Austrians ride balanced attack to world title
by Chris Jurewicz|02 MAY 2023
photo: © International Ice Hockey Federation
A well-balanced offensive attack, coupled with stingy defence that didn’t give up a lot, led Team Austria to win the IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship Division 1 - Group B title in Slovenia. The tournament took place from April 10-16 in the alpine resort town of Bled.

The victory vaults the Austrians even higher and the team has now earned a spot in the 2024 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship Division 1 Group A event. This will add to the momentum for the country’s hockey program that has seen several youngsters drafted into the NHL, including Marco Kasper and Vinzenz Rohrer in 2022 and Marco Rossi, Thimo Nickl, and Benjamin Baumgartner in 2020.

The hockey world has certainly taken note of the great young talent being produced by Austria over the last few years and the recent tournament win will only put more of a spotlight on the nation.

At the U18 World Championship Division 1 Group B, the Austrians faced off against five other teams in a round-robin format and collected 12 of a possible 15 points by winning four games and losing just one. Over the five games, Austria scored 21 goals and allowed just 10.

Three of the top 10 points leaders in the tournament came from Austria – forwards Alexander Rupnik (three goals, five assists), Paul Noll (four goals, two assists), and Oliver Lam (three goals, two assists) – and one other, forward Leon Lamereiner finished 11th in points, with two goals and three assists.

Austria started the tournament slowly, dropping its first game 3-1 to Poland. From there though, the Austrians rattled off four consecutive wins to take the title: 7-1 over Estonia, 6-4 versus Slovenia (the eventual tournament runner-up), 3-0 against Italy, and 4-2 versus Korea.

Benedikt Oschgan stopped all 15 shots he faced for Austria’s lone shutout of the tournament against Italy. Oschgan played in four of Austria’s five games and put up solid numbers with a 0.899 save percentage and 2.25 goals against average. Patrick Muller played one game in goal for Austria and stopped eight of nine shots faced during the 7-1 win over Estonia.

The game of the tournament was Austria versus Slovenia and it was one that came down to the wire. Austria opened the scoring just 11 seconds into the game when Felix Haibock tipped in a point shot from Paul Reiner and the Austrians led 2-0 after the first 20 minutes, then jumped out to a 3-1 lead after two periods. But the pesky Slovenians would tie the game by the midway mark of the third period on goals by Zan Spari Leben and Anze Zezelj. Austria would re-take the lead at 4-3 with a power play goal by Gregor Biber and then go ahead by two when Laurin Wempe scored. Slovenia made it 5-4 with about 90 seconds to play but the Austrians sealed the win with a late empty-net goal.

One other notable game came on the final day of the tournament when Italy held on to a 1-0 lead against Slovenia until the final two minutes of play. Slovenia’s Jan Golicic tied it at 1-1 with one minute 42 seconds left to play in regulation and then Urban Podrekar won the game for the Slovenians at the 15-second mark of overtime. The win gave Slovenia 11 points and second place in the standings, one more than Italy, which finished in third place.

The best players of the tournament, selected by the IIHF Directorate, were goalkeeper Damian Clara (Italy), defender Urban Podrekar (Slovenia), and forward Oliver Lam (Austria).

Clara made headlines in 2021 when he represented Italy at the 2021 IIHF World Championship in Riga, Latvia and was the youngest player on the team.

At the U18 event, Clara had sparkling numbers, getting wins in three of the four games he played in and doing so with a 0.954 save percentage and 1.25 goals against average, which included a 33-save 1-0 shutout win over Poland.

In 2021, Clara told about his idol in the game of hockey and where he wants to go next.
“I really like the young goaltender from the United States, Jake Oettinger. He is a role model because he was drafted in the first round and I really like what he’s doing so far. It’s really great to see him,” said Clara. “I look forward to hopefully be playing in the Olympics in 2026 for my team; that’s always been a dream of mine.”

2023 Ice Hockey U18 World Championship Division 1 – Group B Bled, Slovenia
10 Apr. Bled (SLO) Poland Austria 3-1
10 Apr. Bled (SLO) Estonia Italy 2-4
10 Apr. Bled (SLO) Korea Slovenia 2-4
11 Apr. Bled (SLO) Austria Estonia 7-1
11 Apr. Bled (SLO) Italy Korea 3-2
11 Apr. Bled (SLO) Slovenia Poland 6-3
13 Apr. Bled (SLO) Estonia Korea 2-5
13 Apr. Bled (SLO) Italy Poland 1-0
13 Apr. Bled (SLO) Slovenia Austria 4-6
15 Apr. Bled (SLO) Korea Poland 6-2
15 Apr. Bled (SLO) Slovenia Estonia 4-1
15 Apr. Bled (SLO) Austria Italy 3-0
16 Apr. Bled (SLO) Poland Estonia 1-2
16 Apr. Bled (SLO) Austria Korea 4-2
16 Apr. Bled (SLO) Italy Slovenia 1-2
Standings: 1. Austria, 2. Slovenia, 3. Italy, 4. Korea, 5. Estonia, 6. Poland