Name the greatest German hockey player ever.
Okay, so its tough to name more than couple. Uwe Krupp would probably get the most votes since he has been an established and accomplished defensman in the National Hockey League for quite some time. But how about the German scoring machine Erich Kühnhackl.
Traditionally Canada, USA, Russia, Sweden, and Finland are the hockey powers. Slovakia and the Czech Republic are now once again powers after their country split. Switzerland and Germany are also developing into a possible future hockey power.
Much of Germany's historic hockey success comes from one man: Erich Kühnhackl.
Kühnhackl was born on October 17, 1950 in Citice Czechoslovakia. The son of German parents, he didn't move to Germany until his family moved in 1968.
Kühnhackl (a West German, as he played when the country was still split between East and West) scored 724 goals in 774 games in Germany. He played primarily with EV Landshut (1968-76, 79-85, 88-89) and Kolner EC (1976-79). He briefly played for Olten in Switzerland in 1985-86).
Kühnhackl first started playing professionally in 1968 and excelled until his retirement in 1989. He led his teams to the German championship in 1970, 1977, 1979 and 1983. He also holds the record in Germany for goals and points, and recorded 53 hat tricks, 3 more than Wayne Gretzky had. Granted, the German leagues are of little comparison to the NHL or even other European leagues at that time, Kühnhackl proved himself on the international stage as well.
Kühnhackl scored a mind boggling 723 goals and 705 assists 1428 points in only 771 games, all German records. The 7 time scoring leader had 83 goals and 155 points in 1979-80 for career and country highs. Oh, and that came in just 48 games.
Kühnhackl almost single-handedly kept Germany in the Olympic "A" pool. In International hockey the worst team is often dropped to the "B" pool, thus giving another country a chance. While Germany was never an international power, Kühnhackl was. In 75 World Championship games, Kühnhackl scored 40 goals and 35 assists for 75 points. He led the 1978 World Championship tournament in scoring with 16 points in 10 games. The 6'5" 220lb giant also added 126 career penalty minutes, showing his willingness to play a physical game.
As with all International stars who never had a chance to excel in the National Hockey League, the true test comes in the Olympic Games, a test in which Kühnhackl excelled. He participated in three Olympic games. The first Games was in 1976 and Kühnhackl's 5 goals and 10 points helped Germany to surprisingly capture the Bronze Medal. It was the last Olympic medal Germany achieved in hockey. The only other medal the country received was a Bronze in 1932. Kühnhackl was the highest scoring non-Soviet player in a tournament easily won by the Red Army. Lorenz Funk and Ernst Kopf helped Kühnhackl to their last Olympic triumph.
In the 1984 Olympics in Sarajevo, West Germany finished a respectable 5th place, ahead of both Finland and the USA. Kühnhackl led the entire tournament in scoring, with 8 goals and 6 assists in 6 games.
Despite all of his dominance, Kuhnhackl was never seriously considered for European hockey's biggest individual award - the Golden Stick. Given to the player who garnered the most votes as the best player in Europe, only once did Kuhnhackl finish in the top ten. Critics suggest the German league was quite inferior to other European leagues, and that Kuhnhackl's WC and Olympic totals were padded by scoring points against weak nationis.
Its debatable if Kühnhackl could have played in the NHL. He most likely wouldn't have dominated like he did in Germany, but he had the size and skill to be a good NHL forward. In fact he was offered a contract by the NY Rangers in the 1970's, but turned it down to stay in Germany where he made considerably more money.
Kuhnhackl's only opportunity to play against NHLers did not materialize. In 1984 West Germany was invited to play in the Canada Cup tournament. A broken leg kept Kuhnhackl out of the tournament.
Kuhnhackl's obsession with hockey continued beyond his retirement as a player in 1989. He went on to become a long time coach in Germany.
Kuhnhackl was inducted into the International Ice Hockey Hall of Fame in 1997.