• Austria aims to survive

    From IIHF News@1:266/404 to All on Sat May 5 16:46:07 2018
    The last time Austria played at the IIHF World Championship, Sidney Crosby had only won one Stanley Cup. Remember the simple days of 2015?

    The Austrians went winless and were outscored 29-10 in the Czech Republic en route to relegation. A lot has changed since then, but Austria's road to international hockey success hasn't gotten any

    easier. With just one NHLer on this year's roster, this Central European nation
    will struggle to remain in the top division.


    Suiting up against powerhouses like Russia or Sweden, Bernhard Starkbaum could see more rubber than an average tire factory. The 32-year-old, who recorded a 2.66 GAA and 90.8 save percentage with

    EC Salzburg this season, is easily Austria's most experienced goalie. Starkbaum
    carried the load for Austria in its last two top-level Worlds in 2013 and 2015.

    He's backed up by two 20-something EBEL netminders, David Madlener of Klagenfurter AC and David Kickert, who's signed with EHC Linz next season. But if Starkbaum doesn't loom larger than Goliath,

    there's big trouble looming for this team.


    Martin Schumnig (EC-KAC) had six assists and Dominique Heinrich (Red Bull Salzburg) had five points at last year's Division I Group A tournament, but their ability to produce similarly at this

    level is dubious. This is a pedestrian group of defencemen that will be hard-pressed to keep up the pace. In the "like father, like son" department, stay-at-home blueliner Layne Viveiros, the

    Edmonton-born son of former national team coach Manny Viveiros, is making his Worlds debut.


    Adding Michael Raffl (Philadelphia Flyers) means a little injection of scoring (13-9-22 in 76 games this year). Yet with neither Thomas Vanek nor Michael Grabner available due to their NHL contract

    situations, goal-scoring will be awfully hard for Austria.

    Brian Lebler (EC Salzburg) led all EBEL marksmen with a career-high 38 goals this season, topping the league for the third straight year. If the 29-year-old
    can notch more than the two goals he had

    at the 2015 Worlds, that's a major plus. Dominic Zwerger (HC Ambri-Piotta), the
    Swiss NLA's rookie of the year with 40 points, is another face to watch.


    Swiss native Roger Bader, the successor to Dan Ratushy, is in his second season
    behind the Austrian bench. Noted for his calm demeanor, he convinced his players to commit to team defence at last

    year's Division I Group A tournament, where they achieved a goal difference of 22-4 en route to four wins and one loss. (In fact, two of the goals against came in the opening 3-2 loss to

    Kazakhstan.) The 53-year-old from Winterthur must continue to enforce that philosophy, or Austria is lost.

    Bader's assistants are two retired forwards: Christoph Brandner, whose resume includes 35 games with the Minnesota Wild in 2003-04, and Markus Peintner, who famously scored the goal against Germany

    that booked Austria's ticket to the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

    Projected Results

    Austria hasn't made the quarter-finals since 1994, the last year that Great Britain (just promoted for 2019) competed in this tournament. Since being relegated on home ice in 2005, they've become

    the ultimate "elevator team," never staying in the elite division for more than
    one year.

    So while history won't determine 2018's results, it's hard to bet on this Austrian squad. Their back-to-back games against France (11 May) and Belarus (12 May) - both of whom appear to be bubble

    teams - will likely determine their fate.

    Lucas Aykroyd

    --- SBBSecho 3.04-Win32
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