Cologne (dpa) – After a year and a half without an audience, the German Ice Hockey League has completed an atmospheric start to the season with the first surprises.
On Friday evening, top favorite Adler Mannheim stumbled again on the first DEL matchday against the feared opponent Straubing Tigers. In front of 3789 of the permitted 5300 spectators, the underdog won 4: 2 (2: 1, 1: 1, 1: 0) against the again staffed star ensemble of the Adler, in which ex-national goalkeeper Dennis Endras had to be injured from the ice. The so far last main round victory of Mannheim in Straubing came in 2018.
Promoted Bietigheim Steelers landed the first victory in the first DEL game ever. The Swabians defeated secret favorite ERC Ingolstadt 5: 4 (2: 1, 2: 1, 1: 2) after a turbulent game. After the promotion, however, only 2834 spectators came instead of the maximum allowed 4517. Steelers newcomer Constantin Braun scored a special goal: His 1-0 was the first DEL goal of the former national defender in three years and nine months.
The biggest backdrop of the evening had the Kölner Haie in front of 9,300 spectators at 2: 1 (1: 1, 0: 0, 0: 0) after extra time against runner-up Grizzlys Wolfsburg. So the reunion with the former Haie coach Mike Stewart was the maximum number of fans allowed who sang loudly “Kölle Alaaf” after the opening win.
As early as Thursday, 6,450 fans caused a house that was sold out under corona conditions. The enthusiastic fans could not prevent the 1: 4 defeat of champions Eisbären against title co-favorite EHC Red Bull Munich. Instead, the fans simply celebrated themselves and, 550 days after the last DEL game, kept chanting in front of spectators: “Finally ice hockey again”.
The partial return of the fans is vital for the DEL clubs. At the end of March 2020, the league canceled the 2019/2020 season at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic before the playoffs and was unable to start a new season for months. Only the sometimes considerable waiver of wages by the players, state aid and money from patrons and sponsors secured the past, greatly reduced season. The current season will now be played again in the usual format, but with 15 teams. For the first time in 17 years there will be a relegated team again this season.
The relegation candidates also include the Nürnberg Ice Tigers and the Krefeld Pinguine, both of which suffered defeats at the beginning. Nuremberg lost 1: 4 (1: 2, 0: 1, 0: 1) in Iserlohn and Krefeld was defeated in the Rhenish derby of the Düsseldorfer EG 4: 6 (0: 2, 3: 3, 1: 1).
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