NUREMBERG, Germany – There are different reasons why names of players are changed here and there. For example in Northern Europe the Vallins who want to be Wallins or vice versa. Or all the Alexeis who become Alexey, Aleksei or Aleksey, depending on the guy who transcribes from the Cyrillic alphabet to the Latin one. However, there’s more behind the guy who leads in scoring at the Nurnberg Ice Tigers, the new leader of Germany’s top league DEL.
The guy mentioned, it’s Ahren Spylo, a Canadian-German double citizen, who is known everywhere as Ahren Nittel apart from his new country, his mother’s homeland Germany.
Spylo grew up as Ahren Nittel in Ontario, Canada, where he was also playing junior hockey. He was drafted by the New Jersey Devils in the third round in 2002 and began to play pro hockey with their farm team, the Albany River Rats, one year later. In 137 AHL games, he totalled 43 goals and 25 assists during three seasons. During the NHL lock-out in 2004-2005, Spylo decided to apply for the German passport and was thinking about playing in Europe, but finally stayed with Albany.
Indeed, he made the step to the other side of the Atlantic in 2006 to try his luck with the HC Davos of the Swiss National League A. After being not too successful in the first games, he didn’t get much ice time and was even on loan spell at the competitors SCL Tigers from Langnau and the Rapperswil-Jona Lakers. In 24 NLA games, he scored 4 goals and 5 assists – not enough in a league with just four import players per team, who are often gauged against their scoring points. “It was my first time in Europe and it was difficult. I didn’t really get adjusted to the new players and couldn’t show my offensive ability,” he told IIHF.com.
Therefore, the forward left Switzerland in January 2007 to the Hamburg Freezers, to Germany. He found himself in a league with eleven imports allowed per team, dominated by North Americans, and where he did not count as an import player anymore thanks to his German passport. The price he had to pay was his surname he had been using for 23 years.
There was much talking about his name before it was printed on his first Freezers jersey. There were even cock-and-bull stories in newspapers. One of them believe to have discovered that Spylo’s father fled from Eastern Germany with Spylo as a pseudonym and hence this name had to be used for the German passport. It is not as complicated. “We are a special family,” said Spylo but there’s no dilly story behind, his parents are still together in love, just used both names for their kids. Also for his brother, they decided to use the name Nittel of their mother first, who emigrated from the Berlin region to Canada during her childhood. Spylo, the name of the Canadian father, was used second, so Nittel-Spylo is officially printed on the Canadian passport. Seeing their kids playing as hockey pros with another name on the jersey must be hard for a Canadian father. “My father liked to see us with his surname on the jersey and applied for the German passport with the name Spylo,” clarified Ahren, the younger of the Spylo brothers in Germany’s hockey. Because of his German passport, there was no way to avoid the change of name and the career was relaunched as Spylo instead of Nittel to turn to good account.
It must also have been a kind of consistency as his brother Adam had already played in Germany in 2004-2005 as Adam Spylo. He appeared in 19 DEL games with Freiburg and Nuremberg but could not make the league. He played in the UHL, Italy and for the German second-tier team Kaufbeuren later on. Last week, Adam Spylo signed with his old club Wolfe Freiburg, which plays in the third-tier Oberliga meanwhile. For the younger of the Spylo brothers, Ahren, the change of name was weird at the beginning: “I was never called Spylo before, so it was strange. Also many players in the DEL had known me as Nittel.” At least in Hamburg, with his new name, he had more luck and felt more comfortable in a team coached and filled with Canadians and Americans. He finished last season there with 20 games (7 goals, 3 assists) and signed with the Nurnberg Ice Tigers for the 2007-2008 season.
“It was another challenge, I had to get adjusted, to learn different things and had to fit in as one of few new guys,” said Spylo. “But it went well; they brought me in as the missing piece. I get more the opportunity here than in Hamburg or Davos and can play special teams.” The result was a roster spot for the DEL All-Star Game, which will take place on February 2 in Dresden, and a personal scoring record. In 44 games, Spylo scored 34 goals and 18 assists, and has also an impressive +32 statistic. With the Nuremberg-based team, he can be fully satisfied as they grabbed the first position from the Eisbaren Berlin on Sunday. Has the surprising team from Bavaria even the potential to win the first championship in the club history? In 2007, as in 1999, the Ice Tigers lost the final series against the Adler Mannheim after a third place in the regular season.
“We know that we are not the best-skilled team but we work as hard as we can and respect the other teams,” Spylo explains the reason for the success. Compared to the others teams, the Ice Tigers do not regularly lose against the bottom teams as Duisburg, Straubing or Wolfsburg, who have a huge gap in points to the rest of the league but do sometimes surprise. Berlin did it yesterday against last-ranked Duisburg and lost the first place to the Ice Tigers. “If we can play together as now, we can beat any team in the league and can have great playoffs,” said the 24-year-old.
First and foremost, Spylo wants to concentrate on winning the championship. “Whatever happens then is a bonus,” said the winger, indicating the recent news about the Champions Hockey League, which includes the German champion. “We’re looking for it. It would be great for us, the owner, the city and the fans!”Notebook:
- The Nurnberg Ice Tigers and the Eisbaren Berlin are fighting for the first place in front of the Frankfurt Lions and Kolner Haie. However, the fifth Adler Mannheim is the team of the moment. After the title-holder has signed Dave King as its new head coach, the Eagles are up and running again with six consecutive wins.
- The Hamburg Freezers are hit by the worst crisis in their young history. The franchise, which was relocated from Munich to Hamburg in 2002, is suffering on the tenth place. The manager Boris Capla became the scapegoat of the fans and also the head coach Bill Stewart is facing a hard time. The Freezers aimed a top four position and need to improve in order to qualify for the playoffs at least. The news that their number one keeper Jean-Marc Pelletier is out for six weeks with a knee injury is very mistimed for the management, who found Philippe Sauvé of the Iowa Stars (AHL) as a replacement.
- Hockey coaches have a hard time as cannon fodder at the Duisburg Fuchse. Player legend Dieter Hegen had to go, manager Franz Fritzmeier served just for a short time as a coach and now Peter Draisaitl was released despite of eight wins in 20 games – a high number compared to the three wins in the other 22 games so far. According to German media, Draisaitl did not accept ice time orders from the owner Ralf Pape. The latter was quoted: “I pay the DJ, so it’s me who dictates what music is played!” Consequently, a fourth coach has to continue with the Foxes: Karel Lang.
- It will be the first time for decades that the Eastern German city Dresden gets top level ice hockey with the DEL All-Star Game. Their new Freiberger Arena was opened last year but the Dresdner Eislowen were relegated into third-tier Oberliga last spring. Now they lead the league and are looking for the return to the 2. Bundesliga. The forerunner Einheit Dresden played once in the highest league of the German Democratic Republic before the government axed funds and reduced professional ice hockey in Eastern Germany to two clubs in 1970.