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Power Play on Ice

Physical education teachers-in-training learn ice hockey and get a unique opportunity to shoot and score

Freiburg, Feb 15, 2019

Power Play on Ice

Photo: Patrick Seeger

University students rarely get a chance to put on skates, pick up a hockey stick, and slap a puck around. So when Jakob Rütschle – a teaching candidate and a semi-professional ice hockey player – offered them a course at the Institute of Sports Science and Physical Education (PE) the students went for it. We visit a practice session.

Strategy on ice: Jakob Rütschle (center) talks about the game with course participants. Photo: Patrick Seeger

“Power play,” say players on the bench, speaking hockey slang. Out on the ice the action is sharp. Half the practice session is as good as over. A few minutes later, a new group of players comes onto the ice, in what is called a “line change.” Ice hockey is the fastest team sport there is. Conditioning is key. “Two-on-one is a good way to learn to attack,” explains Jakob Rütschle at the end of a session on playing against a short-handed opponent. We are in the Franz-Siegel-Halle, the ice rink on Ensisheimer Straße. It's Friday afternoon. Everyone in Freiburg seems to want ice time this winter, but between two public skating sessions, 23 teachers-in-training hit the rink in full gear.

Jakob Rütschle is one of them, but there’s more there than meets the eye. He will complete his PE training at the University of Freiburg in May 2019. He already has a degree in English. Rütschle knew early on that he wanted to teach. But the 27-year-old is also a semi-professional ice hockey player. At the age of thirteen, the Ludwigshafen native began to play for Adler Mannheim. That's actually quite late if you want to make it as an ice hockey player. But Rütschle says he always played in-line hockey. When he came to the Breisgau region to study, he joined the local team, EHC Freiburg. In the meantime, he’s advanced to play for them in the regional league. And as a future teacher, he’s getting plenty of practice in running a class.

One-on-one play on ice requires a great deal of agility and coordination.
Photo: Patrick Seeger

Soaked in sweat, but in good spirits

“Practical Training for Students of Physical Education at the Freiburg Ice Rink. In-line and Ice Hockey,” is the rather dry title of the course that seems to have all the participants happily blazing around on their blades. The rush to register was so great that an exception was made on participant limits so more students could join in. Freiburg is the first German university to offer ice hockey as a regular course for PE teachers-in-training. Ice hockey is an expensive sport. A sponsor provided the equipment. EHC Freiburg is providing the skates. Then there are the energy costs for the rink. That’s why only four out of fourteen sessions are actually held on the ice. Everything the students are doing on the rink today, they’ve already practiced on in-line skates.

So what qualifies ice hockey as a university subject? Nora Saile, Marius Schütze, Lea Held, and Moritz Lambrecht all agreed it’s because there’s hardly a chance to do this sport and courses like this are rare. The four stood, soaked in sweat, and happy, in front of the team’s locker room. All are either halfway through or at the end of their studies, and none of them have played ice hockey before. Lea Held is from Villingen-Schwennigen. Her hometown team and Freiburg played out a legendary regional rivalry when both were in the same league. Naturally, it made an impression on her. Jakob Rütschle is very satisfied as well. “You notice that you're dealing with PE students. They’re not just really agile and well-coordinated. They also understand the basics of playing,” he says. In addition to the technical skills, he adds, this is one of the objectives of the course.

Goal! The team in the yellow jerseys has every reason to be pleased. Photo: Patrick Seeger

Character and passion

The initiative for the program started with Felix Winterhalder, who’s on the ice and is responsible for sports education and the theory and practice of sport at the institute. He sees the program as a win-win situation. The university can offer training sessions in a professional setting and Jakob Rütschle is gaining teaching experience.

Back on the ice, the players may have “warrior” printed on their jerseys, but on the boards it's all about team spirit. The words “character,” “passion,” and “team” can be read alongside the advertisements. The students are doing laps in the direction of the north curve – taking one leg over and placing it in front of the other – practicing their crossovers to make sure they don't trip. Then they do serpentines across the rink. The goalie – a teammate of Rütschle – has now taken to the ice as well. They’re getting ready to play. Some pucks go missing while others drift across the ice. “Sorry, that was mine, wasn’t it?” is heard around the rink. Then someone shoots and scores! Rütschle blows the whistle, two players give each other a bear hug, and the goalie is down. After seeing that display of athleticism, you can’t tell that it’s only the second time the students have been on the ice with their hockey sticks.


Annette Hoffmann