DEL: Hussey's hot streak has Straubing soaring

Wednesday, 02.08.2012 / 12:15 PM / Across the Pond

By Bill Meltzer - Correspondent

Now in his fourth season in Germany's DEL and first year of a return engagement with the Straubing Tigers, former Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings center Matt Hussey has been one of the hottest offensive players in Europe ever since the calendar flipped to 2012. Despite missing 10 games this season, Hussey leads the German league in goals with 22 and his 40 points rank fourth in overall scoring.

The 32-year-old native of New Haven, Connecticut, has been especially productive over the last month. After racking up 14 points (5 goals, 9 assists) in January, he has kept right on rolling as the regular season reaches the home stretch. Playing on a line with former NHL left winger Karl Stewart (12 goals, 34 points) and Rene Roethke (10 goals, 26 points), Hussey's play has gone a long way toward helping Straubing close in on the first DEL playoff berth in team history.

Matt Hussey's play has gone a long way toward helping Straubing close in on the first DEL playoff berth in team history. (Photo: Getty Images)

Promoted to the DEL in 2006, Straubing has never previously finished higher than 12th in the 14-team league. Last year, only the defensively atrocious Augsburg Panthers kept the Tigers out of the basement. The Straubing club finished with just 67 points (nine points out of a playoff spot) after averaging just 2.79 goals per game.

This season, head coach Dan Ratushny's team sits in fifth place with 10 games remaining in the regular season. With 70 points, the import-laden Tigers have already surpassed their point total from all of last season, while seeing their average offensive output improve to 3.17 goals per game. The team's wave of success has been reflected in its increased attendance.

Attendance at the Pulverturm Ice Stadium has averaged 5,328 in a building that holds just 5,800. The team has rewarded the fans for their support. With 15 wins in their first 20 home games, no other DEL team has been as successful as the Tigers on home ice this season.

Apart from top liners Hussey and Stewart, the club features several other players with past NHL experience, including defenseman Bruno St. Jacques, former Calgary Flames right wing Carsen Germyn and former Los Angeles Kings goaltender Barry Brust. The 41-year-old Ratushny, who played one NHL game with the Vancouver Canucks during a well-traveled playing career that saw stops in places as far-flung as Japan and Scotland, is in the second stop of a fledgling coaching career that started in Switzerland in 2009.

"Hard work, that's what distinguishes us from others, and we need to continue like we have," Ratuschny said to reporter Daniel Pietzker. "Everyone is fighting for his teammates. Our morale is high."

The club is also the feistiest one in the league, leading all teams with 800 penalty minutes. Recently, the club had to press on without the services of its combative goalie, Brust, who has posted a 2.47 goals-against average, .916 save percentage and 109 penalty minutes (resulting from a couple of fights, a high-sticking incident and three game misconducts) in 33 starts. Backup Jan Guryca filled in adequately with a 2.88 GAA and .905 save percentage in 11 outings.

Arguably, the reacquisition of Hussey in mid-October has been the biggest piece of the puzzle for the Tigers this season. During his DEL career, he has averaged .83 points per game, including a 20-goal campaign for ERC Ingolstadt in 2009-10 and a 43-point season during 2008-09. Despite the games he's missed this season, Hussey is likely to set a new career high in points.

Originally drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the ninth round (No. 254) of the 1998 Entry Draft, University of Wisconsin graduate Hussey is a product of Wayzata High School and the Avon Old Farms prep school hockey program. Although he only appeared in 16 NHL games for Pittsburgh over parts of two seasons (scoring 2 goals with 2 assists), Hussey soon established himself as a fine offensive player at the American Hockey League Level. In 2005-06, he led the Wilkes Barre/Scranton Penguins in scoring with 51 points despite dressing in only 65 of the team's 80 games.

Hussey signed with the Detroit Red Wings as a free agent in the summer of 2006. In the season that followed, he played in five games at the NHL level and 75 for the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins. Another AHL season followed in 2007-08, but Hussey saw reduced ice time with the Lake Erie Monsters and left the team midway through the season to play in Finland's SM-liiga for Jokerit Helsinki, where he was largely a non-factor in 11 games.

Needing a fresh start on a team where he could get plenty of ice time, Hussey went to Germany and signed a one-year contract with Straubing for the 2008-09 season. At the time, Straubing was still one of the DEL's weaker teams, adhering to a miniscule budget that did not enable the club to recruit much talent to put around Hussey. The club finished in last place, despite the strong season posted by its top center.

Hussey left Straubing to join Ingolstadt. He remained productive and enjoyed playing on a playoff-caliber team. Ingolstadt reached the semifinals in Hussey's first year before going out in the first round of the postseason last year. His contract remained in limbo at the start of the 2011-12 campaign, and he missed the first month of the regular season.

Finally, on Oct. 17, Hussey officially transferred back to Straubing. He has not looked back ever since. The next big test for him will be to carry over his regular season success to the playoffs. In 13 DEL playoff games to date, Hussey has produced just 1 goal and 4 points. If the Tigers are to make any noise in the postseason, they will need Hussey to continue his dominance.