Austria was always going to have an uphill battle at the 2022 World Juniors. The team has appeared in the top division four times yet has gone winless so far. The game against Switzerland was their best and last chance to follow in Latvia’s footsteps and make international history, as the Swiss were also winless in this year’s tournament. In the end, Austria didn’t have enough to get by the Swiss, who will go on to play the winner of the Canada-Finland game.
While Austria’s tournament is over, there is still plenty to be proud of and look at positively as they turn their attention to the 2023 World Juniors in December. Here are three takeaways from their final game at this year’s tournament.
Austria Finally Found Their Offense
One of the constant stories that followed Austria throughout the tournament was the lack of shots they took each game. Before they took on Switzerland, Austria had just 46 shots for an average of about 15 shots a game, or about five shots a period. In actuality, the Austrians managed less than five shots a period on three separate occasions. They still managed to score twice despite their lack of offence, but they were never able to get past their opponent’s defence long enough to generate any sort of sustained pressure.
Against Switzerland, however, Austria finally bucked the trend, sending 22 pucks at the net while doubling their goal total from two to four. Leon Wallner converted on Austria’s first shot of the game, picking up a bouncing rebound from Lucas Thaler that Noah Patenaude couldn’t find in the crease. However, the Austrians managed just one more shot before the buzzer, making it seem like the team was in for more of the same.
It was anything but the same. In the second period, Austria matched Switzerland’s shots, with each putting the puck on net 13 times, and managed to get another goal as the period drew to a close. Ian Scherzer, the goal scorer, had five shots alone in the game, matching the team’s average period shot count. It was a strong performance from the whole team, and although it didn’t result in a win, it proved that Austria is continually getting better with each performance.
Austria’s 17-Year-Olds Lead the Way
As mentioned on the TSN broadcast several times, many teams have qualified for the top division over the years with a strong group of 19-year-olds then had to ice a team with much less experience once they get to the World Juniors because their core all aged out. When Austria won the 2020 Division 1A tournament, they were led by Benjamin Baumgartner, Paul Huber, David Maier, and Julian Payr, all of whom were ineligible to return to the 2021 World Juniors.
So, when teams like Austria see 17-year-olds like Scherzer and David Reinbacher stepping up and contributing on the ice, it spells very good things for the future. Scherzer, who plays in Sweden with Rögle BK’s junior team, led the team in points with a goal and two assists, while Reinbacher, who’s a member of Switzerland’s Kloten organization, led the defence with two assists.
Like Senna Peeters, Lucas Thaler, and Leon Wallner back in 2020, Reinbacher and Scherzer will be part of Austria’s next wave as the nation looks to continue to develop top-tier talent. While their best players still must go elsewhere to further their development, it speaks volumes for the country’s hockey programs, and like Germany and Switzerland before it, it will help to boost their native programs, which will only create more skilled players.
Wraneschitz Gets Some Help on Defence
Another common storyline for the Austrians was their weakness on the back end, often collapsing back on the goalie and allowing their opponents ample time to pick their shots. Both Sweden and Germany exploited these weaknesses endlessly, and paired with their stronger defences, Austria was helpless to stop the onslaught. That meant that much of the team’s success fell to starting goaltender Sebastien Wraneschitz, and although he wasn’t as overworked as he was in last year’s tournament, he still faced a ton of shots. In three games, he faced 124 shots and turned away 111 of them, giving him a save percentage of .894 — lower than the talented goalie deserved.
Wraneschitz proved that he could only do so much when left alone, but as the game against Switzerland went on, Austria began playing better defence. They were able to effectively clear pucks and force the Swiss into the corners more frequently and limited them to just 39 shots, the lowest total an Austrian goalie has seen since 2020. Had defenceman Lorenz Lindner not boarded Jonas Teibel with less than five minutes left in the game, for which he received a major penalty and game misconduct, Austria could have snuck away with the win.
What’s Next for Austria?
Austria may be done for 2022, but they’ll be ready for the 2023 World Junior Championship in Halifax, thanks to the removal of a relegation series this year, which starts in just four months. Not only will they have Reinbacher and Scherzer back, but Detroit Red Wings’ first-round pick Marco Kasper, and Montreal Canadiens’ second-round pick Vinzenz Rohrer, will likely join them, giving the Austrians a formidable top unit.
Furthermore, 15 other players are eligible to re-join the team, and if all of them return, they’d have one of the most experienced rosters of any team at the tournament. With relegation likely back on the table then, Austria will have their best chance at winning their first game ever in World Junior history. Although this year was disappointing, the future is bright for the small nation.
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An elementary teacher by day and an avid hockey fan, Dayton joined The Hockey Writers in 2019 and currently covers the Ottawa Senators, World Juniors, and NHL Entry Draft.