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In native Germany, Ehrhoff focuses on season

by Shawn P. Roarke
MANNHEIM, Germany -- Christian Ehrhoff arrived home in Germany Sunday morning to begin a campaign that he hopes won't end until late June.

While happy to be in familiar surroundings -- Ehrhoff's hometown is only about three hours away -- Ehrhoff is already focusing on the business at hand for the 2011-12 season. And, after losing Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final while with Vancouver last season, Ehrhoff has made returning to -- and winning -- the final series of the NHL season his No. 1 priority.

That journey begins Tuesday night with Buffalo's final preseason game here, an exhibition against DEL powerhouse Adler Manheim and continues with Friday's Compuware NHL Premiere regular-season game against the Anaheim Ducks in Finland and Saturday's NHL Premiere game against the Kings in Berlin.

"It's really nice for us to be able to show German fans what we do over here in the NHL," Ehrhoff told in the days leading up to this trip.

He is doubly happy to play here because he thought fate had dealt him a raw hand last season when the San Jose Sharks came here to play Adler. Ehrhoff played six years with the Sharks organization before moving on to Vancouver two years ago, thereby missing what he thought, at the time, would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

"I always looked at the matchups when they came out and I missed it with San Jose by a year, but I was really happy when I saw Buffalo was going to Europe and playing in Germany too," Ehrhoff said. "I thought I had missed my chance. But, you know, that was how it was meant to be and now I got my chance this year."


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And, while the rare opportunity to play on home soil is something he wants to savor, he admits he already has one eye focused on what will come when the Sabres return to North America.

He signed with the club this summer because he believed the club had a legitimate chance to get to the Stanley cup Final with the additions it was making. And, if Ehrhoff knew anything as he tested the free-agent waters, he knew that he wanted to be playing into June as often as possible.

Ehrhoff got a heady taste of the Stanley Cup Final as his Vancouver Canucks were just one game from winning the first title for that hockey-mad city. But, the Boston Bruins had other plans and took the final two games for a dramatic championship that left Ehrhoff ruing what could have been and pining for a chance to right those wrongs committed in the final two games of the series.

"It's really tough to put something like that behind you or forget it, but you have to turn the page and try to focus on what is ahead of you," Ehrhoff said. "My goal is to get there again and make it better this time."

If Buffalo makes it to the Final for the first time since 1999, it is likely that Ehrhoff will play a big part in that journey.

The 29-year-old was a coveted commodity this summer because he is an all-round defender. Last season, with the Canucks, he had 50 points and was a plus-19. The year previous, he was a plus-36. Plus, he has a booming, accurate shot from the point and some big-game experience, including three trips to the Olympics already in his still young career.

"He really showed last year that he belongs on any NHL team's top-two (defense) pairs," Jochen hecht told "He is a really good skater, strong and physical. He came a long way from San Jose and I think he really improved in Vancouver and we are real happy to have him here in Buffalo.

"I know him from a couple national team tournaments and meetings that we have had. I guess I am really going to get to know him now."

In fact, this trip to Germany will go a long way in that bonding process as Ehrhoff gets to know a whole collection of new teammates in the continuation of a process that began when he arrived in Western New York a little Less than a month ago.

"Everyone has welcomed me with open arms," he said. "It's been great."

Ehrhoff knows he and Hecht will be the team's tour guides as they spend time in the Manheim region, as well as Berlin.  He is ready for the challenge of giving them a crash course in German culture.

"The main thing is going to be a bit of the culture or the food and maybe have a good German beer together," Ehrhoff said. "That will be all. They we will see what it is like and how it looks. I'm sure they will enjoy the trip as much as we do. It will be fun for everybody."

But, at its root, the trip to Germany remains a business trip for these Sabres, who learned during last season's desperation push just how valuable every point can be when it comes to the end-of-season standings. They won't forget that two precious points are on offer in Berlin when they play the Kings.

In fact, Ehrhoff says it should just be the beginning of what he hopes will be the longest season of his career, one that is capped with the Stanley Cup championship he just missed out on last season with Vancouver.

"I'm excited; it's a new team and a new challenge," Ehrhoff said. "I'm excited to get it going. The summer was different. It was a very short summer, but that is your goal. I hope I get a bunch more short summers. I just want to win the last game next time."
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