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German Immersion

by San Jose Sharks Staff / San Jose Sharks
by Mike Benton

Two towering hockey players of German nationality share one thing when it comes to reaching their goal of mastering the English language: television.

One watches re-runs of “One Tree Hill.” The other is immersed in hit television shows such as “Prison Break” and “Californication.”

It's merely a day in the life, respectively, of Konrad Abeltshauser and Dominik Bielke.

For both prospects, who now share the same dressing room after coming from the German ranks that the San Jose Sharks have frequently tapped into over the last decade, the challenge of competing for a spot within the Sharks farm system ranks doesn't only involve mastering an on-ice craft, but also a new lifestyle.

“I've played for a year in Halifax (Quebec Major Junior Hockey League) so the language barrier isn't that big anymore,” said Abeltshauser. “But it's still nice to know there's someone you can talk your mother language with. I enjoy having Dominik around me.”

Abeltshauser, a 6-foot-5, 190-pound presence on the blueline that was drafted in 2010 by the Sharks in the sixth round, teams with Bielke, who also stands at a sizeable 6-foot-3, 190 pounds to give the Sharks two more potential gems from a nation that has produced talent in the likes of Uwe Krupp and Christian Ehrhoff.

Krupp has influence on Abeltshauser. Both have worked out together while Krupp continues to prepare on the coaching staff for Team Germany in the World Junior Championships.

“A lot of Germans have made their first steps in the NHL through the Sharks,” said Abeltshauser, reflecting on past Sharks such as Ehrhoff, Marco Sturm and Marcel Goc, who went from the German ranks to make their NHL debut in San Jose. “I want to be the next one to make that step in 'the show.' I want to try my best and I was happy to be drafted.”

Hearing the same aforementioned names, the eyes of Bielke lit up when he remembered how much of a door of opportunity could perhaps be opening.

“It's an honor to come from Germany and play here,” said Bielke. “Not everyone gets the chance to come here and get the chance to play, so I'm pretty proud I'm here.”

Bielke first made his mark as a member of Team Germany at the 2009 World Junior Championships in Ottawa, catching the Sharks eye with his performance at the national stage and for the rest of the season with Berlin of the Eisberlin of the junior league and in seven games of DEL experience.

“It's not easy to make the team here,” said Bielke. “You have to work hard and if you do, you'll get a chance to make the team.”

Part of the adjustment for Abeltshauser and Bielke has been adapting to a smaller ice surface, which is over ten feet narrower in the United States and Canada compared to larger sheets in Europe. Active stick work, a trait designed to take away space against the opposition, is one of many drills both players are continuously adding to their arsenal in preparation for the smaller ice surface.

“I'm learning a lot of new things,” said Abeltshauser. “I'm picking up stick work, getting the stick on the puck, playing down low, trying to get air and work with sticks.”

A left shot defenseman, Bielke has branded his game with offensive instincts and a booming shot from the point that will be imperative in his pursuit of a full time spot, joining several Sharks who are in the tournament via camp invites.

His first taste of the North American game in a Sharks uniform came on Monday when the Sharks faced the speedy Vancouver Canucks in a 5-3 defeat in the second game of the tournament.

Merely a round robin game, it was Bielke's learning experience that was most valuable in handling the swift Vancouver attack.

“It's much different than Europe,” said Bielke. “It's faster, quicker, the rink is smaller, you have less time to make decisions to make plays than Europe, so it's harder.”

“I want to put myself in a good position to sign a contract here,” said Bielke. “I want to play for San Jose or Worcester. I have a contract in Germany already, but I have to show something here.”

Bielke, who was picked by the Sharks in the seventh round of the 2009 draft, was at a Kings of Leon concert in Europe when he learned of the news he had been drafted via phone.

It's now the Sharks hoping their two latest German selections turn out to be blueline rock stars themselves.

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