Austria remains in medal hunt
by Chris JUREWICZ|19 MAY 2024
Austria’s 4-1 win over Norway on Sunday in Prague has set up quite the finish to the preliminary round at the 2024 IIHF World Championship.

Two second-period goals by Peter Schneider and one by Dominic Zwerger opened up a sleepy game and gave the Austrians the momentum they needed in their quest to not only avoid relegation but compete in the medal round. That didn't go unnoticed by the Austrian fans in attendance, who were engaged throughout the game and roared for their team at the final horn.

"It’s so nice. All the support that we have through the tournament so far, we appreciate that so much," said Austrian forward Marco Rossi. "We want to give something back to the fans and I hope we made them happy today with the win."

The result guarantees Austria will not be relegated regardless of what happens the rest of the way. And, with seven points and one game remaining, Austria is tied with Finland for fourth place in Group A. The top four teams will move on to the quarter-finals on Thursday.

Austria needs to beat Great Britain on Tuesday and hope Finland earns three or fewer points in its final two games, which are against Denmark and Switzerland. If Austria and Finland end up tied in points, the Austrians would move on as they won the head-to-head game 3-2 on 16 May. You can bet the Austrian fans will show up in droves to the end.

"It was almost like a home game so that was really exciting. It was crazy," said Austrian forward Vinzenz Rohrer. "They all sang Austrian songs before the game ended  and I was like ‘geez’ ... I was really surprised. That was something if you play in such a big arena, it’s really nice."

There are a lot of variables at play but the fact is the Austrians have given themselves a chance and they can point to a strong second period for the win over Norway. Following an uneventful first that saw both teams play cautious hockey, Austria opened it up in the second.

Schneider continued his excellent tournament with a pair of similar goals in the second. Schneider, a right-hander, has been turning heads all tournament with his slap shot from the left side. At 8:14, during an Austrian powerplay, Marco Rossi dropped the puck back to Dominique Heinrich at the point and then Heinrich sent a pass across to Schneider, who unloaded a one-timer past Norwegian goaltender Henrik Haukeland.

Forty seconds later, Zwerger drove the Austrian net on the left side with Schneider heading down the middle. Zwerger tried to pass the puck to Schneider and it deflected off the stick of Norway defender Johannes Johannesen past Haukeland to make it 2-0.

"It was really important," said Rossi of the two quick strikes. "After the first goal, we had the momentum on our side so it was important to keep going. We scored the next goal and it was really huge for us."

Schneider got his second goal with another one-timed blast from almost the exact same spot as his first, this one coming at 13:53. Rossi picked up his third assist of the period and Schneider’s goal moved him to 25 points to pass Walter Feistritzer for fourth place all-time among Austrian skaters at the Worlds.

Austria had a 5-on-3 late in the second that carried into the third, but couldn’t capitalize with the man advantage.

Norway got on the board with seven minutes left in the third when Mats Zuccarello sent a perfect pass to Sander Engebraten in the slot and the Norwegian defender one-timed the puck in. But Austria put it away at 17:24 on a Mario Huber empty-net goal. Zwerger picked up an assist for his second point of the game.

David Kickert stopped 26 shots for the win in net.

"We have to forget about it. We have a game tomorrow," said Norway's Mats Zuccarello. "Today wasn’t good enough. We have to make some plays and some passes tape to tape and play a little smarter hockey. We played a good team, they scored on their chances and we have to show up tomorrow."

Norway faces Great Britain on Monday and needs at least one point to avoid relegation. A regulation win by Great Britain would result in a Norway demotion.