Team Austria will be the underdogs in nearly every match at the 2022 World Junior Championship. The nation was promoted to the top division in 2021 for the first time in over a decade and, unsurprisingly, finished last but staved off relegation thanks to the International Ice Hockey Federation’s (IIHF) decision to remove it due to various pandemic concerns. But these tournaments aren’t about winning for the small nation. Rather, it’s about gaining that invaluable experience of playing against the best junior players in the world to improve their own game and development.
But when they do have a shot at winning, it’s hard not to see it as a chance to make a statement on the world stage. That’s exactly what the matchup between Austria and Germany was for both nations, and every player entered the game determined to sneak out a win, which would likely push their team to a playoff berth. Unfortunately, only one team can claim that honour, and the Germans showed that they are still a step ahead of the Austrians in terms of development.
Austria Makes Their Shots Count
Instead of bombarding German goaltender Florian Bugl in this game to increase their chances of scoring, the Austrians decided to choose their shots carefully. Senna Peeters scored on his team’s very first shot of the game on the power play. Austria’s second goal came just five shots later and nearly 20 minutes after Jonas Dobnig, on which Peeters assisted. They finished the game with just 17 shots, the second-lowest total in the tournament so far – the Germans only managed 11 shots against the Americans and scored once.
Yes, Austria struggled to generate scoring chances and, thankfully, was able to capitalize on the few chances they had. Germany was bigger, stronger, and more experienced on defence and used it to their advantage, frequently knocking the Austrians off the puck and preventing them from closing in on the net. However, Team Germany was also sloppy at times, which allowed Austria to sneak in a couple of goals. Peeters had an excellent chance to give his team a 3-2 lead but missed on the penalty shot. Germany scored twice after that, sealing Austria’s fate.
Apart from Germany’s skill, the biggest problem for Austria was that they were unable to hold onto the puck away from the play. Players routinely attempted drop passes to their teammates, who were rarely prepared for them, leading to several turnovers and scoring chances. Had they simply drawn in the Germans and forced them to take the puck off them, Austria may have managed to generate some more scoring chances to keep the game within reach until the very end.
Auer Sinks Austria With Carelessness
I was expecting Luca Auer to be one of Austria’s best offensive weapons in this tournament. After his success with the Salzburg Red Bull Junior team and playing in Austria’s top hockey league, he seemed to be capable of being put into situations where he could flex his scoring muscles, so to speak. However, he flexed different muscles against Germany, spending 31 minutes in the penalty box, including an ejection from the game. After two days, he leads the World Juniors in penalty minutes.
Auer wasn’t simply playing too physical against a physical German squad, he was being careless in his play, which is uncharacteristic for a player described as a rare defensive talent and a responsible player all over the ice. He was first called for an interference penalty after running into a German player and sending him into the post, then was assessed a double-minor for a high stick against Alexander Blank. The play was clearly an accident, and thankfully, the stick blade caught Blank’s jersey before it flipped off his helmet. But it was still easily preventable; after dumping in the puck, he allowed his raised stick to casually hang in the air before his opponent ran into it. The kneeing penalty and subsequent ejection was also arguably an accident but also easily preventable.
While most of the team was fairly disciplined, Auer’s carelessness led to several good chances against and killed any momentum the Austrians had built up in pursuit of a goal. It also robbed Team Austria of one of their better offensive players, as he spent far too much time in the box to make much of a difference.
Wraneschitz Stands Tall Against the Barrage
In 2021, no goalie was more overworked than Sebastien Wraneschitz, making 61 saves against Sweden, 54 saves against Czechia, and 58 saves against the USA in three appearances. This tournament got off to a similar start, with the Austrian goaltender turning away 44 of Germany’s 48 shots. While the workload is a bit less than what he’s used to at this tournament, he remained consistent, posting a .909 save percentage, which ranks first among goalies who have faced over 40 shots.
After an up-and-down season which saw Wraneshitz join the Victoria Royals for two games before returning home to Vienna to recover from a health concern, then returning to North America to play 18 games with the United States Hockey League’s Tri-City Storm, where he helped set a club record of nine shutouts, it’s great to see that he is still willing and able to handle the heavy workload at the World Juniors. Backup, Leon Sommer, will likely take on one of Team Sweden or Team USA, but expect Wraneschitz to handle the rest of Austria’s tough schedule. With Germany out of the way, he’ll be that much more prepared to face the next opponent.
Austria Has Their Work Cut Out for Them
The game against Germany was likely Austria’s best chance at winning a game, but in the end, the players aren’t all that concerned about where they will finish in the standings. After the game, Peeters commented on the topic, saying, “I’m just happy to be here. I was here during Christmas when it was cancelled, so I’m just happy to be playing hockey and representing my country. It’s always a great honour.”
Austria’s next game is on Friday against Team USA, who fired 50 shots against the Germans in their opening day matchup, five of which slipped by Carolina Hurricanes’ prospect Nikita Quapp. If Peeters, Wraneschitz, and the rest of the Austrians can hold their own against them, they’ll be in an excellent position to steal a win against Switzerland, who they’ll face on Aug. 15.
|Team Canada||Players to Watch||Roster|
|Team USA||Players to Watch||Roster|
|Team Austria||Players to Watch||Roster|
|Team Czechia||Players to Watch||Roster|
|Team Finland||Players to Watch||Roster|
|Team Germany||Players to Watch||Roster|
|Team Sweden||Players to Watch||Roster|
|Team Switzerland||Players to Watch||Roster|
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An elementary teacher by day and an avid hockey fan, Dayton joined The Hockey Writers in 2019 and currently covers the Ottawa Senators, World Juniors, and NHL Entry Draft.