Saturday, February 1, 2014

2014 Olympic Hockey Preview - Austria

The Austria National Hockey Team is currently ranked 15th in the IIHF World Rankings. Based on their status outside the top nine ranked countries, Austria was obligated to participate in the Olympic Qualification process, a series of tournaments that date back to September of 2012. Austria entered the qualification process in the third and final round of qualification, being placed in Group D along with the Netherlands (ranked 24th), Italy (18th) and hosts Germany, who were the highest ranked team in the entire qualification process at 10th, one place out of an automatic spot in the Olympics thanks to their poor showing at the 2012 World Championships, where they finished 12th, dropping from 7th to 10th in the 2012 IIHF World Ranking and forcing them into the qualification process.

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In Group D, Austria defeated Italy 3-2 in their opening game and took the top spot in the group with a 6-1 romp over the Netherlands while Germany lost to Italy 2-1 in overtime. In the deciding final game of the group, Austria clinched their place in Sochi by scoring a tying goal in regulation with 7:38 remaining to make the score 3-3. By reaching overtime, Austria now had 7 points in the standings, clear of Germany's 5. While Germany did win the game in overtime, the additional point was not enough to equal the underdog Austrians, who knocked the rival Germans out of the Olympics for the first time in 65 years.

Austria vs Germany 2013 photo AustriavsGermany2013.jpg

The Austrians have participated in the Olympics in ice hockey 12 times since 1928, with their best result being an 7th place in 1936 and a 8th place in 1948 and again in 1976. 2014 will be the first time Austria has qualified for the Olympic tournament since 2002.

Austria has participated in the World Championships dating as far back as 1930, with regular participation since 1959. Austria has won bronze medals at the World Championships in both 1931 and 1947. Since 1951, Austria was either in Pool B or Pool C nearly exclusively from 1951 to 1992, before a run of 12 out of 13 years in the Top Division before beginning the roller coaster of promotions (2006, 2008, 2010 and 2012) and relegations (2005, 2007, 2009, 2011 and 2013), including a bitter relegation in 2009 only because 15th place Germany were saved from their rightful demotion by being scheduled as hosts for the 2010 tournament, which granted them an exemption from relegation for 2009, which sent the 14th place Austrians down to Division I for 2010 instead.

Austria enters the 2014 Olympics with three NHLers on it's roster, Michael Grabner and Thomas Vanek of the New York Islanders and Michael Raffl of the Philadelphia Flyers. 

 photo VanekAustria.jpg
Thomas Vanek

Of the remaining members of the Austrian roster, two play in Swedish Elite League, three in Switzerland and 17 in the Austrian Erste Bank Eishockey Liga, including 37 year old defenseman Gerhard Unterluggauer, who has been playing for the Austria National Team since 1993. Unterluggauer's resume includes two previous Olympic Games (1998 and 2002) and 18 World Championships.

 photo UnterluggauerAustria.jpg
Gerhard Unterluggauer

With the format for this year's Olympics calling for the top four teams after the Preliminary Round to receive byes into the quarterfinals, the key for Austria will be trying to keep their games as close as possible in Group B and hopefully reaching overtime against either Austria or Canada to earn a point or two in the standings before their showdown on February 16th against Norway, where a win over Norway would surely raise them up the rankings to avoid a Qualification Playoff matchup with top six nation.

Unfortunately, the format of the tournament goes against the smaller countries like Austria, as the top teams will be looking to pour it on in the preliminary round since the short schedule puts a great emphasis on goal differential to determine who gets the coveted bye into the quarterfinals, or at least the most favorable matchup in the secondary round on February 18th for a berth in the quarterfinals.

Today's featured jersey is a 2005 Austria National Team Gerhard Unterluggauer jersey as worn during the 2005 World Championships, which were held in Austria. This was a short lived style, as all the teams received attractive new jerseys for 2005, only to see them all replaced with the new Nike Swift styles for the 2006 Olympics.

Unterluggauer began his pro career back in the 1992-93 season, playing his entire career in Austria save for a three year stint in the German DEL in the early 2000's. He has won the Austrian championship twice, in 1993 and 1999 and is frequently the captain of the national team.

Austria 2005 jersey photo Austria2005F.jpg
Austria 2005 jersey photo Austria2005B.jpg

Here is a look at the jerseys that Austria will be wearing in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi. These jerseys are one of the more classic and attractive of the 2014 sets, as Nike has taken a rather unconventional approach with many of the other nations, with decidedly mixed results. 

Austria 2014 jersey photo Austria2014jerseys.png

Today's video section are highlights of the final day of Olympic qualifying, highlighted by Austria's vital game against Germany, which sent the Austrians to Sochi.

Next, showing Austria is not to be taken lightly, they dominate Latvia 6-3 at the most recent World Championships.

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