That Michael Raffl and his homeboy Michael Grabner both have jobs in the NHL defies the odds.
Raffl plays wing for the Flyers. He was best man at the wedding of Grabner, who then played wing for the Rangers and now plays for the Devils. Both are from Villach, Austria, an Alpine town in the middle of a cluster of ski resorts.
Villach has a population of only 61,000. This would be like having two current NFL starters from Medicine Hat, Alberta.
Raffl is the 15th and most recent Austrian to play in the NHL, although his (really) big brother, Thomas, almost made it, too.
He speaks German, English, high-school French and, haltingly, Swedish, since he spent two seasons playing in Scandinavia. He hasn’t transformed the game of hockey, but he’s stuck around because he is consistent and versatile — something of an Austrian Army Knife.
He played left wing with All-Star forwards Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek in 2014-15, when he scored a career-high 21 goals. He now earns his keep as a right wing on the third line with Scott Laughton, and has 18 points through 68 games this season. We spoke last week.
Most Americans associate Austria with skiing, symphony, and The Sound of Music. How would you describe your homeland? Do you prefer Mozart, Haydn, Schubert, or Strauss?
It’s a small, beautiful country. … tons of lakes, lots of mountains to hike on, beautiful woods. And in the winter, it’s skiing.
I skied until I was 7 or 8, but then my brother started snowboarding. I thought it was the coolest thing, so, since then, I snowboard.
I’ve heard of The Sound of Music but I’ve never seen it. As for the composers, I mean, obviously, we learned about them in school, since it’s a big part of Austrian history. That kind of music was played more in my grandparents’ house. Honestly, I’d never listen to that kind of music.
You played in the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Russia with Michael Grabner as well as with your brother, Thomas. The NHL did not let its players participate in the Olympics this year in South Korea. Were you disappointed?
Yes. It’s something special. I don’t really understand the NHL not letting players go. As a sportsman, it’s one of the biggest honors.
It wasn’t just [Grabner and Thomas], the team was all my friends. We’re not that big of a hockey nation. I’ve played with all of those players for years.
But, yes, getting to be there with your brother is extremely special.
Thomas is 31, two years older than you, and he’s played professionally in Sweden and Austria, and made it to the AHL in 2015, but he never made it to the NHL. You’re 6-feet, 200 pounds. He’s 6-4, 235. Who would win that hockey fight?
I’d never fight him! He’s my older bother! He always took care of me and protected me. [Raffle pauses, then smiles.]
Honestly, I find ways to get under his skin.
He’s a very calm guy — I should let the bear sleep. But I know how to get under his skin.
We once played a game against each other in the Austrian league, when I played for my hometown. My mother was watching. I started a little scrum with him in it. I kind of jabbed him a little bit, he absolutely lost it. My mom was really pissed at me.
You’ve won the Flyers’ training camp fitness award. Another accomplished Austrian, Arnold Schwarzenegger, once chaired the President’s Council on Physical Fitness & Sports. He’s 70. Are you fitter than the Governator?
Right now? Depends what we’re doing. I’d go for a jog with him. I’d go on the ice with him. I wouldn’t want to do squats or bench press against him.
Would you run for governor of New Jersey? Do you want your own action movie career?
I’d be in a comedy flick, not an action flick. And no: I wouldn’t run for political office.