Banners On The Road – Vienna Capitals vs Red Bulls Salzburg 27/2/15

ErsteBank Eishockey Liga Zwischenrunde

Vienna Capitals 3-4 Red Bulls Salzburg after penalties

Bois pp                    Raffl

Nödl                        Cijan

Iberer                      Heinrich

Shootout

Foucault: saved      Komarek: scores

Watkins: scores      Duncan: scores

Nödl: scores           Heinrich: scores

The calm before the storm... (c) BOTW

The calm before the storm…
(c) BOTW

Pre-game: I’d last been to Austria in 2000 before I got into ice hockey so when my wife and I had finalised our holiday to Vienna, it became a case of watching results in the Austrian based ErsteBank Eishockey Liga. With teams in Austria, Slovenia, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Italy, it could have been an international clash. If things had worked out, it would have been 2 games of hockey in a week but due to where they finished in the main round, Vienna had just the one game whilst we were there and it wasn’t going to be an easy one.

As you can imagine from the name, Red Bulls Salzburg are bankrolled by their locally based manufacturer of canned caffeinated beverages and they are the league’s powerhouse team complete with roster stacked with talent both foreign and domestic. They’d won the main round of the season by a distance, had the best home and away record in the league and hadn’t dropped a point in this middle round that decides playoff placings as they headed into facing a Capitals team in something of a crisis.

The Capitals had been on something of a downward spiral for the past two months. The team that had been challenging Salzburg at the top of the table had come spectacularly come off the rails which had cost coach Tom Pokel his job and Jim Boni, the man who had led Vienna to its lone EBEL title in 2004/05 had been brought back to try and lead something of a charge.

From our hotel it was a 20 minute ride on the tube from the centre of the city out to the suburb of Kagran. As you walk out of the underground station, you are immediately greeted by the sight of a gleaming metal and glass structure that is the Albert Schultz Eishalle. The place looks impressive and it is once you get inside; having printed our tickets at home we beeped our way through the turnstile we were greeted with the crisp and clean inside. The rink itself is beyond impressive; the big hall is one of 3 that house a variety of ice sports activities but the big hall is a facility worthy of any club with food and drink stalls meaning lines are kept to a minimum and a club shop that had an array of merchandise. The sight lines from the seats were fantastic and the pre-match bits were all in good spirits (including a welcome home banner for Boni and a thank you banner for Pokel) but the game started on time.

Welcome to back to the new (old) guy (c) BOTW

Welcome to back to the new (old) guy
(c) BOTW

whilst saying goodbye to the old guy (c) BOTW

whilst saying goodbye to the old guy
(c) BOTW

The game: The Capitals lined up with Matt Zaba in net facing Salzburg’s prodigal Slovenian netminder, Luca Gracnar. The opening exchanges were scrappy as both teams were teasing and testing each other, each looking to establish their own game.

The Capitals had the better of the early pressure as Ryan Duncan was called for holding the stick; Brett Carson’s shot was tipped by former Sheffield Steeler, Danny Bois but it went wide. When Dustin Sylvester was called for the high stick, it seemed the tide would turn but the Capitals kept pressing. Kris Foucault, a former team mate of the Bison’s Tomas Karpov in junior hockey, put the puck on net and a scramble ensued in front of Gracnar but Salzburg held firm and broke out and before the home fans could believe it, Thomas Raffl had blasted the puck over the shoulder of Zaba to give the visitors the lead at 05:04.

The Capitals were put further onto the back foot when Jamie Fraser mistimed an open ice hit and was called for tripping but the Capitals had the best chance of the powerplay shorthanded but Peter MacArthur’s shot was saved by Gracnar.

The game was starting to take on something of a pattern; the Capitals would handily keep the visitors out of the zone, start up the ice then seemingly run out of ideas or the crucial final touch in the attacking third of the ice. The hosts started playing higher and higher to try and squeeze Salzburg but they got burned again. Vienna got caught high and the league leaders broke out 3 on 2. Marco Bruckler fed Troy Milam on the left wing who drew the defenders across and the American fed it into the slot for Alex Cijan to hit the one timer past Zaba to double the lead at 14:10.

The second goal knocked the wind out of Vienna’s sails somewhat but they kept coming. Salzburg seemed happy to let the Capitals come at them and at 2-0 up they could afford to, seemingly satisfied to keep hitting on the counter. John Hughes had such a chance for the Red Bulls, the former EBEL player of the year dancing through the defence up the middle but eventually being held at bay by some good work by Matt Watkins.

Ryan Duncan was momentarily floored when he got in the way of a slapshot but luckily for the Salzburg man, the puck struck him square in the visor so he was OK as was Caps goalie Matt Zaba who took a shot from Red Bulls captain Mathias Trattnig off of his mask.

Then a gap in the Salzburg armour; a massive error sent fan favourite Rapheal Rotter and former NHL’er Andreas Nödl away two on one, it seemed almost easier to score but a fantastic defensive play by Ryan Duncan killed the chance, the Canadian diving stick first into the lane and getting the crucial touch. It summed up the Capitals period and the first frame ended with the hosts still in a 2-0 hole.

(c) BOTW

(c) BOTW

The Red Bulls piled on the pressure at the start of the second period; Manuel Latusa going close twice in space of a couple of moments but Zaba would hold both at bay.

The home fans had not been happy with the officiating in the first and were positively livid when captain Jonathan Ferland was called for charging on Dominique Heinrich but they had very little right to be angry. If anything it could have been a check from behind as Ferland appeared to go through the numbers. Luckily for the hosts, Salzburg couldn’t capitalise on the powerplay and Ferland came out of the box and nearly scored, his shot skimming past the post and ruffling the goal net.

Having recovered from the bad hit from Ferland, Heinrich would come back minutes later to haunt the Capitals. With Salzburg pressing in the zone, Raffl and Komarek passed between each other before Komarek noticed the Viennese born Heinrich pinching in from the blueline and fired the pass that was handily put past Zaba at 27:20 to make the score 3-0 to the visitors and seemingly put the game to bed.

Vienna needed to do something as they looked out on their feet at this point, the class of the Red Bulls showing through. There were chances but the Capitals were trying to be too cute with the puck and it wasn’t working against a tight Salzburg defence.

Troy Milam was called for holding which sent the Capitals to the powerplay but it started off poorly. Passes weren’t coming together and it was nearly 4-0 when Daniel Welser had a short handed chance that was saved by Zaba. The Capitals went back to basics; no more cute play but direct, straight to the net plays became the order of the day. With the powerplay winding down and Milam stood up in the box waiting to come back out, the breakthrough came; a scramble in front of Gracnar saw the puck batted home by Danny Bois at 31:44.

The crowd were getting on the backs of the officials more and more as it appeared a variety of calls were not being made on Salzburg for what seemed clear penalties. The worst of these when a Caps player was taken out without the puck at centre ice which led a fan in the west end to pull out a banner of an official covering their eyes. It also led Boni on the Capitals bench to mimic a blind man with a stick which, if seen by the league, will likely lead to disciplinary action against him.

When the fans aren't happy with the officiating, they'll let you know. (c) BOTW

When the fans aren’t happy with the officiating, they’ll let you know.
(c) BOTW

The period played itself out with neither side having any really close chances but at 3-1 down, the Capitals were at least back in the contest.

Feeling that they had a chance, Vienna came roaring out at the start of the final period and put the Salzburg defence under real pressure. That mounted even more when Konstantin Komarek was called for interference to the sarcastic cheers of the crowd but there was still no way past the defence. Salzburg’s attack seemed to have been blunted as they were struggling to get out of the zone.

The Red Bulls launched a fleeting attacking foray but the Capitals forecheck forced the turnover and there was no hope for Salzburg’s in the moment; tic tac toe from Klimbacher to Hartl to Andreas Nödl for the tap in at 44:16. The hosts had pulled it back to 3-2 and it was very much game on.

Nearly immediately, Salzburg had a penalty as Bois was called for charging. Off the ensuing faceoff Peter MacArthur broke out shorthanded and was in on Gracnar. MacArthur’s shot went wide and as MacArthur played the stick of the defenceman, he was called for slashing. In the moment, this was a very soft call that infuriated the home crowd to the point an empty plastic bottle was thrown onto the ice. It still left the hosts facing 1:42 of 5on3 against the best team in the league. However the powerplay just wasn’t clicking for Salzburg; some neat passing set up Kyle Beach for a shot in the slot but it was an easy save for Zaba whilst Nödl had a shorthanded break stopped by Gracnar.

The Capitals called their timeout with about 7 minutes to go to formulate a plan and they kept hammering away at the Red Bulls net. Foucault danced through the defence but fired high. Salzburg’s too took their timeout to steady their nerves and resolve; they were on the back foot and they knew it.

It seemed like it was going to be one of those nights of “so near but so far” for the Capitals. The final touch just wasn’t coming for them. They had thrown the kitchen sink at Salzburg but it just wasn’t coming. Hockey is a game where you need to get the bounce and eventually sheer weight of chances meant the bounce came for them. Another sustained attack on the Red Bulls net saw the puck find its way to Florian Iberer to the keeper’s left. Iberer shot goalwards and after taking a deflection off of something, the puck was in the back of the net. The crowd exploded as Gracnar took off his helmet and kicked it across the ice. From 3-0 down to 3-3 at 58:11.

Kenny Magown and Kyle Beach traded roughing minors as the teams headed towards overtime.

The overtime period was back and forth as the teams traded penalties; Heinrich went for the trip then Matt Watkins and Alex Pallestrang both took minors as the teams had chance after chance to end it. When John Hughes was finally called for holding onto Jamie Fraser, the Capitals launched one last cunning plan to try and win the game; they pulled Zaba.

You’re reading that correctly; on the powerplay in overtime having come from 3-0 down, Vienna pulled the goalie. They pulled the goalie and lost the faceoff. The clearance went sailing down the ice and hit the post. Penalties beckoned.

Foucault had his effort saved in tight by Gracnar and from there the teams traded goals till the game sat on the stick of Heinrich. He advanced on Zaba and snapped the puck home to give Salzburg the extra point and to spare their blushes.

Red Bulls players line up to thank Luca Gracnar for saving their behinds. (c) BOTW

Red Bulls players line up to thank Luca Gracnar for saving their behinds.
(c) BOTW

The Capitals: Vienna put themselves into a massive hole to start with because they fell into the trap the Red Bulls had set for them. The visitors knew that in front of a home crowd with a new coach that the Capitals would come racing out of the gate and they sat back, waited for mistakes and then struck. Once the Capitals realised that they couldn’t compete with the skill level of the visitors and tried to outwork them, the results came. The only problem for Vienna was that it went to the shootout where skill arguably pays more than hard work.

Danny Bois, released by Sheffield for not doing the business appears to have found a better role for himself as a power forward/space maker for Vienna. He looked handy for them and his scoring of the first goal was timely to say the least.

It wasn’t Matt Zaba’s greatest game in net but the support from his defence once the Capitals woke up was good, led by Sven Klimbacher who looks like a quality player. Matt Watkins and Andreas Nödl looked the most potent attacking threats for the Capitals in a game that was about getting their heads down and working hard to claw their way back into it. They might have lost the game but one of the newspapers summed it up well the next day; the performance has put the smiles back on some faces.

The Red Bulls: Salzburg in some ways are lucky that they could afford to almost throw this game away. Their ridiculous depth meant that ultimately they managed to save themselves thanks to the antics of netminder Luca Gracnar who despite being undrafted has to be on the radars of clubs in North America searching for good goalie depth.

The sheer force of will may have clawed the hosts back into this game but make no mistake, Salzburg are scarily good. The first half an hour showed that they can score out of nowhere from almost nothing. Komarek, Latusa, Raffl, Hughes and Beach on the front end, Trattnig, Heinrich, Fahey and Milam on the back end; if Salzburg don’t win this season’s EBEL title (Salzburg lost to HC Bozen in last season’s final so had the rare honour of losing the final but as the Austrian team that went the furthest in the playoffs we Austrian champions) then it’ll be a massive surprise. A game lost here or there shouldn’t really stop them.

Overall: This was a really good game of hockey in what might be the nicest hockey rink I’ve been to. I’ve seen hockey in multi-purpose arenas but this place is made for hockey and it really shows. You can see every corner of the ice from your seat on a proper sized ice pad (I’m looking at you, NHL) with excellent additional facilities around it for the fans including print at home tickets with a really simple entrance process. The hockey is of a really good quality and we were treated to a real back and forth struggle. In some ways, had a team won it in overtime it would have suited the story better but the drama lasted all the way through the shootout.

If you’re heading to that part of the world then I’d certainly recommend going. A ticket might work out a bit more expensive than your EIHL or EPL ticket (I paid 25€ a ticket for mine for what were in the best seats) but the hockey and the everything that comes with it is superior than most rinks I’ve been to in Britain. If nothing else they might have the best hockey snack ever in the form of a soft bread roll that they pump full of Nutella called (and I kid you not) “Pimp the Ball”. Vienna’s one of the world’s great cities as it is so you should visit but I recommend adding it to your hockey rinks to visit list as well.

(c) BOTW

(c) BOTW

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