GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) – Bjorn Krupp’s journey started at the Duluth IceForum in suburban Atlanta.
Brooks Macek piled up the points in Bantam hockey in Winnipeg, Manitoba, for the Notre Dame Hounds.
Now they’re in the Olympic gold-medal game for Germany, having advanced further than the teams from their home countries. The U.S.-born Krupp and Canadian-born Macek have German fathers and now call Germany home with no apologies for beating or scoring against the countries of their birth.
When Macek scored a go-ahead power-play goal in what turned out to be a remarkable upset semifinal win against Canada, he pumped his fist and never felt conflicted about beating a team with the Maple Leafs on its jerseys.
“It was nice,” Macek said. “The guys here on Team Germany, they’re my brothers now. It’s like a family in there.”
The family is led by a homegrown player-turned-coach, Marco Sturm, whose long NHL career gave him instant respect. Goaltender Danny aus den Birken said it makes a difference to have a German coach because he’s more invested in the team, and Sturm has had more success than Canadian predecessor Pat Cortina.
But integrating foreign players has worked out just fine with Germany making an improbable run to the final, where it’ll face the Russians and is guaranteed its best Olympic hockey finish in history. Macek has two goals and an assist, while Krupp – the son of former NHL defenseman Uwe Krupp – has been a key cog in Germany’s penalty kill.
“He blocks a lot of shots and he’s really good on PK and that’s what I needed,” said Sturm, who thinks Uwe and Bjorn play and even look alike. “He takes care of business, just like his dad.”
Krupp and Macek have in common not only North American roots but history wearing USA Hockey and Hockey Canada uniforms, respectively. Krupp spent one year with the U.S. National Team Development Program and played for under-17 and -18 teams, while Macek played for the Canada West team at the World Hockey Under-17 Challenge against the likes of Chicago Blackhawks forward Brandon Saad.
Macek doesn’t think playing in that tournament counts as Team Canada and has committed to playing for Germany moving forward. His father, grandmother and grandfather are still back in Manitoba, and he said they didn’t have split allegiances watching Germany versus Canada.
“C’mon – Germany,” said Macek, who now lives in Munich.
Krupp lives in Germany full-time now but flies home to visit friends in the summer. Included among his buddies and former teammates is Brandon Maxwell, who is a backup goaltender for the U.S. at this Olympic tournament.
Even though his dad played 17 NHL seasons with the Buffalo Sabres, New York Islanders, Quebec Nordiques/Colorado Avalanche, Detroit Red Wings and Atlanta Thrashers, it’s incredible Krupp is at the Olympics after only learning how to skate and play hockey at age 11. Thrashers teammates Jeff Cowan and Dan Snyder, who was killed in a car crash with Dany Heatley, encouraged Uwe to get his son equipment and ice time
“I kind of forced my dad to get equipment actually shortly after Dan Snyder passed away,” Krupp said.
Krupp’s “crazy journey” took him to tiny Belleville, Ontario, for junior hockey and then to Germany. Macek made stops in Calgary and Kennewick, Washington, in the Western Hockey League and was drafted in the sixth round in 2010 by the Detroit Red Wings but never signed, so he moved to his new home.
Now at the Olympics and ensured a gold or silver medal, neither player has any regrets.
“It’s a bit different with the NHL players not being here,” Krupp said. “But it’s still a great opportunity and who would’ve thought that Germany would be in the finals against Russia?”
With an American and a Canadian helping lead the way.