Heading into the 2014 Winter Olympics, most hockey folks aren't giving the Austrian squad the time of day. The team only features three current NHL players, and only Thomas Vanek is a bona fide game-breaking forward.
Remember that Austria played for and won the right to play for a medal in Sochi though. Will they be able to secure enough points to get out of Group B in the first place? Could they come up with one of the biggest upsets in Olympic history by taking down either Finland or Canada?
More so than just about any other sport, the correct combination of players can beat anyone else on any given night. Austria isn't a safe place to put your money if you're a betting man, but it's the Olympics—as such, this is the best team that the nation could put together, and if the opposition doesn't take them seriously, they could end up on the wrong side of the scoreboard.
This is Austria's full roster, as per TSN.
Forwards: Michael Grabner, Raphael Herburger, Thomas Hundertpfund, Matthias Iberer, Thomas Koch, Andreas Kristler, Manuel Latusa, Brian Lebler, Daniel Oberkofler, Michael Raffl, Thomas Raffl, Oliver Setzinger, Thomas Vanek, Daniel Welser
Defence: Mario Altmann, Florian Iberer, Andre Lakos, Robert Lukas, Thomas Pock, Matthias Trattnig, Stefan Ulmer, Gerhard Unterluggauer
Goaltenders: Bernhard Starkbaum, Rene Swette, Fabian Weinhandl
Thomas Vanek, Left Wing: Only Anze Kopitar bears more of the weight of his home nation's Olympic hopes than Thomas Vanek. There's no denying that the scorer of 260 NHL goals can light the lamp, but can he do it with nearly enough frequency to give Austria a fighting chance?
Thomas Hundertpfund, Center: An interesting specimen of a player, Thomas Hundertpfund is capable of playing all forward positions and defense. Austria doesn't have any real noteworthy pivots, so they'll call on the 24-year-old to elevate his game to unheard of heights in Sochi.
Michael Grabner, Right Wing: Few players will see their games open up more on the larger ice surface than Michael Grabner. He'll need to go bonkers like the rest of this line, as almost all of the offensive firepower is concentrated into this trio.
What's Expected: Miracles.
Michael Raffl, Left Wing: With 29 games of NHL experience, Michael Raffl is one of the most experienced players on this roster when it comes to contests played in the best hockey league in the world. He's occasionally shown flashes of brilliance with the Philadelphia Flyers, but Austria will be looking to him to be more of a sustained super nova.
Raphael Herburger, Center: A scrappy SOB of a forward, Raphael Herburger will have his work cut out for him against some of the best centers alive. Toughness isn't typically a major factor in the Olympics, but the 165-pound middle man will do his best to agitate anyone he can.
Daniel Oberkofler, Right Wing: The 25-year old Daniel Oberkofler can also play center. He's good for a point every few contests and has seen more than 400 career games in Austria.
What's Expected: All three of these players would need to have the best couple of weeks of their lives to give Austria the scoring depth needed to tackle one of the super powers. Stranger things have happened, but—well, stranger things really haven't happened.
Just like the first line and everyone else on this team, Raffl and the rest of the second unit need to find ways to be disturbingly effective in the offensive zone without giving anything away in their own end.
Thomas Raffl, Left Wing: If Oberkofler can't handle second-line duty, look for Thomas Raffl to get shuffled to a top-six role. The towering winger has the skill necessary to hack a few goals home, but every other competing nation has gone with speed over size in their roster selection. Raffl's lack of agility could hold him back on the big ice in Sochi.
Andreas Kristler, Center: Another veteran of the Austrian hockey league, Andreas Kristler is capable of lighting the lamp a few times but can sometimes get into trouble in his own end.
Manuel Latusa, Right Wing: With 360 points in 587 games played in Austria, Manuel Latusa is one of the more prolific scorers that Austria will be able to ice. Sticking him on the third line could create some favorable matchups, but don't be shocked to see him pulling down top line minutes either.
What's Expected: Raffl, Kristler and Latusa can all chip in on offense. On a team that looks particularly score-by-committee, their roles as third liners will be more important than it may be elsewhere for other teams. They need to score some goals, and they can't be a liability either.
Oliver Setzinger, Left Wing: Unlike most of his teammates, Oliver Setzinger was drafted into the NHL. The Nashville Predators took him in the third round back in 2001, but he never could find his way to the show. His hard-working style and good shot saw him through 21 games in the AHL, but that was the end of it for Setzinger in North America.
Thomas Koch, Center: Fans who watch the World Championships should be familiar with Thomas Koch. He's taken part in every WC since 2005 and has posted 15 goals across those 45 games. He could also end up a top-six forward due to his creativity, but placing him on the fourth line gives Austria at least one dangerous player in each trio.
Brian Lebler, Right Wing: The 25-year-old Brian Lebler brings more size to the rink than most of his Austrian counterparts. He stands at 6'3" and weighs in at 212 pounds, making him one of the more immovable presences on the roster.
What's Expected: Getting Koch away from Canada's top checking lines might not make a lot of difference, but it could make an impact against Norway—the other team in Group B outside of Finland and Canada.
This is another balanced scoring line that would need to keep turnovers to an absolute minimum.
Matthias Iberer: With more than 400 games in the Austrian hockey league under his belt, Matthias Iberer is a sound professional that knows his game. He doesn't have the skill set needed to be an impact player though, and might not be more than a reserve on this roster.
Daniel Welser: With 304 points in 468 games in the Austrian league, Daniel Welser could very well end up playing a role for the Austrians in Sochi. If they don't like the checking game that one of the other forwards is bringing, look for the 30-year-old to see some action.
Thomas Pock: The resident stud defenseman for Austria, Thomas Pock brings more than 100 games worth of NHL experience to the table. Of course, he carried a minus-30 through those contests while playing on some awful New York Islanders teams, so maybe "stud" is an overstatement. Pock was a steady point producer in the AHL, but the gap between the Olympics and the Hartford Wolfpack is astronomical.
Robert Lukas: At 35, Robert Lukas has played more games in Austria than just about anyone on this roster. His experience and know-how will be invaluable on the blue line in Sochi.
What's Expected: Steady, steady defense. This duo could play more minutes than just about any other top pairing, and Austria will need them to be other-worldly as they try to topple either Canada or Finland.
Florian Iberer: One of Austria's true journeymen, Florian Iberer has plied his trade in the IHL, Germany, UHL and Austria—among others. He'll need to lean heavily on that wealth of experience on one of hockey's biggest stages in the Olympics.
Mario Altmann: With a steady defensive style based on keeping the game simple, Mario Altmann could be a leader by example in Sochi. He makes few mistakes and rarely takes risks, which is a positive thing when Patrice Bergeron is bearing down on you in your own zone.
What's Expected: Perhaps more so than even the top unit, Austria will look to Altmann and Iberer to be absolute rocks in their own end. Don't expect much offense from them, but don't look for them to cough too much up either.
Andre Lakos: Once the games start to matter, don't be shocked to see Andre Lakos skating on one of the top two pairings. Using him in this capacity allows him to stay uber-fresh for when Austria has power plays though, which is where he thrives. Lakos has a hard shot and is steady in all three zones.
Gerhard Unterluggauer: At 37, Gerhard Unterluggauer is the most experienced player on Austria's roster. Sure he's lost a step, but he's a steady old sailor on a ship that needs him.
What's Expected: Some sneaky firepower from Lakos would be a big boost, but the expectation here is the same as it has been across the defensive board for Austria's defense. Points or cool, strong plus-minus is imperative.
Stefan Ulmer: The 23-year-old is another stay-at-home type that doesn't produce much up front but can play a safe game in his own end.
Matthias Trattnig: Another one of Austria's players that can play both forward and defense, Matthias Trattnig is a bull of a man regardless of where he lines up. He has an excellent shot and can lay some outstanding open-ice checks, so if one of the squad's other defenders starts to fall off, Trattnig could find himself in a game or two.
Bernhard Starkbaum, Starter: The 27-year-old Bernhard Starkbaum has been a mainstay in net for Austria since 2008. He has a solid track record in the SHL, and that garnered some attention from NHL teams as recently as this offseason. Starkbaum didn't end up making the jump, and it's unclear at this point how he'll perform against the best shooters in the world.
Rene Swette, Backup: Rounding out Austria's goaltending contingent is Rene Swette. At 25, he's managed to establish himself as one of the best Austrian-trained netminders around, and he has two WJC silver (one in D1A, one in D1B) medals to his credit.
Fabian Weinhandl, Third-string: A five-year veteran of pro hockey in Austria, it'd take a string of nasty injuries to thrust Fabian Weinhandl into the starting role for this team.