Kazakhstan was dropped out of the Top Division one year ago after failing to get through the relegation round, and into their place comes Austria. It’s the first appearance for the country since 2010, when they were another one-and-done nation, finishing 10th and last in the standings to be demoted a level once more.
It wasn’t a convincing performance last year to gain the promotion placing them among the world’s top 10 teams. Austria’s goal differential in the Division IA tournament was +8, five fewer than Latvia’s mark of +13. The title essentially came down to the meeting between those two clubs, and the cooler heads prevailed.
Austria took just two minor penalties in the contest, while their counterpart ended up with a whopping 60 minutes spent in the penalty box. Austria took advantage of a two-man advantage to open the scoring, adding another power-play goal later in the game to seal a 2-1 victory.
Their reward was being placed in a very tough Group B for the 2021 World Juniors, along with Russia, Sweden, the United States, and the Czech Republic, with little chance of sticking around in the Top Division yet again.
Team Austria final roster
|#||Player||Position||League||Current team (NHL)|
|#||Player||Position||League||Current team (NHL)|
|29||Leonhard Sommer||G||AlpsHL||Steel Wings Linz|
|1||Sebastian Wraneschitz||G||ICEHL||Vienna Capitals|
|14||Jonas Kutzer||D||ICEHL||Dornbirner EC|
|15||Luis Lindner||D||NCDC||Boston Jr. Bruins|
|25||Lucas Nesecany||D||AlpsHL||Red Bull Hockey Juniors|
|12||Timo Pallierer||D||ICEHL||Vienna Capitals|
|2||Bernhard Posch||D||AlpsHL||EC Bregenzerwald|
|4||Philipp Wimmer||D||AlpsHL||Red Bull Hockey Juniors|
|9||Mathias Böhm||F||ICEJL||Junior Capitals U18|
|21||Tim Harnisch||F||ICEHL||EC Salzburg|
|20||Fabian Hochegger||F||AlpsHL||Klagenfurter AC II|
|19||Marco Kasper||F||J20 Nationell||Rögle BK J20|
|22||Senna Peeters||F||J20 Nationell||Rögle BK J20|
|23||Marco Rossi||F||NLA||ZSC Lions (MIN)|
|24||Lucas Thaler||F||J20 Nationell||Mora IK J20|
|3||Maximilian Theirich||F||AlpsHL||Klagenfurter AC II|
|7||Marlon Tschofen||F||U20-Elit||Kloten U20|
|16||Dominik Unterweger||F||AlpsHL||VEU Feldkirch|
|26||Finn van Ee||F||AlpsHL||Klagenfurter AC II|
|13||Leon Wallner||F||J20 Nationell||Södertälje SK J20|
To pull off the upset of upsets, the discipline they showed last year would give them a major boost. In a tournament filled with penalty calls (that clown music is still in your head from last year), that would at least help level the playing field. In their games against Latvia, Denmark, and Slovenia last year, Austria took a total of five penalties. New head coach Roger Bader will need to replicate what Marco Pewal preached to the national under-20 team last December.
Bader gets the benefit of one big addition his predecessor went without: Marco Rossi. Rossi had been part of the program as a 17-year-old back in 2018, but hasn’t played for his country since making the move to North America two seasons ago. The transfer paid off well for the player, who won the OHL scoring title last year, and was selected ninth overall in the 2020 NHL Draft.
Rossi gives the team an element it hasn’t seen in quite some time, and a player other coaches will need to gameplan around.
Rossi won’t have a lot of help. He won’t even have the benefit of the top two point-getters from the previous Division IA roster, as Benjamin Baumgartner (5G, 6A) and Paul Huber (4G, 4A) are now too old to play for the team they helped promote.
That age limit has a lot of the 2020 players now inelegible, so many of the spots have been filled not just 18-year-old replacements, but several 17-year-olds and even the 16-year-old Marco Kasper. It’s a roster that would probably have difficulty repeating as Division IA champions, let alone competing with the elite nations.
Usually when one of the lesser teams pulls off a surprise or two in the tournament, it’s because a goaltender has stood on his head, gaining a following among casual observers. As interesting as it would be to see some of the big five nations stymied, none of the three goalies on the roster look capable of providing those heroics. None of them are playing in a major national league this year, and even at lower levels a .900 save percentage has proven elusive. It will very much have to be a team effort to keep Austria within striking distance of its superior opponents.
Rossi’s performance will be the most critical to the team’s success, but it could be a frustrating tournament for one of the top young playmakers in the world without the finishing talent around him. Even if he manages to play the best two-week stretch of his life, it may not be enough to earn his country a stay for 2022. What Austria needs are a few players to step up and complement his elite talent.
One strong candidate to cap off his plays is Senna Peeters. Peeters was third on the national team in offence as a 17-year-old last year, and had been on a goal-scoring tear in Sweden’s under-20 league after spending the 2019-20 season with the Halifax Mooseheads. Expect the pair to spend the majority of any man-advantage time on the ice together.
The task is nearly impossible for Austria this winter, and all of their hopes should be thrown into their game against the Czech Republic, which happens to fall on the final day of the preliminary round. If everything has fallen their way to that point, anything can happen in a single-game showdown.