Five reasons Austria could totally medal in Sochi Olympics

HELSINKI, FINLAND - MAY 13: Thomas Vanek (R) of Austria and Yevgeni Kuznetsov (L) of Russia battle for the puck during the IIHF World Championship group H match between Austira and Russia at Hartwall Areena on May 13, 2013 in Helsinki, Finland. (Photo by Martin Rose/Bongarts/Getty Images)

The men’s ice hockey tournament at the 2014 Sochi Games is expected to be the most thrilling and popular even at the Olympics. We’re breaking down all 12 teams until the tournament begins on Wednesday, Feb. 12.

Austria competes in Group B in the 2014 Winter Olympics. Here are five reasons why they could totally medal in Sochi:

1. They Have Thomas Vanek … What Else Does One Need?

NHL fans know that when Vanek gets hot, he gets scorching: Better than a point per game, and able to carry his team offensively. He’d pretty much have to do that here for Austria to have a snowball’s chance in coastal Sochi to win a game … but keep in mind this is a grand-stage audition for a player that’s likely to be moved by the New York Islanders at the NHL trade deadline when the season resumes. Maybe he lights it up.

2. They Also Have Michael Grabner

If the name the game in Sochi is “speed,” then the only name you need to know is Michael Grabner. The Islanders’ forward has won the “fastest skater” competition at the all-star game and should love the bigger ice sheet.

3. The Goalie

Bernhard Starkbaum, 27, will be the likely starter for the Austrians. He's been strong in the Swedish Elite League, sparking speculation that he could be on the radar for NHL teams. The other goalies are Mathias Lange and Rene Swette.

4. The Old Man To Calm Them Down

While Austria sports a rather young roster – five players born in 1988 or after – Gehard Unterluggauer is the veteran on the blueline. The 37-year-old defenseman with the robust last name has played 239 games internationally and appeared in the 1998 and 2002 Olympics, the last times the Austrians made the cut. Said coach Manny Viveiros: “Players like him can draw on their own experience in making sure the other guys don’t get too distracted, get themselves prepared and get enough rest. His experience will be invaluable for us.”

5. Element of Surprise

Face it: The Austrians aren’t going to be taken all that seriously. They’re only in Sochi because they upset Germany and avoided relegation. They have one line at best and are in a group with Canada and Norway. But teams taken lightly in the Olympic tournament can be teams that pull stunners.

C’mon, Can These Guys Actually Medal?

No, not really. While their goaltending might given them a shot at an upset, the Austrians should be honored to be nominated.