BY SCOTT HUNTER HADDOW
When Patrick Ehelechner was growing up as a boy in Rosenheim, Germany he idolized a Canadian goaltender playing hockey in the German Elite League.
This admiration was the starting point on a young career that has seen Ehelechner develop into one of the hottest goalie prospects to ever come out of the German hockey factory.
A young Ehelechner would go to the rink and watch Karl Friesen, (born in Winnipeg), perform and stymie the competition for his hometown Rosenheim Elite League team. He would then go home and mimic his idol's moves and dream about being one of the best goalies in the world.
"I watched him for one season and he was the best in the league," said Ehelechner. "I wanted to play like him. Freisen was a big reason I became a goalie."
Ehelechner first started playing hockey as a forward at seven, but grew bored of the position and was switched to the goaltender position by his coach because he was a great backwards skater.
Ehelechner started on his first team as the third goalie. As the season progressed, the starting goalie was injured. This resulted in Ehelechner being bumped into the lineup, albeit on the bench as the backup goalie.
On a road game, with his team down 4-1, Ehelechner was thrown into the game. He stood on his head, stopping all the shots he faced to help lead his team to a thrilling 5-4 win.
"That was the beginning for me," said Ehelechner. "A shutout in my first game. Not bad and I was on my way."
Ehelechner describes himself as a quiet warrior.
"I was always a quiet goalie, but I never give up when I am playing," said Ehelechner. "It doesn't matter if we are winning 8-0 or losing 8-0, I am not going to give up."
Twice, despite just recently turning 19, Ehelechner has represented his country in international action.
He played on the Under-18 World Championship team in 2001 in Slovakia. He strapped on the pads again last year in Halifax for the Under-20 World Junior Hockey Championships.
Ehelechner's staunch performances in the pipes caught the eye of the San Jose Sharks. They nabbed the goalie with their fifth round draft pick, 139th overall in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft.
The whole experience left a lasting impression on Ehelechner.
"It's an unbelievable feeling when you're picked," said Ehelechner. "You go to the table, get a jersey and then you're part of an NHL team. It's crazy."
Following the NHL draft, Ehelechner was selected by the Wolves in the first round of the CHL Import Draft. The Wolves grabbed him sixth overall.
Within moments of being selected, Ehelechner received a call from Wolves' head coach and general manager Mike Foligno.
"It was a good feeling. I checked out Sudbury on the internet and heard they had the best fans in the OHL," said Ehelechner. "It's the best thing that has happened to me."
Ehelechner doesn?t beat around the bush about his main goal now that he's in a Wolves jersey.
"My goal for the season is to make the playoffs," said Ehelechner. "It would be good for the fans because they love their hockey and we must give something back to them and that's the playoffs."
The talented netminder has made an immediate impression with the Wolves, leading the team to wins in the first two games of the season and sparkling in both games.
However, the reality of just how good the hockey is in the OHL has certainly hit home now as Ehelechner started all three road games over the past weekend and was pulled twice as the Wolves lost all three games.
Ehelechner is hoping he will get the chance to redeem himself by getting another start Friday night at home against the Barrie Colts as the Wolves try and snap a four-game losing streak.
Despite the roller coaster beginning to his first season playing hockye in North America, Ehelechner hasn't had any major problems adjusting to the North American-style game.
"The ice surface is smaller here, it's a faster game and you get a lot of traffic in front of the net," said Ehelechner. "I also get more shots, but I am a goalie that likes a lot of shots."
Foligno knew exactly what he was getting when he selected Ehelechner.
"I got a chance to meet Patrick and his dad at the NHL draft and got a good feeling of the type of person he was," said Foligno. "He's a very unselfish person who cares about his teammates."
Ehelechner brings a lot to the Wolves.
"He has a classy character and he brings a sense of professionalism," said Foligno. "He's here to win and he plays with self-confidence."
Ehelechner is hoping his self-confidence and obvious ability will land him a spot with the Sharks in the next two seasons.
His dream to play in the NHL is within his grasp and he knows it and that?s why the German import is so happy to be playing major junior hockey here in Sudbury.