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Olympic Hockey: Austria Needs Stellar Goaltending to Compete

Michael Clifford breaks down who fans can expect to see on Team Austria’s Olympic hockey roster.

Thomas Vanek
Thomas Vanek

Dec 29, 2013; Saint Paul, MN, USA; New York Islanders forward Thomas Vanek (26) against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center. The Islanders defeated the Wild 5-4. Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

The men’s Olympic hockey team from Austria will be taking part in their first Olympics since the 2002 games in Salt Lake City, Utah. Coincidentally, in those Games, the team from Austria upset the team from Slovakia, which featured NHLers such as Miroslav Satan, Ziggy Palffy, the late Pavol Demitra, and Lubomir Visnovsky among others.

Despite the win, Team Austria would finish 12th in the tournament, and it would be over a decade until they’d return to hockey’s biggest international stage.

When you look at the list of players that were on the Olympic qualification list, there shouldn’t be a lot of recognizable names from the NHL anyway. There’s Thomas Vanek and Michael Grabner of the Islanders and Michael Raffl, the rookie forward from Philadelphia. That’s it. There’s former NHLer Andreas Nodl on the list too, though he’s now in Switzerland playing for Lausanne HC, a team in the top Swiss professional league.

It’s not easy to really project who is going to be on this team past the NHLers and some notable top level players, with the main reason being that they did not have an Olympic orientation camp as many other teams did. That said, here’s who you can look for to be on the Austrian roster.

Goaltending

Former Modo goaltender Bernhard Starkbaum would seem to be the starting goalie for Austria in these Olympics. Starkbaum now finds himself on Brynas IF Gavle of the Swedish Hockey League, the new name for the Swedish Elite League, Sweden’s top professional league. Over Starkbaum’s last 57 games in that league between Modo and Brynas, he’s posted a cool .933 save percentage, fairly impressive on a big stage.

If Austria has any hopes of winning games in the tournament, it’ll rest in net, as is the case with many teams that are qualifiers over the years. It’s not to say they can’t win, you need only to remember this game-winning goal from 2002 when Belarus upset Sweden to knock the Swedes out of the tournament:

But they will need stellar goaltending from Starkbaum, especially seeing as their group contains the Canadians and the Finns.

Defensemen

Team Austria will likely be relying heavily on defensemen from Klagenfurter AC to solidify their back-end in Sochi. As pointed out by Natasha Andjelkovic, a writer for the Pittsburgh Penguins’ SB Nation blog, their top pairing will likely be Thomas Pock and Martin Schumnig, both of Klagenfurter.

Pock is the veteran of the two, having played professional hockey since the late 1990s. Pock came over to the USA to play NCAA hockey at UMass (Amherst) where he was over a point-per-game defenseman over his final two seasons there. He would go on to bounce between the AHL and NHL for several years before finally taking off for Europe in 2009. He would come back to the AHL in the shortened season but is now a member of Klagenfurter. Schumnig, meanwhile, has played high level international hockey as a junior player and is still just 24-years-old. Of the two, Pock would have more offensive upside, which probably makes this pairing a good duo.

After those two, another pairing to possibly look for are the other two Klagen AC defensemen in Johannes Reichel and Florian Iberer. They, like Pock and Schumnig, have one defensive defenseman (Reichel) and one offensive defenseman (Iberer) to try to balance each other out.

One last name to look for that New Jersey Devils fans may (or probably may not) remember is Andre Lakos. The former third round pick of the Devils spent the better part of a decade between the AHL, ECHL and Europe before finally settling in Vienna for the last three years. He’s an experienced defenseman who is one of the few right shots on the back end.

A couple of other names to look for that were part of team Austria at the 2013 World Championships are Sven Klimbacher (Vienna) and Robert Lukas (EHC Black Wings)

Forwards

As mentioned, the NHLers on Austria are up front. Certainly, you will see Thomas Vanek, Michael Grabner and Michael Raffl on the team, with the first two probably on the top line.

After that, it’s likely you are guaranteed to see veteran Gerhard Unterluggauer on the team. While he’s listed as a forward, he was a defenseman for Austria the last time they appeared at the Olympics in 2002.

The center that will be charged with getting the pucks to Vanek and Grabner will probably be Thomas Koch, a career European professional hockey player. He’s averaged better than an assist every two games over his last three seasons playing for Klagenfurter (there’s that name again) and is slotted to be their 1C.

Michael Raffl has a brother named Thomas who plays for Salzburg EC of the Austrian league. Thomas has been close to a point-per-game player over the last three seasons, and could see himself lined up with his brother in Sochi on Austria’s second scoring line.

Besides the aforementioned Nodl, a bit of the goal scoring may fall on Markus Peintner, who is also in the Austrian league. He has 20 goals in his last 87 games for his Austrian side, and will have to contribute, along with Daniel Oberkofler, a young Austrian with a penchant for passing and thus could make a fine trio with the Raffl brothers.

After their top eight or nine players, there really isn’t a whole lot for Austria, either offensively or defensively. They will be leaning heavily on their top line and their goaltending, and all will have to be excellent if they hope to avoid relegation this year.

Thanks to eliteprospects.com and hockeydb.com for their information.

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