Friday, January 31, 2014

2014 Olympic Hockey Preview - Slovenia

Today begins our previews of the teams that will compete at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Each day we will take feature a different team in the order of their current placing in the IIHF World Ranking.

The Slovenia National Hockey Team is currently ranked 17th in the IIHF World Rankings. It it certainly a surprise that Slovenia qualified for the tournament, as there are no less than five teams currently ranked higher than Slovenia who did not qualify for Sochi, those being Germany (10th), Denmark (12), France (13), Belarus (14) and Kazakhstan (16).

Slovenia hockey logo photo SloveniaHockeyLogo.jpg

Based on their status outside of the top nine ranked countries, Slovenia was required to earn their place in The Games through the qualification process for teams outside the top nine. Slovenia was placed in Final Qualification Group F along with Ukraine (ranked 20th), Belarus and hosts Denmark. In their opening game Slovenia defeated Belarus by breaking a tie with two third period goals for a 4-2 win. They then upset the Danes with a 2-1 win thanks to a pair of goals from David Rodman. They then secured their place in Sochi with a dominant 6-1 victory over Ukraine for their first ever Olympic hockey tournament since becoming an independent nation in 1992.

David Rodman Slovenia photo DavidRodmanSlovenia.jpg
David Rodman

Slovenia was not invited to participate in the qualifying process for the 1994 Olympics and did not qualify for the 1998, 2002, 2006 and 2010 Games.

Since gaining their independence following the breakup of Yugoslavia, Slovenia have been regular participants in the World Championships, first being assigned to Pool C as a new country, the lowest rung of the ladder system. After finishing second in 1997, they earned promotion to Pool B in 1998. After finishing a lowly 0-5-2 in Pool B in 2000, the IIHF changed to a new format, placing Slovenia in Division I Group B. As hosts, Slovenia needed to win by 12 goals to win the goal differential tie breaker over Great Britain and came through with a sound 16-0 thrashing of last place Estonia to earn the promotion to the Top Division of the IIHF World Championships.

They were relegated back to Division I Group B in 2003 but won an immediate promotion back to the Top Division in 2004. Two years later they repeated the process with a relegation in 2006 and an immediate return to the top in 2007, only to face the drop once again in 2008. They currently find themselves stuck in the position of being unable to defend their place among the world's elite, but strong enough to handle Division I, as the have alternated promotion and relegation every year since 2010. With their relegation in 2013, they will once again be looking to win Division I Group A in the spring of 2014.

Slovenia 2012 IIHF Division I Group A photo Slovenia2012IIHFDivisionIGroupA.jpg
Slovenia celebrating after winning the 2012
Division I Group A World Championship tournament

Of the four times Slovenia has been demoted, they earned immediate promotion three times by winning their group in Division 1 and were promoted after just two tries the other occasion. To date, Slovenia's best finish in the World Championships has been a 13 place, those coming in 2002 and 2005 where they finished ahead of Denmark, Germany and Austria.

Slovenia enters the 2014 Olympics with one lone NHLer on it's roster, Anže Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings, who will be coached in Sochi by his father, the national team coach Matjaž Kopitar.

Kopitar Slovenia photo Kopitar2008WC.jpg
Anže Kopitar

The remainder of the Slovenian roster draws heavily from teams that play throughout Europe, including Jan Muršak of CSKA Moscow of the KHL. The remainder of the roster currently plays in the Germany DEL (7 players), Austria (5), France (4), the Swedish second division (3) and one each in Slovakia, the Czech Republic, the Russian second division and the Czech second division.

With the format for this year's Olympics calling for the top four teams after the Preliminary Round to receive byes into the quarterfinals, the key for Slovenia will be defeating Slovakia in their game on February 15th in order to place in the top three in Group A, along with hoping to steal a point against either Russia or the United States to avoid finishing last in order to draw a lesser ranked opponent for the knockout games for teams ranked 5-12 at the conclusion of the preliminary round, which will determine which four nations will advance to the quarterfinals.

In plain English, due to this year's format, two of the top six countries, SwedenFinland, Russia, the Czech Republic, Canada and the United States will be in the knockout round, and beating Slovakia is key to avoiding one of those two top six nations in order to advance. 

Sometimes just competing in the Olympic tournament is it's own reward, and Slovenia should take it all in and enjoy the atmosphere of participating in their first Olympics. Who knows? Belarus knocked Sweden out of the tournament in 2002 and every now and then, miracles can happen...

Today's featured jersey is a 2006 Slovenia National Team Anže Kopitar jersey as worn during the 2006 World Championships.

Koptiar was originally drafted 11th overall by the Los Angeles Kings in 2005 while he was playing for Södertälje SK in the Swedish Elitserien (having competed for their U18, junior and senior level teams all in the same season!).

After one more season in with Södertälje, Kopitar is now in his eighth season with Los Angeles, which includes leading the team in scoring five times, being named their most popular player twice and their best defensive player in 2011 - during the same season he also led the club in scoring!

He also became the first Slovenian to win the Stanley Cup in 2012 and is easily the most accomplished Slovenian player of all time. He is now approaching 200 NHL goals, currently at 186 and has appeared in two NHL All-Star Games.

Internationally, Kopitar has skated for Slovenia three times each at the U18 World Championships, the U20 World Championships and the IIHF World Championships. Obviously, with Slovenia qualifying for the Olympics for the first time, this will be Kopitar's first Olympic participation.

Slovenia 2006 jersey photo Slovenia2006F.jpg
Slovenia 2006 jersey photo Slovenia2006B.jpg

Here is a look at the jerseys that the Slovenia will be wearing during the 2014 Olympics. These jerseys are a major departure from the traditional Slovenian flag based red, white and blue colors as seen above. While the green color is not a part of the Slovenian flag, it has been used on their national soccer team jerseys for some time now. As a new nation to the Olympic hockey competition, foregoing their previous colors and wearing blue and green will make certain even casual fans will not mistake Slovenia for anyone else, as 5 of 12 other countries in the tournament will be wearing red, white and blue.

Once they hit the ice, the jerseys will most assuredly be a talking point as to why the green color. A clue for the reason for the green can be found in the jersey's waist striping, as it represents the mountains of Slovenia as well as the leaves of the lime tree, which is prevalent throughout the country. Additionally, the coat of arms of Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, features a green dragon and their national soccer team is known as the Green Dragons. We wonder if anyone will be wearing a Kopitar version at the Staples Center for a Kings game later this season?

 photo Slovenia2014jerseys.png

Here are highlights of Slovenia defeating Belarus during 2014 Olympic qualifications, followed by their upset victory over Denmark.



Finally, the happy reaction from the team after securing their place in Sochi.

3 comments:

  1. Go Team Slovenia! Can't wait for the first game against Russia tomorrow!

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  2. Love the Slovenia Olympic jerseys. Favorite jersey in the tournament. Spent all weekend trying to find one, and could not. Could NOT find one. Where?????????????????????

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  3. Nike seems to have no interest in bothering with making jerseys for sale outside of their home country. We saw a photo of the LA Kings mascot wearing a Kopitar Slovenia jersey, so we called the Staples Center team store to see if they had any, but they only carry the USA. We thought that would be probably the only hope of getting one in the USA. If you find out, let us know.

    ReplyDelete

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