How rare are German-born players in the NHL? Only 27 players from Germany (including West and East Germany) have played in the league throughout its history. That includes players such Dany Heatley and Walt Tkaczuk who were raised and trained in North America.
To put that in perspective, the state of Pennsylvania has produced 28 NHL players.
The Goc family has accounted for two of those players from Germany with new Penguins center Marcel Goc being the most accomplished of the clan with 554 games of NHL experience. Older brother Sasha, a defenseman, played briefly with the Devils and Lightning in the early 2000s. Younger brother Nikolai is a defenseman with Adler Mannheim of Germany's DEL.
Acquired at the trade deadline last week from the Florida Panthers, Goc, 30, has carved out a nine-year career in the NHL as a dependable bottom-six center adept at killing penalties and winning faceoffs. In addition to the Penguins and Panthers, Goc has also spent time with the Predators and Sharks, the team which selected him in the first round of the 2001 draft.
The third German-born player to play for the Penguins (defenseman Sven Butenschon and center Randy Gilhen preceded him), Goc talked about his journey to the NHL earlier today:
How tough is it for a German to make the NHL?
"I guess it’s as tough for anybody else. Hockey in Germany is not as popular as we would like. Everything there is about soccer. That’s so huge in Germany and all over Europe. There’s some youth teams and youth programs that are getting better. I think we have a few young Germans here in the [North American] junior leagues. It’s not easy to make the NHL. You’ve got to make the transition to come over here and work your way up. I know some that tried it and were here for two, three or four years and they decided to go back to Germany. At one point, you’ve got to make a decision in your life if you want to keep trying or you want to go back."
Did you grow up a fan of any German players like Uwe Krupp?
"Yeah. That might be the biggest name in Germany. Everybody knows he won the Stanley Cup. He scored the [Cup-clinching goal for the Avalanche in the 1996 final]. He was the coach of the national team and right now, he’s coaching in Cologne in Germany and is pretty successful there. That’s one person everybody looked up at. Marco Sturm, Jochen Hecht, they were … I don’t know how many years before me … those are guys I watched coming over here. My older brother, Sasha, he’s four years older than me, he came over, stayed for four years. Was up and down. Played a few games in the NHL with New Jersey than he decided to go with his family to go back home."
At what point did you realize the NHL could be a realistic possibility?
“I kind of followed my older brother at that point. He made the step to the German league and I was like, ‘All right, I want to do that too.’ Then he was drafted and came over here [to the NHL]. I’m like, ‘I want to do that too.’ I guess maybe after I was drafted. I was like, ‘I’m drafted. It’s official. I might get a shot.’”
Are the Goc brothers the Staal brothers of Germany?
"Ha. I don’t know. There are two or three brother [groups in Germany]. There have been a few brothers playing hockey."
As a first-round pick, did you have to adjust your game at all to be more of a bottom-six forward?
"We had a real good team in San Jose just like we do here in Pittsburgh. You knew if you made a couple of mistakes, you would get skipped for a shift. You have to make sure to be certain if you make that play, it’s going to get done. Don’t turn pucks over and stuff. For me as a young guy, I don’t know if I changed my game. I just tried to play the right way."
So your style of play is pretty similar to when you broke in as a rookie?
"I think so."
Germany did not qualify for this year's Olympics. What was it like watching the tournament instead of playing in it?
"That was of course a big disappointment for us. It was the first time in history that we didn’t qualify. We had to go though a qualifying tournament last February when the [NHL] lockout was over. It was in Germany. Austria ended up winning our group by a point. We would have liked to be there but we’ll shoot for it in four years."
(Photo: Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press)