As you can tell from our social media (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram), the 2019/20 #SeasonCountdown is underway, and we were delighted to recently catch up with Graz99ers captain and long-time Austrian standout Oliver Setzinger. Graz99ers will play in the Champions Hockey League for the first time in their history in 2019/20, and Setzinger revealed his excitement to lead his team into the competition.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re old or young, you’re playing in the Champions Hockey League which gives you a chance to compete against the best teams in Europe. That’s why we play the sport right?”, commented the Horn native.
“You want to know where you’re at, and this gives a chance to really show how good you are. There’s always talk about “we’re this, we’re that”, but in the end we’re playing here to compete, and we’re competing against the top teams in Europe. For a player these are very important and great games to have. And for the city, you’re going to have teams come here who don’t normally set foot in this country to play”, Setzinger added.
"They’re going to be exciting games"
Graz99ers captain Oliver Setzinger on Group H match-ups
Graz99ers were drawn in Group H for the 2019/20 season, where they will face three-time CHL champions Frölunda Indians (SWE), Mountfield HK (CZE), and Cardiff Devils (GBR). Setzinger outlined the challenges this group poses.
“These are three unique teams who without the CHL would probably never come to Graz, so they’re going to be exciting games, and definitely helpful for our organisation and for the game of hockey in Graz,” said the Austrian blueliner commented.
“We all know that Frölunda is one tough nut to crack. They’re definitely going to be the favourites in our group. Cardiff is going to be the team that’s going to at least be equal with us. I don’t have much info about them, but I think Cardiff are going to be playing for that second spot in the group. And Mountfield… you know how Czech teams always are – they’re highly skilled, great skaters. We’re excited to play all the games against these teams and in the end we’ll see where we’re at.”
"We had a great season which was good for the city and great for the organisation"
Oliver Setzinger describing Graz99ers 2018/19 season
Graz99ers debut CHL participation comes off the back of a fantastic season which saw them win the EBEL Regular Season, only a year after they finished bottom of the table. After beating former CHL participants Black Wings Linz in the Quarter-Finals, Graz99ers were swept by eventual champions KAC Klagenfurt. Reflecting on the previous season, Setzinger noted the progress the team had made, particularly after a disappointing 2017/18 campaign.
“It was pretty crazy because I think last year, we had 13 new players in our team, and it is always a big gamble when you have practically a new team. You wonder are we going to play well together etc. But from Day 1 it clicked, and we had a great bunch of guys, great players with experience and younger guys who are really hungry to play. We started the season off and we played an amazing Regular Season. We played hard and we found ways to win even when we weren’t playing well, so the confidence in our team went up every week and we ended up winning the Regular Season”, said Setzinger.
“Then the Playoffs came. The first round went okay, and in the second round every game was really tight. We got swept in the Semi-Finals but it wasn’t a sweep where you lose every game and have no chance. We went to overtime in 2 of 4 games and only lost by 1 or 2 goals. It was really frustrating and heart-breaking for us, because we deserved just as much to win the Semi-Finals and get a chance to play for the title, but unfortunately that didn’t happen. No ifs or buts, they beat us in four straight games”.
Setzinger added, “It was frustrating but on the other hand we had a great season which was good for the city and great for the organisation. And for winning the Regular Season we get to play in the Champions Hockey League which is really big for the organisation and the city, and we get to compete against the best teams in Europe, so overall it was a very successful season”.
The former Team Austria standout also highlighted that Graz99ers couldn’t rest on their laurels. The team has gone to great lengths to re-sign star players such as Colton Yellow Horn and Dwight King, whilst also addressing other areas such as goaltending, with the signing of former NHLer Christopher Nihlstorp.
“We have to continue to move forward. Our goal shouldn’t be just to reach Playoffs and see what happens. Our team has stayed pretty much the same from last year to this year, and we know what we’re capable of. We’ve made some adjustments which will hopefully bring some improvements compared to last year. We know each other well and I hope that will be a big advantage for us and I hope that last year’s form continues into next year”, said Setzinger.
“Every year we’re making progress. The problem that a lot of teams face is always financial. We’re not a high-budget team. You can see in the city and attendance at the games that everything is improving. Also, from the management standpoint and team standpoint, the moves they made this summer by re-signing 85-90% of the team so we don’t have to change that much shows that they are also making steps forward. We have really moved forward in the last three years,” he added.
Setzinger, now 36 years-of-age, joined Graz99ers in 2016, and since then, has scored at a remarkable rate from the blueline. He has racked up 152 points in 172 games and shows no sign of showing down. When asked about the secret to his longevity, the Austrian defenceman stressed work-ethic.
“This is my 20th year pro now”, said Setzinger. “I don’t know if there’s a secret for why my career went so well. I worked hard, I did everything at a young age to become the player I am now. I left home when I was 15, went to Finland for 7 years. Like I said, I worked on myself, I worked hard to achieve a goal and I’m still kicking at 36 and will be for another 2 years or even longer. We’ll see what the future brings”.
And for how long Setzinger plans to continue playing? Ask him in two years time.
“I turned 36 this year, and I just signed a two-year extension on my contract, so I’ll be 38 when it runs out”, he said. “I get this question a lot – “how long are you going to keep playing?” To be honest, I love playing and I’ll keep playing as long as I can, but I won’t fool myself. Once I know that I’ve hit a mark where I can’t keep up with the younger guys any more, or can’t produce as much, I’m not going to lie myself and I’ll finish my career myself. I’ve got two more years on my contract and that’s my goal, and after that you never know. If I stay healthy, or not getting five years older over the course of one summer, I’m definitely going to continue playing because I love the game, and I love competing.”
"I’m trying to give back a little bit and trying to improve the young players as much as possible"
Setzinger on his new role with the Graz99ers junior program
In the meantime, Setzinger is taking steps to prepare for life after his playing career comes to an end. At the time of our interview, he was participating in a juniors’ camp, where he acts as an organiser and coach.
“I’ve started a kids program here in Austria for kids born in 2007, so it’s like an under-13, under-14 group. I’ve been doing some camps and tournaments with them whilst I’ve been preparing myself with all my off-ice and fitness things for my own season. It’s been a good summer, it’s been great fun”, said Setzinger.
“My son’s playing for the Graz99ers junior team too, he’s a goalie and he’s on a pretty good path to become a good goalie, so I started to talk to the main guys here in the junior program and I asked them if they wanted me to go on the ice with the kids. That was three years, and they really appreciated me working with the guys, and starting last season me and another coach from the junior program took over the Graz99ers U14s.”
“I really started liking it, and I figured that we had to do something in Austria because there’s not a whole lot going on with junior programs. I’m trying to give back a little bit and trying to improve the young players as much as possible”, Setzinger concluded.
The Champions Hockey League are delighted to tick off another city on the European hockey map by welcoming Graz99ers to the competition. And it is a massive welcome back for Oliver Setzinger, who played one season for KAC Klagenfurt in 2015/16. Definitely keep an eye out for the smooth-skating Austrian with an amazing shot!