By Martin Merk – IIHF.com
THE MEN’S ROSTER
Slovenia was like four years earlier the lowest-seeded team to earn qualification to the Olympic Winter Games but they made it again by winning their qualification group in Minsk ahead of favored Belarus and Denmark.
On Friday the roster was announced at a media event in Ljubljana and includes three goaltenders, eight defencemen and 14 forwards.
“Deciding the Olympic roster is one of the toughest jobs for every coach. The selection was made in good faith that. With these players we will be able to achieve the best results at the Olympics. We would be happy to repeat the success from Sochi,” said Nik Zupancic, the assistant coach who represented Slovenia and previously Yugoslavia in 13 World Championship events.
“Lots of time has been dedicated to scouting. Head Coach Savolainen has many scouts who watched the players at the games in their leagues. The final decisions were made based on small details. We have chosen players who we believe will function best at the level of competition we are going to play and based on their task at the games themselves.”
The Slovenian players come from clubs from nine different countries and ten different leagues, which didn’t make scouting an easy task. Some even play in second-tier competitions in their country. And only one player, forward Andrej Hebar, plays for a local club, Olimpija Ljubljana, while the rest is split up anywhere between Grenoble in the French Alps and Gothenburg up north to Novosibirsk in the east.
Ziga Jeglic, Robert Sabolic and Rok Tikar all currently play in Russia. Also Jan Mursak played in the KHL until he recently and in his fifth season in Russia left Torpedo Nizhni Novgorod for Swedish powerhouse Frolunda Gothenburg, where he last week debuted with two goals in his first game.
19 players return from the team that has won the Olympic Qualification tournament. Among the missing ones is Los Angeles Kings star Anze Kopitar. And 22 players from the team represented Slovenia at the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship last spring.
Currently 15th in the IIHF Men’s World Ranking, the Slovenes will be the underdog again but they’re ready to accept that role again. In Sochi 2014 they lost to Russia and the United States but beat Slovakia 3-1 in the preliminary round and then faced Austria in the qualification playoff where they blanked the neighbours 4-0. After losing the quarter-final game to Sweden 5-0, Slovenia finished the Olympics in seventh place. It was the best placing ever of a Slovenian team in top-level international ice hockey and the only time Slovenia had reached a top-eight placing at a top-level event – even including the Yugoslav era.
The big dream is to repeat the success of Sochi also in Korea.
“I would be very pleased if we win the fourth game. But, from my perspective as a coach I am also interested how is our performance is going to develop from the first game to the third. I want the team to grow from one game to the next one. As a coach I will be happy if after the Olympics we will be able to say that we showed the best version of ourselves and played at the highest level that we are capable of,” said new head coach Kari Savolainen.