Olympic Hockey: Slovenia Making First Appearance Ever

Anze Kopitar, Olympic hockey
Anze Kopitar, Olympic hockey
Dec 21 2013 Los Angeles CA USA Los Angeles Kings center Anze Kopitar 11 reacts after he scored the winning goal past Colorado Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov 1 in the shootout at Staples Center The Kings won 3 2 in a shootout Jayne Kamin Oncea USA TODAY Sports

For the first time since the NHL started sending their players to the Winter Olympics in 1998, and the first time since gaining their independence, Slovenia will have a team representing their country to take part in the tournament.

The history of the team is one that ties into the former Yugoslavia. Slovenia — as we know it — only got their independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991. Like many Eastern Bloc countries, the economics of independence burdened the country. In the 2000s, they saw their national debt spiral out of control. When things like debt burden happen, things like developing hockey players is at the bottom of the list of necessary expenditures.

This lack of development reflects in both the IIHF rankings – where they’re at 17th, nestled between Kazakhstan and Italy – and  their success at World Championships, where Slovenia hasn’t finished higher than 13th place, and higher than 16th in five straight years. Nonetheless, they qualified for Sochi by winning a final qualification tournament with Belarus, Denmark and Ukraine as their competition. This is a pretty big step for the Slovenian national program, as Belarus is a former Olympic team and Denmark typically has done better at World Championships than Slovenia has over the last 20 years.

A lot of credit has to be given to the national program for even getting to this point and the players should be proud of this achievement; it is the first time an independent Slovenian will don a hockey jersey at the Olympics. That said, they are the lowest-ranked country taking part in Olympic hockey and have an uphill climb ahead of them being in Group A, the group with Russia, USA and Slovakia. Here’s who we should look for on the roster.

The best way to analyze this team is to look at who was there for the Olympic qualification tournament then add Jan Mursak and Anze Kopitar.


It would appear as though Robert Kristan will be Slovenia’s starting goaltender in Sochi.

Kristan has been Slovenia’s national goalie for quite a few years now. The 30-year old netminder played for Slovenia at both the U18 and U20 World Juniors (second division), several World Championships and was their goalie for the qualification tournament that led to this appearance in Sochi. Kristan was the MVP of the Slovenian professional league, the Intraliga, in 2004-2005 after posting season marks of a .934 save percentage and 1.32 goals against average.

Should anything happen to Kristan before or during the tournament, his likely backup is Andrej Hočevar of HC Sokil Kyiv, his club side in the Ukranian professional league. Hočevar followed much the same route as Kristan, playing both World Juniors and World Championships for his country and even playing for the same team that Kristan did earlier in his career, HK Jesenice.

As with most countries that are likely to be hovering around relegation, their biggest chance of success lies with their goaltender stealing a game or two. This will be Kristan’s task in their very tough group.


Slovenia’s defense will be anchored by a 23-year-old defenseman named Blaz Gregorc, who plays for HC Pardubice of the Czech Republic professional league.

Gregorc is the power play quarterback for Pardubice and he’ll need to bring all his talents to Sochi if they hope to find the back of the net on the power play against the teams they are facing. For a younger player, Gregorc is a good size at 6-foot-3 and about 210 lbs so it’s not like he’s a young guy who will be able to get pushed around easily by the NHLers he’ll be facing.

One possible defense partner for Gregorc will be the right-handed shooting Ziga Pavlin who plays for Troja-Ljungby of the Allsvenskan league, Sweden’s second division professional hockey league. He’s not a puck-mover like Gregorc, which would make him a good fit; his defensive play would allow Gregorc to take chances up the ice.

If they choose to load up the top pairing, Gregorc could be placed with Klemen Pretnar, a professional hockey player who’s making his living in the Austrian league. In his last 82 games played for Villacher SV, Pretnar has 46 points, but is more known for his puck movement than defensive play. That makes me think he would not end up with Gregorc as a partner unless they were desperate for a goal.

To round out the top four, it looks like Ales Kranjc will get a lot of ice time for them. Kranjc also is a more offensive defenseman, so you wonder how exactly the pairings will shake out. However, Kranjc does have 30 points in his last 70 games for his Kolner Haie side in the German professional league.


Slovenia’s offense will run, essentially, through three players up front: Anze Kopitar, David Rodman (who scored both goals in their upset win against Denmark to qualify) and Jan Mursak, the former Detroit Red Wing who is now with Khabarovsk of the Kontinental Hockey League.

Rodman is a small-ish winger who should be on the top line with Kopitar in Sochi. Across just about every league he’s played in, Rodman has been a point-per-game player known more for his passing than goal scoring. That includes two years with the Val d’Or Foreurs in the QMJHL. The offense will start and end with this top line, and if they have any hopes of success, they – along with Gregorc and Kranjc – will have to carry the load offensively.

The secondary scoring will come from Mursak and another young forward by the name of Ziga Jeglic. Jeglic has bounced around different professional leagues from Austria to Slovenia, from Sweden to now in Germany. He’s injured at the moment but is expected to be healthy for the Olympics.

There are also a pair of brothers to aforementioned players that will also be on this team. Gasper Kopitar, Anze’s brother and son of head coach Matjas Kopitar, will be one of them. Gasper played a handful of games for the Portland Winterhawks in the WHL and even had a couple games with the Ontario Reign of the ECHL this year. The other brother is Marcel Rodman, brother of David, played in the OHL for the Peterborough Petes and is a goal scorer that will be looked at for scoring depth.

This isn’t a team that was looked at to qualify for Sochi, yet here they are and that is a commendable accomplishment. While they aren’t as strong on paper as other teams, many of these players have played years of hockey together, be it for club teams, junior national teams or World Championship teams. They’ll have instant chemistry that other teams won’t and due to the nature of this tournament, are not a team to take lightly.

Again, a big thanks to eliteprospects.com for their resources.

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Michael Clifford
Michael Clifford was born and raised in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada and is a graduate of the Unviersity of New Brunswick. He writes about fantasy hockey and baseball for XNSports and FantasyTrade411.com. He can be reached on Twitter @SlimCliffy for any fantasy hockey questions. !function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?'http':'https';if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);js.id=id;js.src=p+'://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js';fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document, 'script', 'twitter-wjs');