In somewhat odd fashion the Austrians clinched a spot in next year's Olympic hockey tournament, even though their final game was a loss. Despite losing 3-2 to Germany in overtime yesterday, the Austrians came away victorious in the four team qualifying tournament. For the Germans to come away with the spot they would have needed to win in overtime, but due to their loss to Italy going into extra time, the Germans will be missing out on Olympic hockey for the first time.
What does this mean for Buffalo? Fans will be able to see Thomas Vanek in Olympic action for the first time in his career.
Despite being the best Austrian born player in the league, Vanek hasn't been given the opportunity to play in the Olympic games due to his country simply not qualifying. However, since Vanek entered the NHL in 2006, Austrian hockey has steadily been on the rise. Austria has moved up to 15th in the IIHF World Rankings and beat out France(14), Belarus (13), and Germany (10) to make it into the Olympics.
Vanek has paved a way for other Austrian players to follow him to the NHL. Two other Austrian players, Andreas Nodl and Michael Grabner, have made the NHL as well and gotten solid time. In 2010-2011 Grabner had his break out season, scoring 34 goals for the Islanders. He has established himself as one of their top forwards. Nodl had his best year in 10-11 as well with the Flyers, when he scored 11 goals. He is currently a member of the Hurricanes.
Austria wasn't the only unusual country to qualify. Slovenia and Latvia also earned their way into the games, thus earning Sabres prospect Zemgus Girgensons a ticket to Sochi for the Latvians.
Of course on the other side of things, with Germany on the outside for the first time, that means that the German players on the Sabres will be missing out on the games next year. With Christian Ehrhoff, Jochen Hecht, and Alex Sulzer on the roster the Sabres have the most Germans of any team in the NHL. All three were on the 2010 Olympic roster, but none will be going to Sochi.
Sabres fans got to see Ryan Miller lead the Americans to a silver medal in Vancouver, and will likely see him again on the American squad in 2014. And although its unlikely Austria makes a ton of noise in Sochi, its always nice seeing a Sabre featured on any team's roster. If he keeps playing like he has this year, however, Vanek could help the Austrians make some noise.