Heinz Ehlers decided to leave Langnau at the end of the current season. In our opinion, it’s a great loss for Swiss hockey because, in our opinion, Heinz Ehlers is a very underrated coach. Perhaps overall, the most underrated coach around.
Way too often he’s described as a pure defensive-minded man. Or rather, it’s true that the Danish coach thinks a lot about the defensive side of the game and oftentimes his teams are rock solid. Yet, we think it’s abusive to call him a purely defensive-minded man considering that his teams are also able to play a catchy hockey in the offensive zone.
Heinz spent a lot of time in Switzerland…
HEINZ AS A PLAYER
Heinz Ehlers was a forward who spent the first part of his career as a player – late 80s, early 90s – in Sweden, in the SHL, wearing the jerseys of Leksands IF, AIK and Rögle. Then, after a short spell in Denmark with AaB, he played the second part of the 1993-94 season in Switzerland and more precisely in Bienne.
That year, the Seeländer finished the NLA regular season at the bottom of the table but then saved their skin at the expense of Olten. With Bienne, Heinz Ehlers collected overall 28 appearances tallying 29 points.
That adventure in Switzerland was somehow the watershed of his career as a player. After the experience in Bienne in fact, Heinz spent the second part of his career in Austria (Klagenfurter AC), Germany (Augsburger Panther and Berlin Capitals) and Denmark (Aalborg IK Panthers and AaB Ishockey). Right in his homeland, he put an end to his playing career at the end of the 2003-04 season.
HEINZ AS A COACH
He didn’t sit for long though… starting from the 2005-06 season in fact, Heinz Ehlers started his coaching career. Firstly, in Denmark at the head of AaB Ishockey where he’d put his playing career to an end and where he spent two seasons. And then, immediately in Switzerland…
Starting from the 2007-08 season in fact, he was appointed the new coach of Bienne in the NLB. He coached the Seeländer for the first time on September 14th, 2007, and that day his team earned a 4-3 road win against Langenthal thanks to the goals scored by Emanuel Peter (2), Alexandre Tremblay and Alain Miéville. That was only the first one of many wins that season… right, because Bienne finished the regular season at the top of the table, then won the NLB title and finally earned the promotion to the NLA thanks to the win in the League Qualification series against Basel!
The following season wasn’t as successful as the first one though. Heinz Ehlers made his NLA debut as a coach on September 5th, 2008, when his team suffered a 5-2 road defeat against Bern. The Seeländer then, finished the regular season at the bottom of the table… lost also the playout final against Ambrì-Piotta and after two games of the League Qualification against Lausanne (on April 2nd, 2009). Heinz Ehlers was dismissed when his team was 2-0 down in the series. Bienne was able to save its skin that season with Kevin Schläpfer on the bench… and Heinz took a step back. Or rather, he came back to coach in the NLB the following season.
More precisely, he replaced Kevin Ryan as head coach of Langenthal on mid-November 2009 and made his debut with his new team on November 17th, when he suffered a 6-2 home defeat against Visp.
That wasn’t a big deal though, because the experience in Langenthal was a successful one. Heinz Ehlers spent 4 seasons in Langenthal and led the club to win the 2012 NLB title. At the end of that season, his team then lost the League Qualification series against Ambrì-Piotta.
Heinz remained in Langenther one more season after that, before he had the big chance to coach in the NLA again. Lausanne in fact, duly promoted, decided to appoint him the new head coach for the 2013-14 season.
Heinz Ehlers made his debut with the Lions Vaudois on September 13th, 2013. On that occasion, his team suffered a 3-2 road defeat against Fribourg Gottéron… but that was only the beginning of a historical season, because Lausanne was able to make the playoffs for the first time in history!
Heinz remained three seasons in Lausanne, until the end of 2015-16. He led the Lions Vaudois to the playoffs the first two years while the team saved itself at the ranking round stage the third and last season.
In this case as well, however, he didn’t sit for long. On early October 2016 in fact, Heinz Ehlers replaced Scott Beattie in Langnau… and made his debut at the head of the Tigers on October 4th, when they suffered a 3-0 defeat against Ambrì-Piotta at the Ilfishalle.
Don’t be fooled by that debut though. Because Heinz Ehlers did a terrific job in Langnau, where – among other things – he was able to qualify the team to the playoffs for the first time after 8 years!
Wherever he was, he did a good job. At times, we wonder why this coach – with all due respect to the teams that hired him – never really had a chance to coach a big team.
As said, we think that Heinz Ehlers is not only a purely defensive-minded coach as he is often described. Even though obviously, considering that he always coached teams with the target to survive/make playoffs, it was impossible to expect miracles. He always clearly coached teams that, on paper, had roster that were inferior to those of most of the other teams of the league. Therefore, this fact, forced him to make his team play mostly a solid hockey in order to “save the skin”. Let’s say that he’s been always able to make a virtue of necessity and that he did it great.
But if we look at the version 2018-19 of Langnau… it’s clear that Heinz is not solely a defensive-minded coach.
One thing is sure. We’ll miss him. We would have liked to see him at the head of an ambitious team. Maybe things would turn out badly. But we’ll just never find out. We personally think that we could appreciate, over the last decade, one of the most underrated coaches around. If not the most underrated one.
All the best for your future, Heinz!