But look closely and some of that red is going to be in support of Austria and not the home-country Canadian team.
The Austrian under-20 team is being led by head coach Kirk Furey at these juniors, who was born in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, about a two-hour drive from Halifax, and grew up on Cape Breton Island in Glace Bay. His Nova Scotia roots run deep and he and his Austrian team will have a lot of support at the world juniors. Austria even played an exhibition game in Antigonish on Tuesday, beating Germany 4-3 in overtime.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We know the tournament was here 20 years ago (2003, Halifax and Sydney),” says Furey. “First and foremost, I’m just thankful to the Austrian federation and thankful to my club in Klagenfurt to give me the opportunity to be able to do this. It’s a lot of fun. It’s my first experience working at the international level. Maybe that opportunity is probably not there if I’m somewhere else. It’s something I have close to my heart. Being from Nova Scotia, it being the World Juniors, Austria is not at this level all the time, it’s overwhelming also. With family and friends, it’s neat that there’s going to be lots of people cheering for Austria when it might not happen normally. It’s something that I don’t think you could write a script like this or dream it up.”
Furey’s path to Austria started in Nova Scotia but then saw him move to Ontario to play junior hockey. He was a 5-foot-11, 200-pound defenceman who would go on to play university hockey and then professionally in the AHL and ECHL. From there, Furey went abroad to play in the German Elite League with Kassel and Iserlohn before spending eight seasons in Austria with Klagenfurt AC, a stint that included two Austrian league championships.
At the age of 39, with his playing career in its final days, Klagenfurt brass asked Furey if he’d be interested in taking on the role of assistant coach. Furey and his wife Jennifer had two children during their time in Austria – daughter Brinn and son Skyler – and decided to give the coaching gig a shot. Earlier this year, the Austrian federation announced that Furey would be head coach of their under-20 team.
“There’s an element when you’re a player that you love … just being around the dressing room, I think that’s one of the things (that attracted me to coaching),” says Furey. “I ended up coaching a younger group throughout the path here and I just enjoyed being around the boys and trying to help them further their careers. I think it just happened kind of organically a little bit. It’s one of those things that you don’t think you’re going to do and, all of a sudden, you really enjoy it. Every day is fun, I work with a lot of really good people too which makes your day a lot easier and it doesn’t make it a job that you’re going to every day. It’s something different every day, it’s never boring, you’re always trying to problem solve and that makes it a lot of fun.”
The challenge at the World Juniors for Austria aren’t the same as some of the favoured nations like Canada, the United States and Sweden. Furey is honest with his players and isn’t going to dream up a scenario where Austria plays in the gold medal game in Halifax on Jan. 5, 2023. His message on goals and objectives to the team is to focus on the process, improve each day, embrace the moment and win one round-robin game.
“The identity we’re trying to instill is confidence. We’re trying to make sure that these guys believe in themselves because you try and get rid of the elephant in the room a lot of the time,” he says. “Everybody knows that we’re not at the top with all those nations in terms of rankings. I really want these guys to believe and that we play an up-tempo style. We’re going to be a team that wants to play in your face. The game has changed a lot, we want to play fast, take away time and space and with lots of energy. That’s what we’re trying to push with our players. The biggest thing is they play with self-confidence and hey believe in themselves.”
The game of hockey continues to grow in Austria but there are still only 7,200 registered players in the country. It isn’t the country’s Number 1 sport but there is progress. Austria is participating in its third-consecutive IIHF World Junior Championship. Prior to this run, the country had only ever been in two World Juniors.
Austria includes forward Vinzenz Rohrer, who plays for the Ottawa 67’s in the Ontario Hockey League and was a third-round draft pick of the Montreal Canadiens in 2002. Another player to watch is defenceman David Reinbacher, who plays for EHC Kloten in Switzerland and is projected to be a first-round pick at the 2023 NHL Entry Draft.
“They’re just great kids, great people and they’re so engaged. Their compete level is top notch, they’re both really good players,” says Furey. “Vinzenz is not a big guy but he has a big heart, that’s where he gets his success from, his drive and his passion is there. David is a young, composed defenceman playing in a men’s league and he’s shown a lot of success so far. It’s no surprise because they’re so engaged at such a young age; they know what they want and that’s pretty special to have for kids like that. There are no household names for us but hopefully there are some kids that get noticed a bit more as the tournament goes on. Maybe there will be another name at the end of it.”