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Sharks await development of 'Berlin Wall' on defense

by Ryan Pinder /
PENTICTON, B.C. -- "So you want to talk to the Berlin Wall?"

That's the question tossed out from the pair of San Jose Sharks defensemen as they sit in the dressing room preparing for a game at the Vancouver Canucks Young Stars Tournament.

The pair of towering defenders -- 6-foot-5 Konrad Abeltshauser and 6-foot-3 Dominick Bielke -- offers this question with curious accents and toothy smiles.

Bielke, a Berliner, is 19-years-old, was drafted at No. 207 in the 2009 Entry Draft and split time playing with the Dresden Ice Lions of the German Second Division and the Berlin Polar Bears of the Elite League last season.

Abeltshauser, born outside of Munich, just celebrated his 18th birthday two weeks ago, and was drafted in the sixth round this past June. Abeltshauser plays with the Halifax Mooseheads in the QMJHL, where he put up 25 points as a rookie in just 48 games last season as one of just two Europeans on the team.

And, yes, at a combined height of 12 feet and 8 inches, and total weight of 400 pounds, the "Berlin Wall" isn't a bad handle for the pair of blueliners.

Though they've chosen very different routes to try to get to the NHL, they both have the same goal in mind: play for the San Jose Sharks.

Staying in Europe or coming here to play in North America, the Sharks don't believe there's one <i>right</i> way to groom a player to be a pro.

"You know what, to each their own," team scout Bryan Marchment said. "I know that with Konrad, he is in Halifax, and Cam Russell is there -- an ex-teammate of mine. He works well with the D-men. Dominick decided to stay in Germany."

Marchment, a former Sharks defenseman, admits that he's seen much more of Abeltshauser in rinks and Bielke on video screens, but is positive about the skill sets and development of both players.

"They both have size and they both are very mobile D-men," Marchment said. "We drafted them, and we think very highly of them."

German hockey has come a long way in the recent years, from relative obscurity to their best finish in a World Championship in the last half century this past spring. Hosting the 2010 tournament, Germany finished in fourth place and defeated the United States, Slovakia and Switzerland.

In the opinion of these two hulking D-men, German hockey is on the rise.

"In the last world championship we made fourth place," Bielke said. "I think it's rising. We have good players and good hockey over there. We just need some time. It's coming."

"I totally agree with Dominick," Abeltshauser said. "We had a pretty good World Championship. As far as I can see with the U-18 and U-20 teams, we've got good young players coming up. We had a couple German players in the draft this year. There are a lot of talented German players coming up."

Should either or both of these players earn a spot on San Jose's roster in the coming years, they'll join a long list of Germans to suit up for the Sharks.

That list reads like a who's who of German hockey history. Christian Ehrhoff was drafted by the Sharks in 2001 and played five seasons in the NHL with the club. Marco Sturm played eight years in San Jose after being selected in 1996. Marcel Goc was drafted in 2001 and was a Shark for four years. The latest of the bunch is up-and-coming goalie Thomas Greiss, who was selected in 2004 and will fight with Finns Antero Niittymaki and Antti Niemi for time in the Sharks crease this season.

It's as if there's a pipeline from Deutschland to the Silicone Valley.

"For me it's like almost every German player made their first steps in the NHL with the Sharks," Konrad said. "So going to the Sharks, you want to be one of the next German players to make it. It's encouraged me."

Marchment doesn't think it is any fluke that so many Germans have arrived in San Jose.

"It's just a credit to the scouting staff and all the European guys and (head scout) Tim Burke," Marchment said. "They do their homework. Yes, we've had success; so just stick with it."

That means you can expect more German precision in the Entry Draft in the future for the Sharks.

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