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PRINCIPE: Hometown German Hockey

In his latest blog, Gene Principe talks about Leon Draisaitl's hometown in Germany and his impact on the sport here and abroad

by Gene Principe /

The only bad thing about being in Montreal this past weekend is that I wasn't in Edmonton. Montreal is a wonderful place to visit, and watching or working a game at the Bell Centre is something every hockey fan should experience at least once. However, there was a part of me that wished I was home.

The weather may have been cold but the scene was heart warming as Ron MacLean, Tara Sloane and the entire Sportsnet Hometown Hockey crew arrived for it's stop in the Alberta capital. You couldn't take a wrist shot without hitting an Oilers alumni, with Mark Messier and Ryan Smyth playing prominent roles in a two-day celebration. Flanked by Edmontonians braving the chilly weather it was a weekend highlighted by hockey and a win by the Oilers against the Canadiens.

Edmonton's roster is made up of players with hometowns all across Canada, some in the U.S. and others in Europe. You can include Leon Draisaitl in that latter group. October 27, 1995 he was born in Cologne, Germany.

"It's a decently big city," explained Leon. "It is a city with a lot of tourists and there is a lot of sight seeing to do."

The sight which caught Leon's eye the most was the Lanxess Arena. It opened when the Oiler was three.

"It fits 18,500 people," said Draisaitl. "It's a big hockey rink, especially in a European city."

It was in this city that's 2,000 years old and home to over a million people that one of them started to dream about playing in the NHL.

"I wanted to play in the best league. It's kind of the same dream as Canadian kids but a little harder or at least different," said Draisaitl.

To make the dream come true, Draisaitl departed Cologne and made his way to the prairies and ended up in Prince Albert.

"It was easy to do and everyone(my family) really supported me in chasing my dream."

The dream became a reality.

He starred with the Raiders and was chosen third overall by Edmonton in 2014. This season, he's topped his career high in goals with 20. His 47 points is closing in on his career best 51. He travels all across North America leading a playoff charging Oilers team. There's the NHL lifestyle and the public adulation, but while you can take the boy out of Germany you can't take Germany out of the boy.

"I'm just a simple guy and I like hanging out with the guys but I also stay in touch with my friends back home," said Draisaitl. "I usually talk to them on Skype or Facetime every day after practice. They're the buddies I grew up with."

Someone he didn't grow up with was Korbinian Holzer who currently plays for Anaheim and is a fellow German.

"I never actually crossed paths back home with him until we played together on the national team."

Holzer did play one game against Draisaitl in the AHL.

The 21-year-old played six games for Bakersfield and it was at that time the defenceman started to notice the forward from the same home country.

"You could tell he was a special player. When I played in Toronto and going into the 2014 Draft the scouts were asking me about him," said the former Leaf.

While Draisaitl's importance to his club can't be understated, his importance to his country looms even larger.

"Hockey isn't that big a deal (in Germany). It's getting better, but soccer and handball are much bigger. German hockey players are starting to get more recognition. He's becoming the face for hockey back home and it would be great if he could become like Dirk Nowitzki in basketball."

A challenge the kid from Cologne is ready to take on in his hockey hometown of Edmonton.

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