He played only one game in the NHL, but Udo Kiessling will go down in history as one of the best players Germany ever produced. Kiessling, a rugged defenseman with talent, set a new record in 1992 in Meribel, France, by appearing in his fifth consecutive Olympic tournament. In a poll of readers of the German Eishockey News, he was chosen the best German defenseman of all time, receiving 4,921 votes to 3,871 for second-place Uwe Krupp, who scored the winning goal in overtime to give the Colorado Avalanche the Stanley Cup in 1996. Center Erich Kuhnhackl was the only other player to poll more votes than Kiessling, who was named player of the year in German hockey in 1977, 1984 and 1983 and also appeared in 13 World Championships between 1976 and 1991.
Lou Nanne, the former Minnesota North Stars rearguard, was coach of the U.S. team at the 1977 World Championship in Vienna and saw Kiessling play when he was just 21. Nanne tried to get him to come to North America in 1979, but he declined. But when Kiessling's Dusseldorf team made an early exit from the playoffs in 1982, Nanne called again. This time Kiessling, who was on a tryout, saw action in one game. The North Stars wanted him to sign a contract, but he wanted to play in the World Championship in Finland and decided to go back home.
Kiessling was born in Crimmitschau, East Germany, in 1955. His father, Gerhard Kiessling, was the East German national team coach and was the first of the family to sneak into the West. He was followed by Udo's sister and mother and then a few hours later by Udo and his grandmother. All had different official excuses for going to the West. The Kiesslings first went to West Berlin but eventually settled in Frankfurt. Gerhard coached the West German national team from 1966 to 1973, including appearances at the 1968 and 1972 Olympics.
He made his first appearance in the Olympics at Innsbruck in 1976 at the age of 20, and with both Canada and Sweden not participating, the West Germans surprisingly defeated the United States 4-1 to win the bronze medal. Ernst Koepf scored the winning goal in that game, and 15 years later, at the 1991 World Championship in Finland, Kiessling played with Koepf's 23-year-old son, Ernst Jr. "I saw Koepf on the back of his jersey and I tried to make myself play like I was 21 again, but I couldn't," Kiessling joked.
At the 1987 World Championship in Vienna, Kiessling was named to the First All-Star team on defense along with Viacheslav Fetisov of the Soviet Union, perhaps the greatest European star in history. Dominik Hasek of Czechoslovakia was the goalie. At the 1988 Olympics in Calgary, Kiessling was a member of the underdog West German team that again beat the U.S. 4-1 to put an outstanding collection of collegiate stars, coached by Dave Peterson, out of medal contention.
Although West German fans viewed him as an ambassador of the sport, some Canadians playing in the Bundesliga called him the dirtiest player in the league and charged that the referees protected him because of his stature.
Kiessling played most of his career with the Cologne and Dusseldorf clubs in Germany. He retired as an active player with the Landshut team at the end of the 1995-96 season, shortly before his 41st birthday.