Team Austria joins the top Division in Junior Hockey for the first time since 2010 but I don’t believe anyone should count them out at the 2021 World Junior Championship. Team Austria doesn’t come into the World Juniors as much of a threat to win gold or even make it to the elimination games however, there is the possibility that Austria could find an upset along the way to get their first win in the top group.
Austria has had three World Junior appearances (1981, 2004, 2010) and has been relegated each time. You might ask, “How can a team get relegated each time?” The answer is simple. Austria has never won a game at the World Juniors. With that said, this year they have an x-factor they’ve never had before, and that is Marco Rossi.
You may recognize the name, and that is because Rossi was drafted 9th overall at the 2020 NHL Entry Draft to the Minnesota Wild. Some even believe he should have went higher. NHL.com’s scouting team had the Austrian ranked 4th overall predicting he would be taken by the Detroit Red Wings. Instead the talented forward slid all the way to 9th.
Rossi led Canada’s Ontario Hockey League with 81 assists and 120 Points representing the Ottawa 67’s. Cole Perfetti who finished second in league scoring, played 5 more games than Rossi but still trailed him by 9 points when the OHL season was shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Let’s put Rossi’s 120 points into perspective. It is the most points in the OHL since Chicago Blackhawks forward Alex Debrincat scored 127 in the 2015-2016 season as part of the Erie Otters. Debrincat had the luxury of playing with 3rd overall pick Dylan Strome as his centreman for most of that season.
If that is not already impressive enough Rossi’s point total is the most by an Import player (player born outside North America) since the 2006-2007 season! That season, fans had the joy of watching Sergei Kostitsyn light up the league, scoring 131 points with the London Knights. Much like Debrincat, Kostitsyn had an advantage that Rossi didn’t have… Patrick Kane was on a line with the Belarusian.
With that said Rossi does get to play with Jack Quinn on the 67s. Quinn will represent a very talented Team Canada at the World Juniors, showing how much potential he has to be a star. However, unlike Kane and Strome, Quinn wasn’t the one driving the offence for his line at the OHL level, that honour goes to Rossi. Quinn had a respectable 89 points this past season for the 67s but it was still 31 less than Rossi’s total!
Rossi is one of the most entertaining players not currently in the NHL. He makes up for his small 5’9” frame with great hands and knack for scoring goals but his greatest equalizer is his incredible skating and passing ability. In two seasons with Ottawa Rossi had 117 assists in 109 games.
So what will it take for the Austrians to get over the hump and win a game at the World Juniors for the first time in program history?
Well it certainly will not be easy for Team Austria. They are in tough playing in a group with the likes of USA, Sweden, Russia and Czech Republic.
So let’s do a walk through of the games I believe Team Austria has the chance of winning.
It may sound crazy for me to say, but USA is one of the teams I could see the Austrians beating. For any massive underdog, the longer the game stays scoreless the more they start to believe. For Team Austria, the slim chance to beat USA comes from the fact Team USA plays against Team Russia on Christmas Night. USA is without many players they thought would be a part of their team. Jack Hughes from the New Jersey Devils and Nick Robertson from the Toronto Maple Leafs won’t be making the trip as per their organizations. Boston Bruins prospect Johnny Beecher won’t join the team as he’ll be at home dealing with COVID-19 implications. Looking at their goaltending, USA will use Spencer Knight to face off against Team Russia and need to go with the backup goalie Dustin Wolf for their second game. Unfortunately for Austria, Wolf was also at the tournament in 2020 but he is a slight step down from Knight.
The last and only real hope the Austrians have is Rossi. Rossi will need to get on the board scoring a hat trick and possibly set up another goal to have any shot. My honest prediction… USA wins by a big margin, Rossi and Austria struggle to get one past Wolf and they start the tournament 0-1.
The next chance Team Austria has is New Years Eve against Team Czech Republic. The Czechs just aren’t going to bring the talent level they have had at recent tournaments. Not to mention they have a history of playing to the level of their opponents at recent World Junior tournaments.
At the 2020 tournament The Czechs beat Team Russia on opening day, but followed that up with a loss to team Germany (the team who eventually finished last in the group). In 2018 they barely scraped by Belarus, allowing 5 goals and scoring the game winner with less than 7 minutes to play. In 2017 the Czechs lost to both Denmark and Switzerland in the round robin – causing them to finish third in the group.
With the history Team Czech Republic has, this may be the game that Marco Rossi dominates and gets team Austria the win. Rossi is the only player on Team Austria that’s been drafted to the NHL – but when it comes to playing the Czechs they may not need anyone else. Rossi will be the best player on the ice by a substantial amount and he could go off for a big night. The Wild draft pick has the firepower to lead Austria to 3 or 4 goals, which means it’ll come down to the defensive side of the puck. I believe team Czech Republic will be able to do just enough to hold off Austria because of the team‘s depth. Although I have no doubt Rossi will put his team in a good position to get the win.
At the 2021 World Juniors the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) determined that there is not going to be a team relegated, therefore eliminating the Relegation Series. This is good news for Austria, guaranteeing they will be in the 2022 tournament. The downside is that Austria will not have the chance to play against Team Germany. I believe Austria would have been relegated from the tournament but I also believe that if they were to face Germany, they would have been able to defeat them in one of the relegation games. At the 2020 tournament, Kazakhstan played Germany in the relegation round and won game two of the series. Kazakhstan didn’t have a player anywhere near Rossi’s talent and Team Germany lost most of their top players from the 2020 World Juniors.
The Austrians have two shots to win. A very, very, very slight chance in the opening game against team USA. With the other being a real shot in a New Years Eve showdown with the Czechs.
The only hope the Austrians have in both those games is Marco Rossi – a player who is well on his way to becoming the greatest Austrian born hockey player ever… Yes, I said EVER.
Despite their lack of experience, with Rossi on the team, Austria has a chance to do what has never been done in program history, win a game at the IIHF World Juniors.