The cancellation of the Indoor European Championships was the perfect moment for Jochem Bakker to fulfill a long-cherished wish this winter: playing in the Bundesliga, the mecca of indoor hockey. Last weekend the Rotterdammer made his debut for the German top club and indoor champion Harvestehuder THC.
“I enjoyed it,” Bakker begins his story. ‘I had decided not to have too many expectations and to let everything happen to me. It was fun from the first moment.’
Harvestehuder THC has flirted heavily with Bakker in recent years. ‘For three years the club has been asking me to play for them in the hall, but every time I have said no. I was busy with my work and Oranje Zaal.’
This time it was ‘yes’
During the first half of the season of the Tulp Hoofdklasse Men, the German indoor champion made another attempt at Bakker. This time the Germans had a bite. The KNHB’s decision not to send national teams to the European Championship between the beams paved the way for Bakker for an adventure abroad.
After Bakker’s employer also agreed, the 32-time indoor international, who twice won European Championship bronze and once silver at the World Cup, boarded the train with his girlfriend last Wednesday morning. ‘Someone from the club was waiting for us at the station in Hamburg,’ says Bakker. ‘We were then taken to the club and shown around. They had arranged a nice place for us.’
Bakker had prepared for his Hamburg adventure. During the last weekend of the Tulp Hoofdklasse, a preparatory tournament was played in Germany. He watched the matches via a live stream. “I didn’t go there blank.”
After his arrival in Hamburg, Bakker trained with his new teammates for the first time in the evening and the next day he played a practice match with the team against the Croatian national team. ‘That took some switching. Six days before I was still on the field.’
Getting used to hockey terms
According to Bakker, the game is not much different than he is used to. The language is a different story. ‘If they speak very quietly, I understand. But if they start to rattle, there is no way to fix it. The coach’s discussions are in German, but the experienced guys immediately translate it into English. They are very helpful.’
It also takes getting used to the hockey terms used within the team. ‘For example, one term was Olive. I thought, what does this have to do with hockey? But it turned out to be a name for a pressing system that they have been playing for years.’
At Harvestehuder THC, Bakker stands between the bars with, among others, the Austrian world top players Michael Körper, Xaver Hasun and Fabian Unterkircher. The Hamburg goal is defended by the German indoor international Anton Brinckmann. Players that Bakker knows all too well from international tournaments.
‘It’s very nice to play with them. Körper is really next level. Every ball in the circle is aimed at the target. I’m really amazed at how he does that. Last weekend he scored ten goals in two games.’
Bakker: ‘Unterkircher may be a less natural goalscorer than Körper, but is very good at creating chances. Hasun is one of the best indoor defenders. You just can’t get past that one. And Brinckmann. It’s unbelievable how many balls he stops. That really surprised me.’
Different in Germany
In Germany, the indoor competition is divided into four regions. Harvestehuder THC forms the northern group together with four other Hamburg clubs plus a team from Hannover. Clubs from Berlin play in the eastern group. In the West there are teams such as Rot-Weiss Köln and Uhlenhorst Mülheim and in the South, clubs from Mannheim, among others, play.
Unlike in the Netherlands, the teams in Germany play one home and one away match and therefore not with the clubs from one group at one location. ‘There is also a lot more public coming to watch. In Hannover you noticed that we had the audience against us. The fans were really cheering for the home team. It creates more atmosphere and gives the match something extra.’
Bakker: ‘The matches in Germany cannot be compared to those in the Hoofdklasse Hall. It’s different in everything. The atmosphere, the pace, the level. In the Premier League they play very defensively and on the counter, but in Germany you are not going to last sixty minutes (4×15 minutes instead of 2×20 minutes, ed.). You also have to create something yourself.’
The first weekend of play yielded Harvestehuder THC the full prize. A 7-4 win over DTV Hannover on Saturday was followed a day later by a 16-4 win over Grossflottbeker THGC. Bakker scored his first competition goal for his new club against Hannover.
“It’s nice that I scored my first goal, but in the second game I didn’t score, even though I had good chances,” says Bakker, who plays in midfield. ‘I can do my best in creating opportunities.’
‘I adapted quickly and quickly became valuable. That’s a nice feeling,” says Bakker, who boarded the train back to Hamburg on Thursday morning. ‘My level increased with every minute of playing and I felt that I was already at a reasonable level on Sunday. I didn’t just participate and watch my eyes out.’