Historic Austrian win vs. Czechia
by Andy Potts|17 MAY 2022
Austria's Brian Lebler scored the game-tying goal in the last minute of regulation time against Czechia.
photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images
Austria claimed its first ever victory over Czechia after a tense shootout success in Tampere. Brian Lebler tied the game in the last minute of regulation time and Peter Schneider had the game-winning shot after the teams tied 1-1 through 65 minutes. 

Austria had never beaten the Czechs before in top-level men’s senior ice hockey. Before entering the game Austria had a 0-17 record in World Championship play against Czechia and Czechoslovakia – 0-22 including Olympic Winter Games.

"It's unbelievable," said Austria's captain for the day Manuel Ganahl. "It was already big for us to get the point against the USA. It gave us a confidence boost and we wanted to keep going.

"Today we were really focused, we played our 1-2-2 really well and we’re so happy to finally get a win against Czechia." 

"This is something very special for us," added head coach Roger Bader. "Austria beat a team that normally plays for medals at the World Championship."

The shoot-out brought just one successful attempt, with Schneider making the difference here after a productive season with Salzburg in the cross-border ICE Hockey League. The 31-year-old took his time and switched from forehand to backhand before squeezing his shot behind Karel Vejmelka and in off the post. At the other end, Bernhard Starkbaum followed his 24 saves in the game with more stops to deny Roman Cervenka, Matej Blumel and Jiri Smejkal, deservedly clinching the prize for Austria's top player of the game.

"I was just trying to get the shooter to make the first move and react to that," Starkbaum said of his shoot-out heroics. "Those are top players in the NHL, they’re all dangerous. Today I was lucky."

That secured two more precious points for Austria, lifting it clear of the relegation battle - but Roger Bader's team was 38 seconds away from leaving with nothing. There was last-minute drama as Austria snatched a precious point in its battle to escape relegation. With the clock running down , Brian Lebler forced home a tying goal, cancelling out Roman Cervenka's opener to take this game into overtime.

"It was simple end of game desperation," admitted the goalscorer. "Pucks to the net, get a few guys in front and bang it home."

It took a video review to confirm that play after Dominique Heinrich's point shot prompted a scramble on the Czech crease. Lebler produced some fancy footwork to get the puck under control and just managed to get his stick on it before it crossed the line; a split second later the net was off its moorings, adding to the confusion, but the on-ice call was 'goal' and the review confirmed that verdict.

In the extras, Filip Hronek had the best opportunity when he found himself all alone in front of Austrian goalie  Starkbaum. However, the Red Wings defender was unable to win that duel and the game went to a shootout.
Czechia vs Austria - 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship
CZE AUT 17 MAY 2022
The Czechs, unusually, named eight defencemen and 11 forwards on the roster for this game. The imbalance was prompted by Dominik Simon’s sudden return home for personal reasons before the anticipated arrival of Boston’s David Pastrnak and Toronto’s David Kampf following the end of their NHL campaigns. Defenceman Michal Kempny, freshly arrived from Washington, made his first appearance of the tournament in the top defensive pairing.

Austria, too, had problems with its offence. Both Thomas Raffl and Benjamin Baumgartner were missing here. Team captain Raffl, 35, is one of the most experienced forwards on the team, while 22-year-old Baumgartner played a big role in helping Austria’s juniors win promotion to the top division in 2020. However, the youngster suffered an injury in Sunday’s loss to Team USA and will play no further part in the championship. While Raffl is likely to be available again tomorrow, today's team involved defenceman Nico Brunner stepping up to play on the wing to help his team.

"That's just one example of the little things everyone is doing to make this work," added Ganahl.

Austria came into this game looking for its first victory over Czechia in competitive play. The previous 17 encounters all went the Czechs’ way, most recently an 8-0 blow-out in 2019. But this game was always closer than those stats might have suggested. The Austrians even had a presentable chance to take the lead when Benjamin Nissner got a decent look at Vejmelka but couldn’t finish.

At the other end, the Czechs thought they had the opening goal in the eighth minute. Matej Stransky put the rebound from a Tomas Kundratek shot into the net, but his celebrations were cut short by a bench challenge from Bader. The Austrian coaching staff called it right: the replay showed that goaltender Starkbaum was impeded by Tomas Hertl as he looked to position himself to cover the rebound.

Reprieved by the video screens, Starkbaum was then saved by the piping when the Czech power play put together a nice set-up for Hronek. The defenceman’s shot beat the goalie but came back off the piping.

With two minutes left in the opening frame, Czechia got its opening goal. Roman Cervenka had moved to the head of the scoring race here in Tampere after six helpers in two games; today he added his first goal of the competition. This one was all about Czech determination to win puck battles on the boards. Ultimately, play broke for Matej Blumel to feed Cervenka and the much-travelled forward made no mistake with a chance from the edge of the right-hand circle.

One goal to the good, the Czechs did not look wholly in control. Determined Austrian defence made it hard to finish the job, as Kempny acknowledged. "We've gotta get more shots on the net, get some rebounds and some ugly goals," he said. "I thought we tried to play a little too much on the outside. We've got to get more into the middle, into the ugly areas and get more shots.

"If we do that, we'll be alright for the next game."

Previous Austrian teams might have wilted after going behind, but the class of 2022 is made of sterner stuff. In a second period of few chances, Austria ensured that the Czechs would not run away with this game in the way they did in their opening encounter against Great Britain. True, David Krejci clipped the frame of the goal and Jakub Flek spun to lift a backhand shot just wide, but for the most part there was little danger to Starkbaum’s net.

"If we are going to beat some of these teams we've really got to stick to our game plan," said the goalie. "That's what we did today and that's why we deserved to win. The guys in front of me blocked so many shots and threw so many hits. They battled for every inch out there."

"It's hard to say [what went wrong] but I think we should have scored more than one goal," said Czech defender Jan Scotka. "We had a couple of chances and we have to take more of them. It's hard to win games on one goal."

However, Austria’s depleted offence had problems of its own and struggled to extend Vejmelka in a middle frame light on major incident.

And the extent of Austria’s problems going forward was exposed early in the third period. A slashing call on Cervenka gave an inviting opportunity on the power play, but just one shot on goal in two minutes highlighted the difficulty this time has in generating scoring chances.

Part of that was due to a packed schedule. Austria began with back-to-back games against Sweden and the USA. After a day off, today was the first of two more back-to-back meetings with Norway providing tomorrow's opposition.

"We have four games in five days so today we played more of a trap," Bader explained. "Normally we forecheck more but I think we had a good mix."

Midway through the frame, there was greater peril for Vejmelka when the consistently lively Nissner whipped the puck in from a tight angle on the right and the Czech goalie had to react smartly to keep the rebound away from the lurking Paul Huber.

Gradually, though, Austria upped the pace. Nico Feldner was close when he spun and rapped a backhand effort into Vejmelka's pads and Starkbaum went to the bench in favour of a sixth skater before that tying goal changed everything.
Czechia vs Austria - 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship