By Taylor Allen – Winnipeg Free Press
Harold Kreis never imagined a local newspaper ad would lead to a more than 40-year pro hockey career overseas.
That, however, is exactly how his story began.
Kreis was a 19-year-old Winnipegger when his grandfather flipped open the paper and read about a coach in Germany seeking Canadian players with German ancestry.
The defenceman had played three years of junior, split between the Kildonan North Stars of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League and Calgary Wranglers of the Western Hockey League, and was hoping to earn a university scholarship in the United States. Although it wasn’t his original plan, he made the choice to head to Europe and attempt to make a name for himself with Mannheim ERC of the Deutsche Eishockey Liga (DEL) — the highest level of hockey in Germany.
It was a wise move, indeed. Kreis would go on to play 19 seasons with Mannheim and win two league titles, culminating with the retirement of his No. 3 jersey shortly after he called it a career in 1997 to begin coaching.
“I find with anything in life, you have to be open to opportunities. There’s no doubt about it. But you’ve got to have some luck, too,” Kreis, now 64, told the Free Press by phone Wednesday.
“For whatever reason, my grandfather saw this ad. For whatever reason, we decided to meet this (coach), and after that, it was an easy choice to say, ‘OK, let’s take the one-year contract, let’s take the two-way flight to Germany and try this out. Why not?’ A two-way flight and a one-year contract turned into a nearly 20-year playing career and a coaching career. So, yeah, there’s a lot of luck involved.”
Kreis was also a member of the German national team at the 1984 (Yugoslavia) and 1988 (Calgary) Winter Olympics, as well as 10 world championships.
“The (‘88 Olympics) were special because I was in my home country. Although, playing for a different nation in your home country, that was a little odd, I have to admit. I don’t want to call myself a traitor, but I did change flags,” he said.
Kreis, who lives in the town of Ladenburg, will continue to represent the black, red, and gold on the international stage as the German Ice Hockey Association recently named him the new head coach of its men’s national team.
His first competition will be next month’s world championship in Latvia and Finland, from May 12-28.
Kreis, currently the head coach of the DEL’s Schwenniger Wild Wings, has paid his dues behind the bench for over two decades. He guided both HC Lugano and the ZSC Lions to Swiss league titles before returning to Germany. He’s also been an assistant coach with Germany at three world championships (2010-2012).
His new position is a full-time, year-round job that will take him away from the club game. The national program is currently holding training camp in Frankfurt.
“Twice I was asked if I would take the head-coach job — once before Marco Sturm (who led Germany to a silver medal at the 2018 Olympics) took it, and once before Toni Söderholm, my predecessor, took the job. But both clubs (I was coaching at the time) didn’t want me to take the job. And I thought, ‘OK, after the second time, that’s it. They’re not going to ask me again,’” said Kreis.
But the job became available again in November when Söderholm took the reins of a team in Switzerland.
“They interviewed multiple coaches and they chose me. And the club decided to let me go this time. I was very fortunate the club let me go and that they thought I was the right guy for the job.”
Mike Schmidt of Palmerston, Ont., played two seasons with Kreis at Mannheimer. The two also coached together in the DEL at Düsseldorfer EG.
“He’s an icon. He’s one of the rare guys that went over and played for one team his whole playing career. That just doesn’t happen at all, which I also think says something about him,” said Schmidt, who played 17 seasons in Germany.
“I think he’ll do just great. He’s a dedicated, thorough coach. He’s a good communicator who gets along well with his players, but he’s got a line that he draws, too, when you need to draw a line.
“And he enjoys it. From my years coaching with him, he enjoys the job. He’s into it and he’s really good at it, too.”