It took a dozen years, but Austria was able to seal an Olympic win. Michael Grabner was the hero in the Austrian locker room Sunday night as his two goals helped put his team over Norway 3-1.
Grabner ended the game with three points as he added an assist on Austria’s other goal of the day. On the defensive end of the ice, Mathias Lange stood tall on 34 of Norway’s 35 shots to give his team a chance to prevent going 0-3 in the tournament. Instead, Austria is 1-2 in Group B play.
Austria hasn’t been in the Olympic games since 2002, yet they have six players from that Salt Lake City roster on the current team. Grabner isn’t one of them. Norway, on the other hand, hasn’t won an Olympic tilt since 1994.
Austria’s first goal of the game came off Michael Raffl’s stick in the first period. Thomas Pock was able to find Grabner with less than five minutes less in the first period to give Austria another tally.
Just under two and a half minutes later, Raffl was able to stride to the net, untouched, to give Austria another goal with a man advantage. It would be his fist goal in Sochi and hopefully not his last.
The game had excitement enough as both teams took the game to a physical level. Austria’s Andreas Nodl sent Norway’s Jonas Holos into the glass in the second period and the result of the collision was a plexiglass replacement. The game continued on as workers replaced the glass.
Grabner, meanwhile, has the most to be excited about. In his first three Olympic games, he has five goals. That’s impressive, but it’s more impressive to think that he had a hat-trick in his first Olympic game. His performance against Norway was capped off by a breakaway goal late in the game.
Grabner is performing better in the Olympics than he is with his NHL team, the New York Islanders. Being the reliable star under an international scope while wearing his home colors has brought out the best in Grabner.
“I should have probably 20, but I didn’t score as many goals over there as I want yet,” he said. Grabner has only 9 goals in 56 games with the Islanders.
“It’s nice to get some here, and maybe get the confidence when I go back.” Grabner has definitely been the go-to guy for Austria and has worked hard in a leadership role. He will be looked at differently with the Islanders and hopefully that will help push his career to a higher level.
Alongside Grabner, Raffl has been working well with his new teammates in the Olympics. “I think there’s a lot of guys here with speed and skill,” said Grabner. “Michael Raffl, I’ve been playing with him all tournament, and he’s doing a great job of finding me. He’s a great playmaker.”
While Raffl and Grabner are finding chemistry in Sochi, they both need to keep that momentum when they go back to their NHL homes.
The win over Norway puts Austria against Slovenia in the qualification round on Tuesday.
“It might give us somebody on our own level again, rather than the Russians or the Swedes or whoever is not going to get that second spot,” said Pock. “We knew that going into the game. There’s a few teams here that are on our level.”
Austria’s losses to both Canada and Finland are evidence of those two teams not being on the same level as Austria. But the win sets Austria’s place as not always a pushover, and an equal opponent to ‘a few teams.’