Austria’s all-night party wasn’t the smartest idea, but it’s an overstatement to assume it caused its loss to Slovenia.
The Austrian men exit the Olympic hockey tournament with tails firmly planted between legs. Turns out they’re party animals and it may or may not have cost them their elimination game against the Slovenians.
Clearly, they haven’t seen Varsity Blues. Most of us know all-night benders and athletics don’t mix.
On Sunday, after beating Norway 3-1 for their first group stage victory, Austria went out for a team dinner. Several players decided to paint the Olympic village red, boozing it up until 6:00 a.m. the next morning.
On Tuesday, Austria came out limp and fell 4-0 to Slovenia in an elimination game. The late-night party fest has blown up in Austria.
“We had a real chance to reach the quarterfinals,” Austrian coach Manny Viveiros told reporters. “I don’t know why this happened, especially before what is most likely the most important game for modern era of Austrian ice hockey.”
Viveiros said he’d publish the names of the late-night partiers in the coming days, but it’s already apparent the NHL contingent was fuelling the festivities. Thomas Vanek, Michael Grabner and Michael Raffl already apologized in an open letter. Roughly translated:
“We know that this behavior is not a professional one, yet we think this did not influence our performance against Slovenia in any way or form, the disappointing team effort was the reason for the loss. We are aware of our role as role models and should have moved the celebrations to the evening after our last tournament play.
“We are at the end of the day just people who make mistakes, and we want to sincerely apologize for the negative impression that may have arisen in the public.”
Austrian Hockey Federation president Dieter Kalt went as far as calling the selection of Vanek as captain a mistake.
It’s quite the blowup for Austria and I can’t help but wonder if it’s gone way too far.
On one hand, the Olympics are a rare life opportunity, perhaps once-in-a-lifetime for a team like Austria, which has to fight tooth and nail just to quality for the Games. The Latvians and Slovenians, the latter of whom were ranked lower than Austria, are living proof any Olympic squad can compete with juggernauts with the right game plan and drive. Viveiros said days between games were crucial because “regeneration is so important.” As Vanek, Grabner and Raffl even said in their later, they could’ve moved their celebrations to after tournament play was over.
On the other hand, while it wasn’t the smartest move, would it have made a difference in the long run?
(a) This team didn’t look great to begin with. Vanek didn’t score a goal all tournament. Slovenia beat Slovakia. Maybe Austria lost because Slovenia was just better?
(b) I double-taked when I realized the Austrians drank 36 hours before the game. Not the night before. They had a full night’s sleep to regenerate. These guys were not playing hung over.
(c) Even if they had an upset in them, they were not going to medal. So maybe partying all night was their way of appreciating the experience.
So while the Austrians didn’t use their heads off the ice, the “scandal” feels more molehill than mountain.
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin