburg ranks right in the middle of the pack (seventh overall) -- or self-destructing with penalties. Grizzly Adams is the least-penalized team in the league.

Rather, the team's biggest issues have been an inability to win on the road and difficulty pulling out tight games. For instance, when Wolfsburg played defending champion Eisbären Berlin last Sunday, the club fell behind early on a goal by former New York Rangers draftee Darin Olver. The Polar Bears made the skinny lead hold up and went on to win, 1-0. The club has also recently dropped a 2-1 decision to the seventh-place DEG Metro Stars and lost a pair of 3-2 games (home and road) to the third-place Hamburg Freezers.

"We played well, but we have to do a better job finding ways to win these types of games," Gross said after the loss to Berlin. "We have to put everything together."

Tyler Haskins of Grizzly Adams Wolfsburg battles Darin Olver of Eisbaeren Berlin. (Photo: Getty Images)
When Grizzly Adams scores, it often tends to score in bunches. The team's most impressive win of the season was a 10-2 pummeling of ninth-place Krefeld on Nov. 20. Wolfsburg has also blown out the 11th-place Iserlöhn Roosters, 7-0, mauled the sixth-place Straubing Tigers (6-3) in its final game of November, and has scored five goals in a game on three other occasions.

Like many teams in the DEL, much of the nucleus of the Wolfsburg roster consists of players imported from North America. There have been 10 Canadian- or U.S.-born players to suit up for the team this season, including four players with previous NHL experience.

Team captain Blake Sloan, a veteran of 290 NHL games with the Dallas Stars, Columbus Blue Jackets and Calgary Flames, is the club's elder statesman, locker room leader and most important penalty killer. An injury forced him to sit out the game against Berlin.

In addition to Sloan and Milley, the former NHL player contingent of Wolfsburg lineup features one-time Philadelphia Flyers forward David Laliberte (7 goals) and offensive-minded ex-Buffalo and Columbus defenseman Nathan Paetsch (3 goals, 8 points).
Quote of the Day

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— Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz on goalie Braden Holtby, who made 33 saves to shut out the Edmonton Oilers 1-0
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