Elliotte Friedman - Thursday Feb. 13, 2014 11:29

Manny Viveiros hopes Olympics give hockey higher profile in Austria

Former NHL player now head coach of Austrian team

Manny Viveiros, head coach of the men’s Austrian hockey team, moved to that country in 1991 and never left. (Martin Rose/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Twenty-eight years ago, Manny Viveiros represented the best this country had to offer, winning a silver medal at the 1986 world juniors.

“I know what an honour it is to wear the jersey,” he said Wednesday. “It is an honour to play against them.”

Viveiros won’t play, but he will coach Austria against Canada on Friday (noon, ET). As much as he and assistant coach Rob Daum were concentrating on their opener, an 8-4 loss to Finland, it was impossible not to think about game No. 2.

“We were so excited to get here,” said Daum. “Then we saw the draw and said, ‘oh.’ It’s mixed emotions. To be at the Olympics, against Canada…”

He stops. “Well, I can’t even put it into words.”

Viveiros, from St. Albert, Alta., was drafted 106th in 1984 by Edmonton, and played 29 NHL games for the Minnesota North Stars. In 1991, he went to Austria. There were two years in Germany and one in Italy, but he never really left. Now, he’s the national team coach and speaks the language pretty well.

“Ginglish,” he laughs.

Three years ago, Daum, from Churchbridge, Sask., was looking for a job. Armed with excellent technical knowledge, he coached the Prince Albert Raiders, the Lethbridge Hurricanes, the University of Alberta Golden Bears, the Houston Aeros and the Springfield Falcons. He spent one season with the Oilers as an assistant.

Austrian offer

An offer came from the Austrian city of Linz. He needed advice, so he called Viveiros. Recognizing a good asset, Viveiros snared him instead. They beat out favoured Germany to qualify for their first Olympics since 2002.

“Hockey has some popularity here, but not on the level of skiing or soccer,” Viveiros said. “Germany [has] 20,000 kids playing, we are under 4,000. The goal is to go from 35 players to pick from for our national team to 100.”

“When we go back to Austria, we want people to say we are proud of our hockey team. No one expected us to be here,” Viveiros said. “But we believed in ourselves and are not surprised.”

The conversation with Daum was pretty funny. I started to ask him if their experience on the big ice would help against Canada and he stopped me cold.

“Advantage? We have no advantage. None.”

He paused, and added, “but we get to play the game. We didn’t win a lottery to get here. We weren’t the home team. We earned our spot. What we have is the opportunity. Look at sports, there are upsets all the time. You think it should never happen, but it does.”

Viveiros’ sons, Landan, 20, and Layne, 18, who plays for the WHL’s Portland Winter Hawks, have joined the Austrian program. His family (with wife Laurie) and Daum’s family (wife Carol, son Evan, twin daughters Lauren and Carly) probably are the only Canadians who will cheer for Austria.

“I hope so,” Daum said. “If they’re not, who is?

“It’s surreal,” he continues. “I’m not an overly emotional guy, but I appreciate the opportunity and the situation.”

They will have to be much better defensively than they were against the Finns, for sure. Viveiros will certainly mention that, but he won’t say much else.

“For the biggest games you don’t need to.”

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