BAD TOLZ, Germany – Turkey and Germany team up in an ambitious collaboration where ice hockey and bridging cultures are to be combined in equal measure.
On 15 February, the Turkish women’s ice hockey national team faced off in their first ever match against Germany. With a crowd of over 2,000 gathered inside the arena in Bad Tolz, the significance of the occasion was marked by the presence of illustrious guests such as Franz Reindl, President of the German Ice Hockey Association (DEB) and Bulent Akay, President of Turkish Ice Hockey Federation (TBHF) on the tribune in the southern Bavarian town.
While the historical encounter capped off a ten-day long training camp on German soil for the Turkish team, it also marked the start of a cooperation between the two country's respective ice hockey association.
With around three million people of Turkish origin living in Germany, there are numerous examples on how sport has benefited from a blossoming relationship encompassing borders. In football, an increasing wave of German coaches and German-trained players arrived to Turkey from around the early 1990s which played its part for future Turkish international success. Now the Turkish Ice Hockey Federation formed in 1991 is keen to go down a similar path to utilize German know-how in their climb upwards on the hockey ladder.
The first seed for a partnership on ice was planted when the Turkish Ice Hockey Federation last summer invited Germany's national team forward Yasin Ehliz and his family to Turkey. Born in Germany to Turkish immigrants, Ehliz, a forward for the DEL team Nuremberg Ice Tigers, touched down in Ankara as a honorary guest at the Turkish junior championship play-offs. Honoured by the adulation and being impressed by the enthusiasm of the youngsters out on the ice, a framework on a future Turkish-German co-operation was put in place with his hometown club EC Bad Tolz and the Ehliz family being at the heart of it all.
Ehliz, who diligently had honed his skills in Bad Tolz before a big move to Germany’s top league DEL, ensued while he was still in his teens. He soon after made the cut for Germany's roster for the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championships in Minsk, Belarus, and in the process became the second player of Turkish heritage following Sinan Akdag to don the black eagle of Germany on his chest at a major international tournament.
With the German Ice Hockey Association eager to attract a wider scope of modern Germany of various ethnic backgrounds to find common ground thanks to ice hockey, 23-year-old Yasin Ehliz has become the poster boy of this newly struck partnership linking Turkey to Germany. While his father Abdullah Ehliz, a honorary member of the Turkish Ice Hockey Federation, pulls most of the strings behind the scenes, the project is also endorsed by Adler Mannheim defenceman Akdag and Mesut Ozil, the first major star of Turkish origin to represent Germany's national football team.
First to benefit from the link-up was Turkey's women's national team. In preparation for the 2016 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division II Group B, Turkey made Bad Tolz their base for a week and a half in mid-February. In Bavaria they were able to focus fully on being hockey players as they practised hard while also making the short hop across the border to Salzburg to take on Austria in an exhibition match ahead of their game against their German hosts in Bad Tolz.
Despite being supported magnificently by a vocal and sizable contingent of Turkish supporters, they recorded two expectedly heavy defeats, 16-1 versus Austria and 22-0 against Germany. Despite the lopsided final scores the Turkish coaching and playing staff were not too downbeat as they looked beyond the results on the scoreboard.
It was awesome experiences for us because of their ice hockey level, said Yeliz Yuksel, a blueliner for Turkey on the two games against opponents vying for promotion to the top division of the World Championships this spring. "We want to improve ourselves and the best way for us to do so is to take part in these kind of special camps in countries that are at a higher level than us."
Her sentiments were echoed by Turkey's national team coach Cagri Karabulut, as efforts are set to be stepped up in developing the women's game.
"We have been organising our domestic women's league since 2006. In that short period, we have already made some success. But for us to reach a higher level our coaches and players want to have good relations with Germany.
"We now look to build up an under-18 women's national team this season while another target is for our senior team to perform well at the World Championships and then at a later stage move on up," said Karabulut, who now hopes his team's newly applied know-how from Bad Tolz will come to good use as they get ready for their Women’s World Championship event.
Next up to benefit of the newly struck Turkish-German friendship on ice is set to be a Turkish under-14 boys team travelling to Bad Tolz to play in the second edition of the Yasin Ehliz Cup in early April.
As the news of teams arriving to Bavaria from Turkey are seeping through, local German clubs have already shown an interest in pencilling in future exhibition games. Another initiative hoping to get off ground this summer is for DEL and German national team players to combine ice practice and holiday in Turkey during training camps similar to what German professional football teams have been doing for years during their winter breaks. Just a few of many prospective projects in the pipeline from a cooperation which just got off the ground but already shows promise to be able to benefit both parties in years to come.
The 2016 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division II Group B starts on Monday in Jaca, Spain. All games will be streamed live