Bernhard Starkbaum is a veteran and longtime favorite of the Austrian national ice hockey team.
The 36-year-old goalkeeper has now played for the ÖEHV team for 14 years. In 2009 he was in Switzerland for the first time at the World Cup. When the men’s ice hockey team plays their opening match in Group B against Sweden on Saturday (11:20 a.m. Live tape >>>), the Vienna national team starts the World Cup for the sixth time at a high level.
The Capitals goalkeeper has already fought a lot in 136 competitive matches to select ÖEHV. There was the World Championships in Finland in 2013 and in the Czech Republic in 2015, when Austria slipped bitterly into Division 1A with five points each.
However, he was also part of the team that, after promotion in 2017, was able to hold the class in the Championship in Denmark the following year and managed to shed its image as an elevator team, at least for a short time.
In 2019, a move to the second division finally followed again, but Austria benefited from the tournament’s disqualification of Russia and Belarus and can once again compete at the top tier. Starkbaum explains in an interview, “The task of staying in class” is “subject to everything” on the team. LAOLA1.
goalkeeper talking LAOLA1 interview Also about memories of his first World Cup, the upcoming finals in Tampere, the status of the Austria goalkeeper and a possible end to his career.
LAOLA1: You arrived in Tampere on Wednesday and you’ve already had your first snowboard training sessions. What are your first impressions of the new Nokia areena?
Bernard Starkbaum: It is a very beautiful and very modern yard with a huge video cube. Although the cabin cannot be compared to the cabin of the Swedes, we are not lacking anything.
LAOLA1: You played ten matches in preparation, but did not participate in the first two friendlies against the Czech Republic. You have managed to put in good performances against big countries like Sweden or Finland. What is your conclusion?
strong tree: We got better week by week. Of course it helped that we were together for a long time before the last matches. Salzburg caught up with him even faster after a relatively short series of finals. This means we have a long identification phase, which is definitely an advantage. But these games are in the past, and we can’t buy anything from them. It is important to learn from these games, build on them, and work better on upcoming tasks.
LAOLA1: I conceded a very unfortunate goal against the Czech Republic on the European Hockey Tour. How do you deal with such a situation?
strong tree: If the striker misses the goal, nothing will happen. If the defender misses, the goalkeeper is still there. If the goalkeeper makes a mistake, it will be immediately visible on the scoreboard. Mistakes can happen, but I don’t let them bother me. I can’t change what happened anyway. The goal certainly didn’t help, but I found my way back into my game straight away and was able to hit my performance.
LAOLA1: You are now participating in the 6th World Championships, I was there for the first time in 2009 in Switzerland. What memories do you have of that tournament?
strong tree: I was 23, I watched goalkeeper training and tried to learn a lot. There is always a great atmosphere in A-WM, you are with the best players from different countries, sometimes with the NHL players. This is a good place to learn things from other players/goalkeepers, but also to compete with them.
LAOLA1: Still excited or nervous ahead of the World Cup?
strong tree: I wouldn’t say nervous. Of course there is some tingling and anticipation, but when I get nervous my head and my focus don’t belong. I try to block out everything around me and focus on the things I can influence. No point in thinking about any other things. It is important to read the game situations well and know what to expect.
LAOLA1: I already mentioned this tingling sensation. On Saturday she plays the opening match against Sweden, having played there for four years. Are duels like this still something special?
strong tree: I’m sure I know a player or two. But for me, every World Cup match is something special. The match starts from scratch, we only lost to Sweden in Vienna. We have to be completely focused from the start, constantly transitioning into our system for 60 minutes. Then we’ll see what comes out. If we’re lucky, we might be able to get a point or two against the top competitors.
LAOLA1: Teams using the example of the Swedes cannot be compared with those in the setup, since NHL players are now on board, among other things.
strong tree: definitely. But before that we didn’t play against any player somewhere in the third or fourth division. We’ve also played against future NHL players. As I said: Every match starts from scratch. Any opponent only plays as much as you allow him to play. If you give your opponent a lot of time and space, of course it will always be difficult against Sweden and such. They are very experienced, very enthusiastic, and can perform plays in a really small space. We have to be aggressive and challenging, put the opponent under pressure early on and not let them into the match.
LAOLA1: In the past, matches against Sweden, the United States or the Czech Republic – your opening three opponents – were always straightforward. So, no applause was said. Do games like this scratch your confidence or do you think: Try it, let’s move on?
strong tree: You cannot live in the past in such a tournament. You have to check every game, regardless of whether you win 1:0 or lose 0:10. It’s a championship, and the most important match is always the next. This is how the focus should be. No one will think we will win the first three games with our hands. Anyone who thinks this is definitely in the wrong sport. We know we’re the underdogs, but we’ve also seen in the last few games how you have to play against opponents like this to challenge them and be able to win.
LAOLA1: Chances of getting points are again higher against Latvia and Norway. In 2019 I lost matches against both countries, everything else is history. How important is it to score points in these matches, also with the ‘final’ goal against Great Britain?
strong tree: We could have beaten Norway at that time. Anything is possible in such a tournament. Ideally, you don’t have to worry about staying up late in the last game against Great Britain. But all this is still far away, our focus is on the first match. We want to gain some self-confidence with a good start. Then we also know that we can play consistently well against the big nations over 60 minutes – that’s simply the key in a tournament like this. And then we’ll see. Maybe we will beat the Norwegians or the Latvians in extra time or on penalties.
LAOLA1: However, the last group game against Great Britain is perhaps the most important for the “mission to stay in the league”. How difficult is that?
“Why can’t we be able to get five points again and stay strong?”
strong tree: We don’t look at individual opponents, we look at ourselves. We look at what we can control. It’s definitely the main game, also in terms of world places – seventh versus eighth in the group, so to speak. But we want to push our strength and impose our game on the opponent.
LAOLA1: How important is staying in the league to the image of Austrian ice hockey?
strong tree: Very important, of course, so we don’t have to talk much about it. At this level, you only play against the major nations, against NHL players. So the focus is entirely on that. Of course, it doesn’t matter to us whether we hit the target in this key match against Great Britain or whether we’ve picked up a few points beforehand so we can stay awake. When I remember: I was in two World Cups when Austria was the only team eliminated by five points (note: 2013 and 2015). Why shouldn’t we be able to get five points again and stay awake?
LAOLA1: Of course it is possible. Besides the overall goal of survival, what goals have you set yourself for the World Cup?
strong tree: I just want to help the team, whether I’m on the ice, on the bench or in the stands. We have some young players that I can help with my experience. I want to push them, just help them out when I’m not on the ice. It is important that we have a good atmosphere in the team. And we have. It’s really fun, everyone laughs. But when it comes to work, everyone is fully focused. Everyone has a big goal to stay in the league.
LAOLA1: Given the mood, but also the structure of the whole team: how important is it that so many players play together at their clubs throughout the year, even in one line?
strong tree: Of course it pays to have the line play together all year round and blindly understand each other. This can happen, but it doesn’t have to. Although each team has its own tactics, it is not a shame that the players have played together in the past.
LAOLA1: Can the same be said of the goalkeeper’s position? She has formed the goalkeeper along with David Kickert at Vienna Capitals.
strong tree: Perhaps it would be better if they were both in a club to collect more Ice Age. To be honest, I don’t know of a single club in the world that has two national team goalkeepers in their squad. Unfortunately we have a problem in Austria that not enough local goalkeepers get the chance to play. Vienna has done a great job, the hats definitely have a welfare issue with two goalkeepers in the national team. But of course it will be an advantage if you have two top goalkeepers who play more for their clubs throughout the year. This will give you the rhythm of the game, and you will gain experience. We played 50/50 this year, and no one missed us. However, it will be very beneficial, especially for young goalkeepers, if they play more matches in one season.
LAOLA1: At 36, you are no longer the youngest of the group, and you already have two children. How long can we see you on the ice?
strong tree: I feel good and in good shape, I’m not like 36 at all. Training is still a lot of fun, both on and off the ice. I’m still one of the first on the ice and one of the last on the ice. Sure, another two or three years is possible, but I also have to take care of my body.
Text source: © LAOLA1.at
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