For the first time in over a decade, Austria will be represented in the Olympics for the Men’s Hockey tournament. Though they have a long road ahead of them, grouped up with favored Canada, they have pushed through a rough trail already, just to qualify for the 2014 games.
Austria had to face Germany in preliminary play to qualify for the games and interestingly enough, didn’t win. Germany beat Austria 3-2 in overtime, but needed a regulation win to qualify for this year’s Olympics. Just the fact that Austria pushed the game into extra time, gave them an Olympic slot.
“What we accomplished is absolutely unbelievable,” said Austria coach Manny Viveiros. “I am so happy for the team that showed such character.”
That character came through when defenseman Markus Peintner scored the tying goal in the third period to send the game into overtime. But Peinter was quick to give credit to Austria’s netminder Bernhard Starkbaum.
“Germany were better, we have to admit that,” said Peintner. “Starkbaum kept us in the game. But as underdogs, we did not give up and now we are over the moon.”
That excitement is well earned. This year was the first time Germany hasn’t qualified for the Olympics. Aside from 1920, 1924, and 1948 when the games were banned due to the world wars, Germany has been present in every tournament.
According to Franz Feindl, Germany’s Ice Hockey Federation General Secretary, the team’s “hearts are in pain” over the missed opportunity.
“Having to listen to the national anthem after failing to qualify is the worst thing I have experienced,” said Germany’s Felix Petermann.
While the overtime win was a bitter one for Germany, the losing Austria is overjoyed to be in the Olympic spotlight.
While Austria hasn’t had rosters filled with stellar superstars like Sochi opponents Canada, Russsia, or the United States, they have had some NHL representation. Here would be an all-time line that Austria would be proud to see on Olympic ice, in front of the world, at the same time:
Andreas Nodl, Forward
Nodl currently plays for EC Salsburg, but was drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers in 2006. He was sent down to the minor system to gain some experience and found it with the Sioux Falls Stampede of the USHL. There, he lead the team with 59 points in 58 games. He impressed onlookers and was called up to wear Flyers orange in 2008. He would be picked up on waivers by the Carolina Hurricanes in 2011 and continued his NHL experience.
Thomas Vanek, Forward
Vanek has been making headlines with the New York Islanders, and deserves a spot on not only the current Austrian Olympic roster, but the all-time roster as well. While playing for the University of Minnesota, Vanek was named the MVP of the Frozen Four after scoring the game winners in both the semifinal and final rounds. He became the first freshmean to be named Minnesota’s team MVP. While still playing for Minnesota, Vanek made his mark on the Austrian National Team in the IIHF World Championships, where he totaled seven points in six games.
In the American Hockey League, Vanek spent time with the Buffalo Sabres affiliate, the Rochester Americans, and recorded 68 points in 74 games, doing his part to give Rochester the best record in the AHL. In the NHL, Vanek has dressed in full 82-game seasons, been named to an NHL All-Star team, work the captain’s “C” with the Buffalo Sabres, and has joined the New York Islanders’ top line, earning a contract extension of seven years worth $50 million.
Michael Grabner, Forward
Along with Vanek, Grabner is an NHL staple. Playing alongside Austrian brother Vanek, Grabner had a slightly different road through his pro hockey career. Grabner left Austrian hockey leagues to spend some time on North American ice. He would play though the minor system, eventually playing in the CHL Top Prospects game, where he scored two goals and had two assists. He entered the NHL draft after being ranked 23rd overall among young prospects.
The Vancouver Canucks chose him 14th overall citing his strong speed and offensive talents. In 2011, Grabner was dubbed the Fastest Skater in the NHL All-Star SuperSkills Competition, and was a finalist for the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s rookie of the year. He was also named to the NHL’s All-Rookie Team that same year.
Thomas Pock, Defenseman
Pock is currently sitting on the Klagenfurter AC roster, which is his hometown team in the Austrian Hockey League. While Pock was never drafted into the NHL, he did spend some time there. He signed with the New York Rangers for the 2003-2004 season and played in only eight games. While they may not seem like much, he did his job. He had one goal, one assist and four penalty minutes in those games. He was sent back down to the American Hockey League’s Hartford Wolf Pack where he shined. Pock racked up 61 points in 61 games for the Wolf Pack. He would then be called up to the New York Islanders and log another 59 games at the NHL level.
Reinhard Divis, Goaltender
The Red Bull Salsburg EC currently have Divis on their roster and they should be proud they do. In 2000, Divis was selected by the St. Louis Blues making him the first Austrian-born player to play in the NHL. While he only registered two games with the Blues in the 2002-2003 season, they were both wins as Divis allowed only one goal on 34 shots. The following season, Divis would up his NHL minutes and play 13 games for the blues going 4-4-2 with a 2.77 GAA. Divis would also play 18 minutes of playoff time, stopping all shots he faced. Divis also represented Austria in the Olympics in 1998 and 2002, Austria’s last Olympic showing.