Adler Mannheim are back in the UK this week to take on Cardiff Devils when they meet at Ice Arena Wales, but it’s not the first time they’ve been on these shores.
Long before the pomp and glitz of the Champions Hockey League, the European Hockey League was the main show in town for the top clubs across the continent to come together and aim to be top dogs.
Mannheim were quite the force when they visited Ayrshire in September 1998 to take on Jim Lynch’s Ayr Scottish Eagles after winning the DEL for the second of three consecutive years at the end of the last century.
The Eagles themselves had came off the back of a Grand Slam winning season and deserved the chance to take on Lance Nethery’s men, but this would be a real challenge for them to go toe to toe with some of the continent’s best.
The fans packed into the Centrum, the Eagles’ arena nestled nicely on the border between Prestwick and Ayr and a venue now sadly missed and is only populated by shoppers of Sainsbury’s nowadays.
Game one created a lot of excitement around the town, hoping for a night where they could really show what they were all about in their first foray into continental competition.
Despite both teams hailing from Scotland and Germany, the personnel involved largely comprised of Canadians, with Eagles having an American in Mike Hoffmann and Lithuanian Dino Bauba.
Mannheim had more of a cosmopolitan look about them, including Frenchmen, some homegrown Germans and even an Austrian involved, but they would all be exposed to the red hot passion of a Scottish ice hockey crowd.
Over 2,000 fans crammed into the building to welcome their German opponents and the Eagles had made a great account of themselves in the opening 20 minutes.
Ron Pasco, Mannheim’s left winger, saw his night end early when he was on the receiving end of Shawn Biram’s challenge, which saw him hospitalised with a fracture between the sixth and seventh vertebrae.
The first period ended with Mannheim ahead as Mike Stevens finally found a way past Ayr goalie Vincent Riendeau, but the Eagles certainly weren’t out of the game.
Phillippe Bozon made it 2-0 for the visitors at the half hour mark when Jason Young set him up with the assist and what was already a tricky prospect for Ayr was made that little bit more difficult.
A frantic final four minutes of the second period breaks out as the Eagles suddenly find a spark, with Karry Biette going on a shorthanded breakaway and delivering an unlikely finish.
Suddenly there’s momentum in the home team and the fans were on their feet in celebration again as Mark Woolf scored an opportunistic goal and Ayr are level.
The parity didn’t last long as Mannheim went into the locker room as Stephane Richer scored number three for the Germans, serving as a reminder Ayr weren’t going to get anything the easy way.
The fans may have started to believe 11 minutes from the end though when Trevor Burgess executed the finish from Mark Montanari’s assist. Could the Eagles have a fairytale adventure in their first European Hockey League outing?
These hopes lasted until the last six minutes from the end when the Germans put in three goals in the last six minutes to down the Eagles.
Gord Hynes scored what proved to be the decisive goal on assist from Bozon with Dave Tomlinson adding Mannheim’s fifth to kill their hosts off. Alexander Serikow finished things with a late marker to definitively claim the points.
Ayr’s coach Jim Lynch was pleased despite the result, saying: “In the game where we overpowered them in their zone and around the net, but they are an experienced team and three bad individual errors in the last five minutes cost us three goals.”
The team took so much from the game and in many ways, gave them the belief they could compete.
The Eagles won their next three games, beating Czech Republic side Litvinov in the Centrum then a home and away double against Ak Bars Kazan of Russia.
A consolatory point against Litvinov after losing in overtime set up a final game meeting with Adler Mannheim, with Ayr needing a point.
It wasn’t to be as Mannheim scored in the last minute through Jason Young to seal a 6-5 win and break the hearts of the Scottish fans who hoped to progress to the next round.
Mannheim now return to a very different UK where the Eagles no longer exist and up against a Cardiff side playing their first competitive game in almost 18 months.
At least one man in the Adler ranks can remember his previous visit with positive memories. After all, head coach Pavel Gross captained against Ayr all those years ago.
GAME SHEETS REPRODUCED WITH KIND PERMISSION OF RONNIE NICHOL