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“Like a gold medal”: Slovenia earns first-ever Olympic victory, stunning Slovakia
By Mark Lazerus
SOCHI, Russia — Slovenia entered these Winter Games looking distinctly out of place — its neon green uniforms, its roster with only one NHL player, its nonexistent Olympic history. In a hockey tournament loaded with the biggest names in the world, and some of the biggest countries in the world, Slovenia was an afterthought, a cupcake, a doormat.
Turns out, the Slovenes belong.
Slovenia stunned Slovakia 3-1 on Saturday for its first Olympic victory in just its second Olympic game. Two days after giving the host Russians all they could handle, and two hours before the hotly anticipated U.S.-Russia game at Bolshoy Ice Dome, Slovenia provided the first great Olympic moment of the men’s hockey tournament.
“This is like a gold medal for us,” forward Bostjan Golicic said. “We didn’t expect that, but this is amazing for us, it’s history. It’s our first win in the Olympics.”
It was a watershed moment for Slovenia. And possibly a Waterloo moment for Slovakia, which was 15 minutes from a bronze medal in Vancouver just four years earlier.
Slovak goaltender Jaroslav Halak of the St. Louis Blues sounded like a man who had lost confidence in his nation’s hockey future.
“We had different players [in 2010], everybody was younger,” Halak said. “Everybody’s four years older right now, and time is catching up with everybody. You look at our roster four years ago, we had really good hockey players in their primes. It’s hard to replace them. We have nobody young coming up. It’s really hard to replace them and, I mean, it is what it is. We have to play with what we have.”
Slovakia’s Michal Handzus tipped his hat to Slovenia, but he never saw this coming.
“They played better than us,” Handzus said. “They outplayed us, which is kind of surprising. But they were better.”
It was 0-0 through two periods, but Slovenia scored three goals in six minutes. When Kings star Anze Kopitar — whose father, Matjaz Kopitar, is the coach — put in the third tally, neon-green-clad fans were dancing in the seats, and captain Tomaz Razingar was dancing on the bench.
“First, it was our dream to come to the Olympics,” said Slovenia forward Ziga Jeglic. “And now, this win, it’s just phenomenal.”
Now Slovakia has less than a day to recover before its final group game against Russia on Sunday.
“We have to swallow this one,” Marian Hossa said. “We know tomorrow is a really hard opponent, [so] get ready for tomorrow.”
Does he still believe the Slovaks can do damage in the elimination rounds?
“After this disappointing loss, it’s going to be hard. It’s hard to lose a game like this. But there is still one more game in the group, and you never know.”
One thing Hossa does know, is what this win means to Slovenia, a country of just 2 million people, less than half the size of Slovakia, itself a small country in a tournament full of big ones
“It’s a huge, huge win for them, definitely,” Hossa said.
One that will long be remembered.
“I’m sure it’s going to be a big thing,” Kopitar said. “I’m sure everybody is going to be very excited about it. I’m sure that this is going to stick with Slovenian hockey for a long, long time. Hopefully it’s going to help all the kids growing up, starting to play hockey. It just feels awesome.”