AC Olympic Preview: Austria, or Islanders East

Martin Rose

Thomases Vanek and Pock, as well as Michaels Grabner and Raffl, seek a miracle tournament in their national team's first Olympic appearance since Salt Lake.

The Austrians have not sent a hockey team to the Olympics since the 2002 games in Salt Lake City, where they finished 12th. After failing to qualify for the 2006 and 2010 games, it would be quite the understatement to say that they are underdogs in this tournament. Thomas Vanek and Michael Grabner are the only semi-household names, and beyond that, this team is comprised of either good but not great hockey players or miracle workers to-be.

Offense Preview: Longtime Buffalo Sabre and current (but probably not for long) New York Islander Thomas Vanek has scored at least 20 goals in each of his seven non-lockout shortened seasons, has twice topped 40 goals, and has 15 to his name this season. He and Isles teammate Michael Grabner, who scored 34 goals in 2010-11 and has 9 this year, will shoulder the most offensive responsibility.

Brothers Thomas and Michael Raffl will also need to contribute if this team is to have any success. Michael, the younger, has 17 points in 44 games with the Philadelphia Flyers this season, his first in the NHL. Oliver Setzinger is one of two Austrians, and the only forward, who played in the 2002 Winter Games. He was a 3rd round draft pick of the Nashville Predators in 2001, but never made it to the NHL.

Rounding out the forward group are Raphael Herburger, Thomas Hundertpfund, Matthias Iberer (brother of defenseman Florian), Thomas Koch, Andreas Kristler, Manuel Latusa, Brian Lebler, Daniel Oberkofler, and Daniel Weiser.

Defense Preview: Thomas Pock played 118 NHL games for the New York Rangers and Islanders (shocker) between 2003 and 2009, and since then he has played in Switzerland, Sweden, and the AHL. He has offensive upside — 33 points in 62 AHL games a season ago — but he'll need to elevate all aspects of his game if his team is to be competitive.

37 year-old Gerhard Unterluggauer is the only Austrian blue liner who played in Salt Lake City twelve years ago, and his pros — experience, hockey IQ — and cons — footspeed, agility — are expected with his age. Andre Lakos has a booming shot that could come in handy on the power play, and Mario Altmann garners praise for his conservative defensive play.

The other defensemen are Florian Iberer (brother of forward Matthias), Robert Lukas, Matthias Trattnig, and Stefan Ulmer.

Goaltending Preview: 27 year-old Bernhard Starkbaum will start for the Austrians. The Edmonton Oilers were interested in him last summer, and even though that isn't exactly the highest compliment a goalie can be paid, it does mean he's good enough to catch a couple of eyes in the NHL. He currently plays for Brynas IF of the Swedish Hockey League, where his GAA is 2.20 and his SV% is .931 through 15 games. Not a bad stat line in not a bad league.

Rene Swette will most likely be the backup, and Fabian Weinhandl is the third goalie. Both play in the Austrian Hockey League.

X-Factor: Secondary scoring. If Vanek and Grabner play on the same line, they will have to fight through the best defensemen on the ice, so their production isn't likely to be enough. Fortunately for Austria, only one team in their group, Canada, has a deep blue line, so if their bottom six forwards play well, they may be able to outscore their Finnish and Norwegian matchups. Short tournament means small sample size, and small sample size means anything can happen.

Predicted Finish: Third in their group, ahead of Norway. The Austrians had luck on their side when the grouping were determined. Perhaps they'll have it again during the games. Canada may be the favorite, and the Finns may be a popular dark horse, but compared to the other two groups, Group B isn't that bad.

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