Fierce competition on and off the ice

Ice hockey vs. Tierpark: A fact-check

The match enters overtime. Whoever scores the next goal wins the game. The slightest mistake could spell disaster for either team. Marcel Noebel, seemingly unaffected by the pressure, makes a perfect pass to Micki DuPont, who is standing at the left face-off spot. Without a moment’s hesitation, the Canadian defenseman sinks the black rubber puck into the opponent’s net. “Goooooooooal!”

Bring on the bears!

The ice hockey season is certainly going well for Eisbären Berlin. Named after the German word for “polar bears”, our favourite team is currently top of the German Ice Hockey League (DEL). Perhaps this success is partly thanks to their new lucky mascot. In late September, the record-holding club was named the official sponsor of Tierpark Berlin’s female polar bear Tonja – who became a new mum last Thursday. And just six days after the birth of Tonja’s cub, on the day of a home game against the Krefeld Pinguine, a special Tierpark day has been organised at Berlin’s ice hockey arena. So we thought we’d take this opportunity to carry out a quick comparison between Tierpark Berlin and the fast-paced sport of ice hockey.

Eisbären Berlin and Tierpark Berlin – two Berlin originals!

Tierpark Berlin and Eisbären Berlin have more in common than you might think. With seven German Championships under their belts, the Eisbären are record-holders. As coincidence would have it, seven polar bears have reached adulthood at Tierpark Berlin. While this may not be a record, it still represents a huge contribution to species conservation.

Eisbären Berlin was founded on 3 September 1954 as SC Dynamo Berlin, making it just ten months older than Tierpark Berlin, which opened its gates for the first time on 2 July 1955. They are therefore both Berlin originals – venerable, and perennial favourites. Tierpark Berlin is Europe’s largest animal park, while ice hockey club Eisbären Berlin plays in the second largest multipurpose arena in Germany. But while the arena can seat 14,200 hockey fans, Tierpark Berlin is home to “only” 9,000 animals. Tierpark visitor numbers, however, have been known to exceed 10,000 during the summer months.

The rules of ice hockey
Five skaters and one goaltender per team are on the ice at any point during an ice hockey match. The goaltender can also be replaced by a skater. A typical ice hockey team is made up of 20 or more players who are swapped out frequently throughout the game. Ice hockey is a very intensive sport. Players are usually on the ice for no longer than one minute at a time before being substituted. These substitutions are called “line changes”. A typical “line” is a group of five skaters who are generally sent on or off the rink together. Total length of play is 60 minutes, split into three 20-minute periods. There is a 15-minute intermission after each period. The clock is stopped whenever play is interrupted for an infraction of the rules. Player substitutions usually also take place during these stoppages. All of this means a game can last significantly longer than 90 minutes. The teams also swap ends after each period. If there is a draw after 60 minutes, the match is decided in overtime, a penalty shootout, or a combination of the two.
Did you know?
- Ice hockey players are allowed to kick the puck during play, but any goals scored by kicking are disallowed.
- Ice hockey sticks must not be raised above shoulder height. Any player that commits this offence receives a two to five-minute time penalty. Players can also be suspended for an entire game for excessively rough play, e.g. a violent foul.

Just enough time to take in a game

An ice hockey game is officially 60 minutes long, but some last up to 120 minutes. A polar bear cub needs to drink its mother’s milk every two hours. This means the little one would have just enough time to catch a full match before having to return to mum for a feed. Incidentally, the average length of time Tierpark fans spend at their favourite venue is four hours – double that of spectators at the ice hockey arena.

Birthing an entire team

If naked mole rats played ice hockey, they wouldn’t have to worry about scouting out young talent. In July, the Tierpark’s naked mole rat queen gave birth to 26 babies. The current Eisbären Berlin squad has 27 players, so our mole rat birthed almost an entire team! Not bad! But weighing in at only 35 grams, a naked mole rat would struggle as a professional ice hockey player. Together, the entire Eisbären Berlin team weighs a hefty 2,322 kilos. Even our 2,100-kilo Indian rhinoceros can barely equal that mighty combined force. 

Faster than a speeding cheetah

It’s not just in team size that similarities can be drawn between ice hockey and the animal kingdom – the Tierpark also gives the sport a run for its money when it comes to speed. On their skates, ice hockey players can reach speeds of up to 50 km/hour – a pace that is easily matched by a number of our animals. A cheetah, for instance, can run at up to 115 km/hour – though admittedly a slippery ice rink might hinder its performance. When it comes to the speed of the puck, however, the Tierpark animals don’t stand a chance: the fastest puck shot by the Eisbären in the last three years reached an incredible 141 km/hour!

And while we’re on the subject of pucks: the hard rubber disc is exactly one inch thick and three inches in diameter. While Egyptian tortoises have a similar shape, at four inches (10 cm) long they are slightly larger – and certainly much slower! Even their bigger and faster relative, the Seychelles giant tortoise, can only manage 0.5 km/h. While both puck and players can cross the 60-metre ice rink in a matter of seconds, a tortoise would need around seven minutes to cover the same distance.

A cub’s weight in gear

The puck is not the only piece of equipment used by ice hockey players; they also need helmets, protective clothing, skates, and hockey sticks. With all the gear, an ice hockey player weighs around 100 kg – roughly the same as an adult black bear. At 200 to 250 kg, a polar bear weighs more than double that. An ice hockey player’s equipment alone weighs five to eight kilos, which is roughly the same as a two to three-month old polar bear cub.

A true polar bear
Record-holding Eisbären player Sven “Felle” Felski is clearly an Eisbär (polar bear) through and through. Not only does his nickname mean “fur”, Sven’s birthday falls on 18 November – that’s the month most polar bears come into the world. His birthday thus slots in nicely between those of the club’s sponsored polar bear Tonja (14 November) and her boyfriend Wolodja (27 November).

A tough exterior

An ice hockey player’s protective clothing is two to seven centimetres thick and provides excellent protection from injury. The bony plates of the American alligator are only two centimetres thick, and the shell of a Seychelles giant tortoise is just one centimetre. But these coats of armour have a similar sensitivity to that of a finger nail – through them, the animals can feel warmth, cold, and pressure. The reptiles would therefore definitely come off worse in an ice hockey body check.

Now onto the most important piece of equipment: the ice hockey stick. The stick is usually 36.5 inches long – that’s just under 93 centimetres. Although the horns of an Arabian oryx are significantly shorter at only 65 to 85 cm, they last the antelope its entire life, while Eisbären players get through as many as 20 sticks in a season.

Size isn’t everything!

An ice hockey goal is 1.22 m high and 1.83 m wide. At a height of 1.4 m and a length of 1.6 m, a Malayan sun bear would make the perfect goalie. A male African elephant, on the other hand, could easily fit an ice hockey goal between his legs. Such an imposing presence in goal would surely stop any opponents from daring to shoot! But while Eisbären goalie Petri Vehanen may not have the physical stature of a bear or an elephant, he makes up for that with lightning-speed reactions.

As ice hockey is one of the fastest team sports around, time is also a crucial factor. Ideally, players are only on the ice for 30 to 40 seconds at a time. For many animals, copulation is performed in similarly short bursts of energy. New World porcupines, for example, take an efficient rather than romantic approach to reproduction. But unlike the porcupine, Eisbären players are soon ready for another round – over the course of a game, they will generally spend between five and 27 minutes on the rink.

Skipping practice

Eisbären players train for roughly 20 hours per week, and that’s about the amount of time giraffes spend sleeping. But although that doesn’t sound like much of a weekly sleep quota, the animals do very well on it. Able to reach speeds of 50 km/hour at a gallop, giraffes could overtake Eisbären players. The entire ice hockey season lasts eight to ten months. The active season for prairie dogs is also eight months – they spend the peak of the German ice hockey season, from November to March, in hibernation.

A tooth for a tooth

On average, the Eisbären Berlin team loses three teeth per season. The teeth of New World and Old World porcupines continue to grow throughout the animals’ life. But if they ever lose one, they will have a gappy smile forever. Elephants are fortunate in that their teeth grow back. But anteater species like the short-beaked echidna and the tamandua have the easiest time when it comes to dental care – they don’t even have any teeth to worry about!

Bananas are the perfect snack for Eisbären Berlin players. An ice hockey club consumes up to 500 kg of bananas per season. But this is a mere fraction of the 8,182 kg of bananas devoured by Tierpark inhabitants last year. Surprisingly, however, the main consumers of this potassium-rich fruit are not the monkeys, but the fruit bats that live in the Alfred Brehm building. The high sugar content of bananas is not good for monkeys. And a healthy balanced diet is just as important for our Tierpark animals as it is for ice hockey players.

Shall we call it a draw?

It’s clear that many of the Tierpark animals would make a good addition to Berlin’s record-holding ice hockey team. Even though the Eisbären don’t currently need any reinforcements, Tierpark Berlin is ready on the sidelines. We can picture the scene already: our elephant bull Tembo stands in goal and passes to Florian Busch, who swipes the puck over at the sprinting cheetah. As it approaches goal, the cheetah passes to Micki Dupont, who casually flicks the puck into the net. Victory!

So what’s the final score of our fact-check? Definitely a draw. A top-flight ice hockey team vs. an incredible animal park – together they make for a dream team and a win-win partnership for the German capital.

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