Viveiros coaches Austria's Olympic team
St. Albert hockey product in charge of Austrian Eagles at Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics
By: Jeff Hansen
| Posted: Saturday, Dec 07, 2013 06:00 am
The Austrian Eagles take flight at their first Olympic Winter Games since 2002 with Emanuel Viveiros at the controls.
The St. Albert hockey product will coach the Austrian national team at its 13th Olympic appearance.
“It’s a very exciting time for hockey in Austria,” Viveiros said in a phone interview Monday from his headquarters in Klagenfurt. “We kind of pinch ourselves every day that we have an opportunity to go there and take part in an Olympics.”
It’s a dream come true for the former defenceman who spent 17 seasons in Europe as a player, including 13 in Austria, following a 29-game stint with the Minnesota North Stars in the NHL and three minor pro teams.
“It’s a real honour to be involved in something so prestigious as an Olympics,” Viveiros said. “Coming from our culture in Canada and how important hockey is, it’s very special to be a part of and I’m looking forward to it.”
Austria punched its ticket to the Sochi Winter Games by slipping past Germany to finish on top of its group in the final Olympic qualification tournament in February at Bietigheim-Bissingen, Germany. Markus Peintner scored the 2-2 equalizer for Austria in the third period. Germany won 3-2 in overtime, but needed a victory in regulation time to advance.
“It was very, very exciting,” Viveiros said. “No one expected us to get (to the Olympics) in the first place. We had to beat our arch rival country, Germany, to get there. They’ve been a part of just about every Olympics (16 straight Winter Games) so they counted on going back again.
“It was an upset in the hockey world but for ourselves and our club we didn’t think it was an upset. We knew we had a real good chance of beating them. If we played to our level and everyone was on board we had a chance.”
The participating nations at Sochi were determined by the International Ice Hockey Federation rankings following the 2012 world championship. The top-nine ranked teams received automatic Olympic berths and a qualification format determined the remaining three teams.
“It’s a different formation now so it’s a lot more difficult now to get in,” Viveiros said.
Canada on tap
Austria, 15th in the IIHF rankings, is pooled in group B with Canada, Finland and Norway.
Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia and United States form group A and Sweden, Switzerland, Latvia and Czech Republic are in group C.
“What an honour it is to be able to compete against the world’s best hockey players there during that time,” Viveiros said.
Austria’s 25-man roster, plus a reserve list of eight players, will be finalized Dec. 30.
“Our team is certainly not complete yet. We have a pretty good idea who is going to be the major role players on our club but between now and then obviously so many things can happen injury-wise so we’re keeping our fingers crossed because we don’t have the depth as other countries do,” Viveiros said.
Unlike the Big Five – Canada, Russia, Sweden, Finland and United States – Austria has only three NHL players available for the Olympics: forwards Thomas Vanek and Michael Grabner of the New York Islanders and Michael Raffl of the Philadelphia Flyers.
“Their talent pool is being directly taken right from the NHL, obviously that’s the highest level, and we don’t have that luxury,” Viveiros said. “The rest of the players after that that we’ll be choosing from are playing in Europe, whether it be Austria or else in different leagues in Europe like Switzerland or Sweden, but all are Austrian-based players.
“Our talent pool so to speak won’t be NHL standard but high European standards for sure.”
Viveiros, 47, was promoted to head coach in 2011 after serving as an assistant on the national team for two years under Bill Gilligan.
His assistants are Rob Daum, a former coach with the Alberta Golden Bears and the Edmonton Oilers and current bench boss for EHC Black Wings Linz in Austria, and Christian Weber.
“For everybody on our coaching staff it’s our first time to take part in the Olympics,” said Viveiros.
The Austrian citizen was also among a handful of players who lobbied the IIHF for permission to play for a country other than their own at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. The IIHF had forbidden players who had already played for one nation to skate for another nation. Viveiros was a member of Team Canada that was awarded silver at the 1986 World Junior Championship in Hamilton. He was however allowed to represent Austria at the 2005 worlds in Vienna, two years after the IIHF decided to review its rules. A foreign player can now represent another national team if he has played four straight seasons in the domestic league of his adopted country.
“We just pursued it and see where it would go from there and eventually they did change the rules. I did have an opportunity as a player to qualify with the Olympics as a player and obviously we didn’t make that but I did have the chance to play in one world championship for Team Austria.”
At the coaching level, Viveiros started with KAC Klagenfurt after retiring from the team early into the 2006/07 season due to a back injury.
“I was actually thrown right into the fire. We were in a situation here where they needed some help later on with the coaching change in Klagenfurt and so I stayed on board to help out with the coaching aspect. It was something we as a family had never planned on doing. We had planned on moving back to Alberta but when the opportunity came to stay within the organization, not as coach but also as general manager of hockey operations, I said I’m going to see if we like it,” said Viveiros, winner of four Austrian championships as a player who coached Klagenfurt to the league title in 2009. “The last two years I’ve just been doing the general manager part of the hockey operations and coaching the national team.”
The Austrian league is comprised of 12 teams, including one team from Slovenia, Hungary, Czech Republic and Italy.
“We do have teams from different countries that take part in our league but the calibre of play is on par pretty well with all the other top nations,” Viveiros said. “It’s very close to being American Hockey League the level of play. There are quite a few imports in our league.”
St. Albert pride
Viveiros’ hockey roots are buried deep in St. Albert, his home in the offseason.
“I have nothing but fond memories. We had some really good teams when I played for in St. Albert,” said the former midget AAA Raider who left home at age 16 to play for the Prince Albert Raiders in the Western Hockey League. “The hockey part of St. Albert growing up obviously set the foundation of my career in hockey with the great competition we had and St. Albert producing a lot of really good hockey players over the years.”
Among his St. Albert hockey highlights was playing at the Quebec international peewee tournament and winning the MVP award at the bantam AAA Sabres tournament.
“It was not just the minor hockey days but life in general in St. Albert,” Viveiros said.
His sons Landan and Layne are both defencemen making their mark in the sport.
Landan, 20, played for the Raiders before moving up to the Alberta Junior Hockey League with the St. Albert Steel and Olds Grizzlys. He also competed for Austria’s U18 and U20 national teams and is now with Klagenfurt in the U20 league.
Layne, 18, also saw action with Austria’s U20 national team. This is his third WHL season with the Portland Winterhawks. He also spent time with the Camrose Kodiaks in the AJHL.
The boys have only started to scratch the surface in matching their dad’s longevity in hockey. The sixth round, 106th overall, pick by the Edmonton Oilers in the 1984 NHL entry draft recorded one goal, 11 assists and six penalty minutes in the big leagues and during his minor career spent split time with the Springfield Indians (nine goals, 66 points in 124 games) in the AHL and the Kalamazoo Wings (26 goals, 103 points in 111 games) and Albany Choppers (three goals, 10 points in 14 games) in the International Hockey League.
“Whenever you compete for a championship or a medal, that is about as good as it gets,” Viverios said. “In Prince Albert we won the Western Hockey League championship and the Memorial Cup (in 1985). Wearing the Maple Leaf at the World Junior Championship with Team Canada was also a great honour. Winning professional championships over here in Austria and obviously qualifying for the Olympics also ranks right up there too.”