Austria’s last medal
by Andrew Podnieks|22 MAY 2022
The Austrian team at the 1947 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Prague.
photo: Birger Nordmark Collection
The year 2022 marks the 75th anniversary of the last time Austria won a medal at the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship. The year was 1947, and the tournament was being played for the first time since 1939, when World War II altered life everywhere.

The ’47 Worlds were played in Prague, which was hosting for the third time (1933, 1938), and games were played at Zimni Stadion. Canada did not send a team, and the Swedes and host Czechoslovaks were the class of the tournament. Coming into the last day of play, Sweden was in first place of the eight-team round robin because they had just beat Czechoslovakia by a 2-1 score to move into top spot.

They now had 11 points and the Czechoslovaks 10, but the Czechoslovaks still had one game left, against the United States, as did Sweden, who would play Austria. Austria and the U.S. were tied for third, both teams with eight points, and one place behind was Switzerland, with seven. The bottom three teams didn’t factor into that final day. Poland had four points, Romania two, and Belgium none.

The final day, 23 February, featured one other game, Switzerland-Poland. Together, these three games would decide all medals. For Czechoslovakia, the possibilities were simple. Beat the U.S. and win gold. Tie or lose, and Tre Kronor gets top spot. For Sweden, an easier but similar scenario, except they controlled their own destiny – tie or beat Austria, and win gold. 

The Americans and Austrians also had much to play for. Whichever team won their game would win the bronze, if the other team lost. If both teams won or lost, they’d be tied with either eight or ten points, and then goal ratio (i.e., goals for divided by goals against) would be the determining factor. 

Switzerland was also a very interested participant. If they won their game and both the Austrians and U.S. lost, they would sneak into third place. The only team without medal interest in the final day was Poland. Win or lose, they were going home without a medal.

Austria’s roster was full of names that hockey history has preserved but fans today probably don't know. In goal was the experienced Josef Wurm and the youngster Alfred Huber. Huber was 16 when he made his World Championship debut in the game against the U.S. on 18 February, a critical 6-5 win. He later became known more for tennis than hockey, teaming with another hockey player, Jaroslav Drobny. Huber played Wimbledon between 1949 and 1957. Wurm played the other six games in Prague and allowed 27 goals.
Sweden tries to score on Austrian goalkeeper Josef Wurm.
photo: Ladislav Kandelar / CTK / Keystone
Up front the team was led by Fritz Demmer and Oskar Nowak. They combined for five of the six goals in that win against the U.S. (Nowak with the hat trick), and overall Nowak had 14 goals and Demmer 13 in the tournament. The captain was defender Franz Csongei and coaching the team was Walter Wasservogel, who was five days shy of his 27th birthday when the team played its first game. He would go on to have a profound impact on hockey in Austria, and was later the IIHF’s first general secretary. Wasservogel was inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame posthumously in 1997.

Other players on the team included defenders Felix Egger, Egon Engel, Helfried Winger and forwards Franz Zehetmeyer, Walter Feistritzer, Johann Schneider, Fritz Walter, Rudolph Wurmbrand, Willibald Stanek, Gerhard Springer, and Adolf Hafner.

The eight competing teams played a simple round robin to decide the medals. Austria began with a 10-2 drubbing of Poland. Nowak led the way with five goals, while Feistritzer had three and Zehetmayer two. They won again two days later, thumping another weak team, Belgium, by a 14-5 count. This time Demmer had five goals and Feistritzer four. The next day they suffered their first loss, 13-5 to the powerful Czechoslovaks, and followed that with a key win over the U.S. Then came a 12-1 win over Romania and a 5-0 loss to Switzerland to set up the dramatic final day.

The first game of the day on 23 February clarified things a bit. Switzerland beat Poland, 9-3. The Swiss were now in third place with nine points, so when Austria took to the ice against Sweden, there was no margin for error. They needed to win, or at the very least get a tie and await the Czechoslovakia-USA game. But Sweden was also motivated: a win would mean gold.

Wurm was in goal for the Austrians and Arne Johansson, also in his World Championship debut, started for Tre Kronor. Wurmbrand got the only goal of the first period, and Austria played fierce defence in the second to keep it a 1-0 game. With four minutes left in the third, Winger scored an insurance marker, but Sweden was relentless and got one back with a minute left to play. Rolf Eriksson got that goal, but try as they might Sweden couldn’t tie the game. With the win, Austria jumped past the Swiss and into third place, but they still had to wait for the outcome of the final game, as did Sweden, still hoping for gold.

The Czechoslovaks took the drama out of it quickly, scoring twice in the first, going up 3-0 in the second, and coasting to a 6-1 win. That win moved them ahead of Sweden and confirmed Austria as the bronze-medal winners.

Austria finished 8th at the 1948 Olympics and 6th at the Worlds in 1949, after which they virtually vanished from the top pool. They played in 1957 (7th) and then fell to B Pool and often C Pool until 1993. Some 75 years later, that bronze right after the war remains their last World Championship medal. They won’t win one here in Finland, but they do hope to stay up in tomorrow’s key game against Great Britain and try again in 2023. That’s what it’s all about.

Special thanks to Birger Nordmark (photo) and Patrick Houda (Huber bio)