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Sharks Prospect Pielmeier is on a Mission

by San Jose Sharks Staff / San Jose Sharks
The German junior team is in tough at the 2009 world junior hockey championship and the battle-ready goalie who was the San Jose Sharks third-round pick in 2007 will do his part to keep his team in the elite world A Group.

"We know we are not as good as Canada and the United States but we will try to surprise some people," said Pielmeier. "Our goal is to stay in the A Division, the top division and I will do everything I can to make that happen."

The world junior championship features the top players who are under 20 years old. It is a pressure-packed event where the pace is quick and the stakes are high.

Canada is the four-time defending champion and is one of four teams, along with the United States, Sweden and Russia, considered medal contenders at the '09 tournament.

There are 10 teams in the tournament, two of which will be relegated to the world B Pool at the conclusion of the event. They will be replaced at the 2010 competition by two teams promoted from the B Pool.

When the German Ice Hockey Federation met to assemble its roster for the 2009 world junior, the selection of Pielmeier was a no-brainer.

The German puckstopper is having a tremendous season playing for Shawinigan of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, posting a .926 save percentage and a 2.47 goals-against average. His GAA is third best in the league among goalies that have played 25 or more games.

"That is a run and gun league and has separated himself from the main group of goalies in that league. That is not an easy thing to do,'' says German assistant coach Uwe Krupp, who is considered the best German-born player to ever play in the NHL.

"He has proven himself to be an elite guy in that league. He does everything pretty well. He handles the puck well and he is a very competitive kid and he wants to be a pro hockey player. More than anything, he is willing to do the work and he is one of the best goalies in the Quebec league."

In Pielmeier's case, willing to do the work translated into leaving home when he was 14 to play in search of tougher competition that what was offered in his hometown near Munich.

Pielmeier moved to Cologne and led the Cologne EC Junior Sharks to a league-title in 2006-07.

After being drafted by the Sharks, Pielmeier crossed over to this side of the Atlantic Ocean, taking his game to the Canadian Hockey League, the main feeder system in North America for NHL teams.

He joined the St. John's Fog Devils of the Quebec league and was traded to Shawinigan before the start of the season.

Pielmeier is a big reason why Shawinigan is one of the top teams in the Quebec league this season.

Pielmeier was asked why he chose to ply his wares in the CHL rather than hone his skills in Europe.

"I think you are a way closer to the National Hockey League and the way they play in the NHL," he said. "The Sharks can see me a way more easier than they could be in Europe.

"I have been away from home since I was 14 so you get used to it, not living with your family. But I could not be happier. I am playing hockey every day. What else could I want?"

There's no doubt that playing in a country where hockey is religion has had an impact on Pielmeier.

"It is great place to play junior hockey," he said. "Say I played in a city like Montreal. They have an NHL team and people pay attention to the Canadiens. But in Shawinigan, we are the team. When you played in a city with 50,000 they watch your every game. It is a great city to play in."

Pielmeier isn't a trailblazer and he's one of more than a handful of players on the German junior team who are on CHL teams this season.

"I talked to a lot of guys and told them to come over here. My teammates have asked me a lot of questions about my decision to play here," said the 5-11, 160-pound goalie.

Krupp definitely supports Pielmeier's move to play Canadian major junior hockey.

"I think the training is good," Krupp said. "I think the guys learn what it takes to be a pro player. It is good preparation for them and they get to see what it is like to lead that life."

The German junior team assembled in Ottawa before Christmas and took in an Ottawa Senators game shortly after they arrived. Then the day after Christmas, they played their first game in the same arena, in front of 18,000 fans.

"They do not get that back home," said Pielmeier about playing in front of 18,000 people. "The warm-up and the first two or three minutes was amazing, hearing the crowd. After we just forgot about them and focused on the game."

The Germans lost 8-2 to the superior United States. Pielmeier allowed seven goals.

Truth be known, there is no real downside to playing in the world junior tournament. Hockey people feel it is important for any elite athlete to be able to compete against the best athletes in their age group.

When the tournament ends in a week, Pielmeier will refocus for the remainder of the Quebec league season.

For the moment, his world is the world junior.

"Our goal is to stay in the top division. When I get back to Shawinigan, my focus will be to take the team as far as I can. Then next summer I will go to the Sharks training camp and see what happens.

"It (San Jose) is one of the best organizations in the NHL. It is like a family. They call you to see how you are doing, to see how everything is going. I try to watch every game to see the guys I hope to play with."

And you really can't ask for more from Pielmeier.
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