BIETIGHEIM-BISSINGEN – A neighbouring clash will decide the winner of the Men’s Final Olympic Qualification Group D – and whether Germany or Austria will book the trip to Sochi 2014.
For Germany it’s not only to qualify for the Olympics but also to continue a historic streak. Germany has never failed to qualify for an Olympic men’s ice hockey tournament. Only bans in 1920, 1924 and 1948 after the two Worlds Wars have previously prevented the Germans from participating at the Olympics. In 1932 and 1976 the country even won the bronze medals.
There are only very few countries other than Germany that haven’t missed an Olympic men’s ice hockey tournament since 1952. The United States’ streak even dates back to 1932. Czech and Slovak fans can look back at a streak that started in 1936 when the two nations were united as Czechoslovakia.
But for Germany it won’t be easy. The last hurdle on the way is its neighbour in the southeast, Austria.
“Not only in hockey, I think in every sport it’s a big battle against Austria and we want to win the game,” said German goalkeeper Dennis Endras, the MVP of the 2010 IIHF World Championship.
And in many sports Germany, with ten times as many inhabitants as Austria, has a positive record.
To reach the 17th consecutive qualification for the Olympics and to follow the women’s national team that qualified on Friday, Pat Cortina’s team needs a regulation-time win against Austria.
Because Germany lost two points in an overtime defeat to Italy on Friday, the Austrians have an advantage in the standings. A victory in regulation time, overtime or shootout will bring Austria to Sochi and even a loss to Germany in overtime or shootout would be enough for the red-and-white team.
Austria’s historic streak is not as impressive as Germany’s, but the country has been a regular participant. In the time span when Germany qualified 16 times, the Austrian men’s national team has made it to the Olympics ten times. In 1994, 1998 and 2002, Austria participated in three straight Olympic tournaments. But since Salt Lake City 2002 the country has not returned to the Games.
Germany enters the neighbouring clash as the favourites, being ranked 10th while Austria comes in 15th place and was just promoted last spring to the top division of the 2013 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Stockholm and Helsinki.
Austria has also never had a better placing in Olympics than Germany. In the World Championships it’s happened before but only once in the last ten years, at the 2009 IIHF World Championship.
The Germans were ranked 15th and would have been relegated if not for the clause that the host nation of the following year is automatically qualified. 14th-ranked Austria was relegated instead and had to play in Division I in 2010, while Germany surprised everybody and finished in fourth place in the 2010 IIHF World Championship on home ice – the team’s best result since Olympic bronze in 1976 in... Innsbruck, Austria.
Austria coach Manny Viveiros won’t need to do much to motivate his players. All they can think of is payback time on the opponent’s ice.
“It’s a big rivalry and we will do anything to win this game,” Austria’s Michael Raffl said after his team’s two wins.
Although there is limited player exchange across the border between the German and Austrian leagues, there are enough historical connections for an emotional clash.
The head-to-head results show a narrow history in the neighbours’ rivalry. In World Championships, Germany won three times, as did Austria in addition to two tied games.
Including Olympics, championships in lower tiers and exhibition games, the picture is clearer with 24 wins for Germany, four ties and ten Austrian victories.
“It’s a big game every time and it’s a tight game every time with many one-goal games,” said German captain Michael Wolf. “It will be a tough battle.”
In the most recent official game, Austria defeated Germany 1-0 in the 2009 IIHF World Championship in Switzerland. Three months earlier Germany hosted the Final Olympic Qualification on home ice in Hanover and made it to Vancouver thanks to a 2-1 victory against Austria. And the 2005 IIHF World Championship game in Vienna between the two countries ended 2-2.
Small details and a hot goalie could decide what will be and unpredictable clash, especially when it matters most.
“It’s like a derby against Austria,” said German forward Jerome Flaake. “We know how they play and we’re going to be ready for that game and we will give all on the ice.”
Meanwhile one Austrian player has special reasons to hope to always keep this game in positive memory. Defenceman Gerhard Unterluggauer will play his 228th game for the men’s national team and will tie the Austrian record held by Martin Ulrich.
The game at EgeTrans Arena in Bietigheim-Bissingen starts at 15:15 and can be watched live on Sport1 in Germany and on ORF Sport+ and laola1.tv in Austria.
Latvia vs. France in Group E of the Men’s Final Qualification and Denmark vs. Japan in the Women’s Group C will be the other key games to determine the last qualifiers for Sochi 2014. The Slovenian men’s national team and the German women’s national team already won their groups after two days.