Saturday September 17th, 2016

ARLINGTON, Va. — During a gorgeous, blue-skied afternoon last week in Washington D.C., three German members of Team Europe—Christian Ehrhoff, Dennis Seidenberg and Thomas Greiss​—rented bicycles and toured the city. They pedaled up the waterfront to Georgetown, then back down to the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial. At one point they stopped at the Museum of Natural History, looking at the fossils and the Hope Diamond and, as Ehrhoff puts it, “the stuffed animals.”

Somewhere among the exhibits, Ehrhoff's fellow blueliner Seidenberg found himself wishing his three children could’ve shared the experience. “They love that movie, Night at the Museum,” he says. “It would’ve been funny.” But they were busy starting school back in Boston, where Seidenberg spent the past seven seasons before the Bruins bought him out this June. “The oldest one gets it,” Seidenberg says. “He keeps asking, ‘What’s going on?’ I don't know. Wait and see, and see what happens. They’re getting to an age when they definitely know what’s going on.”

After tough yet rewarding year, Finland's Olli Maatta looks ahead to World Cup

For Ehrhoff, Seidenberg, and several others entering the 2016 World Cup of Hockey in contractual limbo, what’s going on is this: The best-on-best tournament, at which all eight teams are guaranteed at least three round-robin games beginning Saturday, offers an ideal chance for unrestricted free agents to impress potential employers. “It’s a chance to show myself,” Ehrhoff says.

Upon arriving in Toronto this week with his pan-European, transnational club—dubbed by one Canadian columnist as “a Frankenstein’s monster”—Ehrhoff had breakfast with his agent, Rick Curran. By then, at least six NHL teams had expressed interest in monitoring Ehrhoff’s performance at the World Cup, Curran says, and the morning meeting primed the 34-year-old for what’s ahead.

Last season, Ehrhoff struggled to find footing with Los Angeles after signing a one-year contract; eventually he was waived, assigned to the Kings’ AHL affiliate, and finally traded to Chicago in late February. Interested parties had made one thing clear to Curran: They needed to see more. “I don’t want to put a lot of pressure on you,” Curran said at one point. “I understand,” Ehrhoff replied.

At 35 years old with 758 career NHL games under his belt, Seidenberg, who found Boston’s buyout “a shock” when it happened, according to the Boston Herald, finds himself in an almost identical situation. “There’s always a thought of what’s going on, especially with a family,” he says. “It’s not as much me. If it were just me, it would be easy. But having kids and a wife, they have to enroll at school and activity and all that stuff. It makes it a lot more difficult.”

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If they had to choose an off-season to face such uncertainty, though, this one has offered plenty of chances to impress. Before jetting to Quebec City for Team Europe’s training camp, Seidenberg and Ehrhoff helped Germany clinch a berth in the 2018 Olympics, going 3-0-0 in its final qualification stage. (NHL teams looking at Ehrhoff should perhaps also note that, at one point while in Riga, Latvia, he stopped two pickpockets from robbing a woman. “There was a couple, and they tried to sneak up to her,” he says. “I was looking at the guy, so he called back the woman, and they didn’t rob her. But they were about to.”)

For a nation that failed to qualify for Sochi two years ago, it was a noteworthy achievement. Capitals backup goalie Philipp Grubauer pitched shutouts against Japan and Austria. Forward Tomas Kuhnhackl, a fourth-liner on Pittsburgh’s Cup-winning team, scored the game-winner against Latvia on the final day. “It was absolutely huge,” Ehrhoff says. “There was a lot of pressure on our team to qualify, just to push German hockey ahead. There’s a lot of publicity involved in being in the Olympics and a lot of funding for the federation, so for us it was really big. To make it, it was a big relief.”

“In a country where hockey’s not the number one, you always want to get as much exposure as possible,” Seidenberg says. “Missing out last time at the Olympics was a big hit German hockey took. For us to qualify this time was vital. It’s good to get some more media attention before the next Olympics in two years. That’s all you can ask for.”

Except, of course, a new deal. Dumped into a pool with the United States and Canada, Team Europe should attract plenty of NHL eyes, even only if by association. “You couldn’t ask for a better opportunity to perform in front of the people who are most apt to want to watch you, with the idea of, ‘Are you a good fit for their team?’” Curran says.

The challenge, then, will be not letting the obvious pressure overwhelm, knowing that stout play might beget offers. “I just focus on the moment,” Ehrhoff says. “I don’t worry too much about what’s lying ahead for me. I think it’s going to take care of itself, once we get through this competition and focus entirely on next game for me. That’s how I deal with it right now.”

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