Matthew Myers, Robert Dowd and Cade Neilson were the British scorers, but Austria found its way back on goals from Ali Wukovits, Dominque Heinrich and Benjamin Nissner before captain Thomas Raffl grabbed the winner with 66 seconds left on the clock. Peter Schneider's empty-netter wrapped it up for the jubilant Austrians.
"It's incredible!" said a jubilant Lukas Haudum. "After two periods we were down 2-0 and we were just thinking, ‘How are we gonna turn this around?’ We just told each other, let’s keep it simple, get everything to the net.
"It’s always the same talk, it’s so cliched, we gotta keep them busy in their own end."
Great Britain's Jonathan Phillips found it hard to explain what went wrong after two strong periods from his team.
"We knew they were going to push back and I’m lost for words to be honest," the veteran forward said. "We must have sat back a little too much there in the third. It was just a couple of little mistakes, we stopped getting pucks deep and that's what happens."
Facing a do-or-die situation, the Brits proved more willing to shoot in previous games. Working the Austrian net began to get rewards: in the ninth minute Cade Neilson had a big chance in front of Bernhard Starkbaum’s net; Bernd Wolf kept the forward away from the doorstep, but only at the expense of a high-sticking call.
On the power play, Neilson redirected a Brett Perlini feed towards the target, forcing Starkbaum to scoop his shot to safety as it threatened to creep over an outstretched pad.
Back at full strength, Austria looked to pick up the pace. However, the British defence had added resolve here and provided better protection for Ben Bowns than had often been the case earlier in the tournament. As a result, while Bowns made smart stops to deny Ali Wukovits and Benjamin Nissner, there was less menace from the Austrian forwards than in some of the previous games.
Then, with two goals either side of the first intermission, GB blew this game wide open. The first came on a power play. Manuel Ganahl was far from impressed with an interference call against him, and his frustrations only intensified when Perlini’s shot popped out on to the crease where Myers was waiting to roof the puck.
The Brits had the lead they needed and, early in the second period, they doubled it. Once again, the Austrians protested: Cade Neilson fired the puck to the doorstep and it bounced into the net off the skate of the on-rushing Dowd. Against Latvia, Neilson scored a similar goal and here a video review concluded that Dowd, too, made no distinct kicking motion and thus the goal was good.
Now Austria had to pick up the pace and Roger Bader’s team enjoyed the greater share of possession in the second period. However, Britain continued to defend strongly and, for a time, the better chances were coming on the counter attack. Four times Austria got caught on the long change and GB enjoyed a solo rush on Starkbaum’s net. Four times, the 36-year-old Vienna Capitals goaltender came up with huge stops to keep his team in the game.
"We’ve seen in this tournament that no lead is safe and the games aren’t over until 60 minutes," said Britain's defenceman Dallas Ehrhardt. "Hats off to them, they battled hard and got it. We competed hard today but it just wasn’t to be."
With Starkbaum impressive, there were growing signs that Austrian pressure was beginning to erode the GB rearguard. Paul Huber got a rare look up close, and forced a smart short side stop from Bowns. Then Nissner sent a feed fizzing across the slot, narrowly failing to find the touch that would have put Austria on the scoreboard. And late in the session, a rare lapse as Britain failed to clear its lines invited Simeon Schwinger to take a free shot from between the hash marks. The 24-year-old from Dornbirn snatched at his chance, though, and fired over the top.
Down by two at the break, Austria was in grave peril. And that provided all the motivation this team needed, as captain Raffl explained.
"The coaches didn’t really have to say a lot," he said. "There were 20 minutes of hockey left in the whole season, every hockey guy knows that during the summer you’re going to look back to the season and you don’t want to be a guy who says ‘I should have, I could have’.
"We found our game and, thank God, we clicked in the end and came up with the victory."
The fightback started with a familiar British flaw. No Group B team has a worse penalty kill than Great Britain. For two periods, Pete Russell’s men played an exemplary game and stayed out of the box. But early in the third, a slashing call on Josh Batch offered Austria a way back into the game.
And that chance was gleefully accepted by Wukovits, whose one-timer off a Peter Schneider feed found the gap between Ehrhardt and Ben Bowns to reduce the deficit. That was the 11th power play goal that Britain has allowed in Tampere.
Britain thought it had halted the comeback in its tracks when Neilson picked up a loose puck in centre ice and showed composure beyond his 20 years to win a duel with Starkbaum and make it 3-1. But Austria had scented survival and was not to be denied.
It took Austria barely a minute to hit back, with Lukas Haudum and Marco Kasper combining to set up Heinrich for a fierce one-timer that found the back of the net. A one-goal game again, and everything back in the balance.
Then came salvation for Austria. Richardson went to retrieve the puck from behind the net, only to be met by a crunching hit from Raffl. The puck came back out in front where Nissner and Batch bundled it into the net between them. The scores were tied, and the point would be good enough for Austria if it could close out the remaining eight-and-a-half minutes of regulation time.
"A quick goal like we got is always helpful," Haukum added. "We got that and we had ourselves a hockey game again. Suddenly we had good energy and then we got a bit of a lucky bounce on the third goal. Everything just kept rolling. It was awesome."
In the end, Austria could do better than holding on for a tie. Raffl spurned one chance to seal it for Austria, but that miss was forgotten on 58:54 when a breakaway saw the captain shoot home the clinching goal. Schneider iced the cake with seconds left in the game amid jubilant scenes from the Austrian contingent behind Bowns' net.
Marco Kasper has been one of Austria's brightest players in this tournament, marking himself out as a potential star for future Austrian teams. Today, he helped to ensure that will be in the top division.
"It feels great to stay up here for next year," he said. "It wasn’t our best game but we won and that’s super important for us. It was tough and we were definitely frustrated after the first two periods, but it shows what a great team effort we can put together."
"I think we deserved it overall," concluded Haukum. "We had a great tournament and we showed that we can play against the big nations."