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A season of extremes for the Heilbronner Falken

What has been that year for? He has aged by decades, says Stefan Rapp. The 50-year-old has only been managing director of Heilbronner Falken since mid-May of the previous year. But none of this could be compared with a normal season. "That was probably the most instructive season that professional sport has been able to experience," he says. An up and down caused by extreme outside influences. The falcon season in review:

Restart: The cancellation of the playoffs of the old season hits the Falken hard, the team felt called to achieve more after the best main round result in years with fourth place. To go far. The breakdown: difficult to accept. "It is as if something is being taken from you," said Yannik Valenti at the time. The hard work of a year: "For nothing." The first personnel decisions will follow in April: The Falken will present their new trainer in Michel Zeiter, and the change in managing director will follow somewhat surprisingly in mid-May: Rapp will take over for Atilla Eren. Gradually, player commitments are added, the majority of the successful team stays together: It wants to accomplish its mission.

Euphoria: Heilbronn starts the preparation early. The anticipation is growing, although it is unclear when the DEL2 season will start. In September there has been a home game in the ice rink on Europaplatz for over 200 days with the test against the GCK Lions. Even with spectators. It is a test run under applicable hygiene conditions. It remains the first and only game with spectators. The start of the season has been postponed from the beginning of October to the beginning of November. The league announced that "no professionally necessary planning and implementation of the game operations can be guaranteed". The preparation of the falcons mutates into an endless event, the results get worse towards the end. And with Davis Koch and Ian Brady, two top performers are absent.

False start: It starts. But without a spectator, completely. In addition, the falcons make a false start and are stuck in the table cellar from the start. "But we know where to start," says Zeiter after two bankruptcies. But there is not much to be done: After game three it is over. Game cancellations are hailing for the Falcons because their opponents have to be quarantined in rows. "Corona has completely changed the daily rhythm," says Rapp. Organizationally, but also athletically.

Crash: More rejections than points quickly accumulate. Heilbronn is completely out of step, stuck down below. Then Corona is here. Break. Quarantine. It only continues shortly before Christmas. The hawks: severed last. A low point. In addition, the team whistles personnel from the last hole. "We are more of a volleyball than ice hockey team," says coach Michel Zeiter, who is changing the game philosophy. Defensive struggle for survival is now the order of the day. But the hoped-for Christmas miracle does not materialize, the hawks no longer win a game in the old year.

Stagnation: First: a glimmer of hope. The Falcons are starting a small series, it is the best phase under the Swiss time. Even against Bietigheim a furious 6-2 victory succeeds. But the upswing lacks sustainability, and doubts about time are growing louder. At the beginning of February it will be over for him. The right decision, as should be shown later. "The team then delivered very different performances," says Rapp. Would you have had to react earlier? "There were so many influences, I don't know if another coach would have done it much better."

Upswing: Haudegen Bill Stewart is tidying up, changing the culture, away from the coffee club he says he has encountered. He gave his team a new structure, reminiscent of the simple, straightforward of sport with pithy sayings. "You can't play the game with a skirt," he says. He demands more toughness, doesn't let his players get away with much. It works: Under him, the Falcons make up space after space in a few weeks and move into the playoffs as eighth. The main round is canceled shortly before the end. However, Stefan Rapp is certain: "Even without the demolition, we would have held our place." The hawks were on the right track.

Low point: But again it hits the hawks hard. "Corona ruined the playoffs for us," the manager sums up. Half the team is affected and is canceled for the upcoming championship round. And that of all things against the Kassel Huskies, who dominated the DEL 2. The falcons are already in a losing position before the start of the series. "We didn't have the opportunity to end an extraordinary, stressful season with the best possible success," says Rapp.

Closing point: And yet the falcons sell well, show character, defy favorites - and say goodbye with all due respect. "Head held high. It is absolutely remarkable what the team has achieved in the playoffs," said Rapp.


Comment: Check it off

Hook on it. The season of the Heilbronner Falken in DEL 2 is over. And you have to say: thank God. At last. Because with all the effort, with all the passion: Under these circumstances it was no pleasure, no carefree experience. Not to mention the sporting value. Especially for the hawks. To be able to start with only half the team in these still impressively achieved playoffs has nothing to do with fair competition. Regardless of who.

But of course: Those were the rules of the game, and the hawks agreed to them. Of course, there was never a choice. The hawks have fulfilled their duty as fair sportsmen, have shown character and resisted fate. For sport. For the league, which has been able to provide a newcomer again this season of all times - provided the champions come from Kassel, Bietigheim or Frankfurt. For this, those responsible, players, and simply everyone involved deserve the highest respect.

The season-out has the advantage of being able to switch from crisis mode to normal mode. Planning the future. To position yourself better than this season, which was never under a good star, not for everyone. The league's ongoing crisis, triggered by a pandemic, has hidden its own problems. The choice of the coach, for example, sometimes the composition of the squad, in any case the combination of both at the beginning of the season. If the season was good for something: Then learn from it and keep the ice hockey going. Otherwise, there is a catch.


Martin Peter

author

In August 2017, Martin Peter ended up at Heilbronner Voice via detours. The native North German lived for a long time on the edge of the Alps and now reports on ice hockey and the sporting events in the Kraichgau.