10.5.11

National teams that struggle - they can only blame themselves.

With the recent departure of Team Austria in the A-Division of the World Championships, it got me thinking about an article that I had read which was posted on the IIHF website prior to them being ousted. It was a little snippet into the life of head coach of the national team, Bill Gilligan, which had the wheels in my head going.

Within some European countries who do not develop many NHL players (like Austria and Slovenia for examples), they do not have many rinks or hockey programs because hockey is not the number one sport of even close to that. If you look at who has come out of Austria such as Vanek, Grabner, and Nodl – all three of them came over to North America at a young age to reach their dream of making the NHL. Do you think at this day and age; the young kids in Austria with a lack of guidance and proper hockey experience will get them to the NHL by staying in their country? Probably not.

Vanek came here when he was 14 to play in the ECHL and then played for the Gophers. Grabner came and played for the Spokane Chiefs in the WHL and was quite the star there. Then Nodl pretty much took the same route Vanek did and played for the same team he had in the ECHL. I did some research to see if Anze Kopitar had developed within Slovenia but then learned that at either 16 or 17, he left to play in Sweden. He had been told he would not have a chance in the NHL unless he ‘left the country’.

There’s probably major concern for this; seeing as if Austria, Slovenia, and some other countries could perhaps get more hockey schools, they would develop a lot more players within the country. The kids are becoming more interested in the sport thanks to the guys mentioned above but they’re only being motivated to leave the country when they get to be older. I would personally love to see Austria get plenty of rinks and schools to help kids there. I think they could be a hockey powerhouse if they tried.

Vanek actually made comments on the current situation with how the national team is run in Austria:

Now let’s talk about the Austrian squad. I’ve read Matthias Trattnig’s interview with Laola1 today and have to completely agree with his criticism. I am and always have been proud to play for Austria, the state of things in the national hockey federation just makes it hard to do so. You feel like at a summer hockey-camp when you join the national squad not like in a professional team. While it’s an important factor it’s not only to do with getting food and water but with other basics like wearing the same uniform already in practice. Other “small” hockey-countries like Italy and Norway warm up in the same tee-shirts. We do the warm-up completely mixed up. Matthias is wearing a Red Bull-shirt, Bernd Br├╝ckler a Russian shirt from his club and I warm up in a Buffalo-shirt.

Of course, that’s not all. What’s really bad is the fact that there’s just not enough staff. We have just on physical therapist and one equipment manager – by far not enough for a national squad, especially at times like a world championship where you play every other day. 15 or more guys would need a massage after a game, but there’s only time for like 3 or 4 to get one. The equipment manager is also overstrained with so much work in so little time.

The players are supposed to be professionals. True, but the same should be said about Hockey Austria. We want to come and play well, but, as I said above, the officials don’t always make it easy for us.

It’s hard to say for us why that is so. We as players don’t have any insight into the finances of the hockey federation. We have no idea if all the money is getting to where it should really end up. But I think it’s alarming that similar hockey nations like Italy and Norway can do so much better than we. We’ve talked to Hockey Austria manager Giuseppe Mion and president Dieter Kalt sen. last year but nothing much has changed.

It’s interesting to see his thoughts on everything and how truly upset he seems to be over how unprofessional the national team is. It makes me wonder if he’s going to try and make a difference after his career is over.

If you’d like to read the article I mentioned earlier, check it out here if you’re interested: Have Puck, Will Travel.

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