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Hockey night in St. Albert attracts German TV crew

The eyes of the world may be on Vancouver during the 2010 Olympics but some German-speaking games followers will also be getting a glimpse of St. Albert this week.

The eyes of the world may be on Vancouver during the 2010 Olympics but some German-speaking games followers will also be getting a glimpse of St. Albert this week.

Two local backyard rinks are part of a feature story scheduled to air in Germany this week. Prior to the opening of the games, a two-person television crew from German broadcaster ZDF did a cross-Canada tour gathering footage and interviews for a series of feature stories aimed at showing winter in Canada.

The series was to include stories about ice fishing, the Olympic torch, sponge hockey (a Winnipeg-area variation played on outdoor rinks with no skates and a sponge puck), an ironman curling bonspiel on the Red River, the VIA Rail trip from Edmonton to Jasper and ice climbing in Maligne Canyon.

“It’s been a great experience so far to see all these things that are not so common in Germany,” said interviewer Natalie Malcolm.

After deciding that the Edmonton area would be a good place to learn about backyard rinks, the crew arranged to spend two days shooting in St. Albert. The connection came about because a Gazette story about backyard rinks published in January caught the attention of a Laval-based website called When the television crew contacted the site’s operator for potential sources, he brokered contact between the St. Albert families and producer Ralph Goldmann.

“We just wanted to have a look because it’s totally unknown in Germany,” Goldmann said of his curiosity about backyard rinks.

“We don’t see these temperatures in Germany so it’s impossible to do a backyard rink and ice hockey isn’t very popular in Germany. We play soccer and we were curious about how it works to have a backyard ice rink at home.”

The crew first visited the home of Ed and Lisa Mueller on Sunday Feb. 7, to tape an hour’s worth of casual hockey on a typical rink with low boards and modest space. The next day took them to Lance Popke’s house in Akinsdale, where a weekly game of pickup shinny was scheduled.

Popke’s rink, about one-third the size of a regulation sheet, is a veritable Taj Mahal of outdoor rinks, even by Canadian standards, and proved to be a jaw-dropper for the German visitors.

“It’s really, really unbelievable,” Malcolm said.

While quizzing Popke on camera, she made sure to extract an explanation that his massive rink is actually in his back “garden.” She was also interested to learn how common backyard rinks are, why people build them and how much it costs to play organized hockey.

“We don’t have that kind of hockey culture. There’s a league and they draw quite a lot of people but it’s more a spectator sport,” Malcolm said. “You don’t find many kids doing it like over here.”

She said she would leave St. Albert with an understanding of what hockey means to Canadians.

“I think it’s really comparable to what soccer is for the Germans. It’s just the number one sport. Little kids grow up with it. It’s amazing all those little kids standing on the skates. It’s just really part of your way of life here,” she said.

For Popke, the video shoot was exciting but also pressure-packed, knowing he was representing 33 million Canadians to millions of overseas viewers.

“I’m definitely nervous to see the actual broadcast to make sure that I represented Canadian hockey and backyard hockey in the best possible light,” he said.

Ed Mueller also enjoyed his role as backyard rink spokesman, after donning his goalie gear before a rolling camera and taking shots from his three boys and their friends.

“It was a lot of fun because they’re so interested in something that seems pretty routine here,” Mueller said.

“The kids are really excited for the Olympics now because they realize it’s not just Vancouver who’s hosting it, it’s more Canada-wide,” said his wife Lisa.

ZDF is one of two public broadcasters in Germany and is one of Europe’s largest, Malcolm said. Its Olympic coverage will be shown throughout Germany as well as Austria and Switzerland. The total population of these countries is about 98 million.

The stories are supposed to be posted to the network’s website at