BERNE – People usually talk about NHL super star Thomas Vanek or top goalie Bernd Brückler when the Austrian national team comes up. But the guy who currently leads Austria statistically is a third-line battler, Markus Peintner. His one goal and +/- of 0 looks reasonably good, taking into account that Austria lost its first two games with a 2-13 goal differential.
However, it’s not stats that make him the most distinctive player on the team, or even in the tournament. The 28-year-old has an extraordinary personal style - both on and off the ice.
And whenever he encounters a foreign journalist, he’s always asked the same question. “Why does everybody ask me about my beard?” he asks. But he knows why. His black beard is about 20 cm long, the moustache bleached blond. Sometimes his choice is even much more colourful.
Peintner grew up in Lustenau, located near the Swiss border, and started to play pro hockey in nearby Feldkirch before leaving his native state of Vorarlberg. “That almost counts as Switzerland for other Austrians, but it’s still a long way to Berne, and my dialect has changed in the interim as I haven’t lived there for ten years,” he explains, pointing out that nobody mistakes him for Swiss anymore.
He played four years for Linz, plus a year in Vienna, and the last four in Villach, winning an Austrian championship with each of those clubs.
It was during his time in Linz, in 2002, when he abruptly changed his lifestyle. He doesn’t want to go into details when asked about the reason. “Something happened and I wanted to change something in my life. Since then, I've had my beard, and earlier I also had a Mohawk haircut. I coloured it, too. Green, blue, red.”
On the ice he looks just like a normal player except for the beard. Leaving the arena, his unusual style becomes more apparent, as you see his clothes and hear him give you a friendly greeting while wearing headphones and listening to music. He likes rock, metal, and sometimes hip-hop. “I listen to almost everything except soft rock, techno and such stuff. I like German-speaking artists like Sportfreunde Stiller or Deichkind, but also international ones. Like Metallica, whose concert in Munich I’m planning to attend.”
He’s about to get on the team bus. At home, he would hop on his Harley Davidson. “It’s the Fat Boy,” he specifies. “I like to drive around Villach. Kärnten is the most beautiful part of Austria. And it’s not far from Italy. In 90 minutes I can be at the sea. Sometimes when I feel like it, I just go there. I like to be around Lignano and Grado.” Even though he knows other Harley drivers, he usually goes alone: “I’m a bit of a loner.”
Heavy metal is what Peintner is on the ice. “I’m a forward who has to play well defensively to have a plus-minus,” he says. “I do the dirty work. It's a checking or grinding role. I’m not such a finesse player. If I don’t battle hard, I’m a bad player.”
As much as he likes Villach, he couldn’t come to an agreement with the club to stay. “I’ll have to find a new club after the World Championship,” he says. “Or find another job.” Has he ever thought about playing abroad, using the World Championship as a springboard? “Yes, I’m quite open. I feel right at home almost everywhere. Northern Europe would be interesting, or Japan. But first I have to play a good World Championship.”
Only North America, the continent of Harleys, is not an option in his books. That’s for players who dream about making the NHL.
In any case, his focus right now is on the next game in Berne. It's a crucial one against Latvia. “We knew from the beginning that this would be like a final for a spot in the Qualification Round,” he says. “As with most former Soviet countries, they’re technically very skilled. We’re the underdog, but we can deal with this role. We must play well on defence.”
And that’s exactly where Peintner shines.
Markus Peintner celebrates his goal against the United States with captain Gerhard Unterluggauer. Photo: Matthew Manor / HHOF-IIHF Images