For many countries, qualifying for the Olympics in hockey is a given. For Slovenia, it was anything but. Here's how they got to Sochi. We're gonna start a long, long, time ago, in a country that doesn't even exist anymore...
February 7-15, 1984: As hosts of the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia competes in men's ice hockey and takes 11th place. They lose to the USSR (eventual gold medalists) 9-1 and to Sweden (eventual bronze medalists) 11-0. 18-year-old Matjaz Kopitar is one of the final cuts.
August 24, 1987: Anze Kopitar is born in Jesenice, Yugoslavia. His father, of course, is Matjaz Kopitar.
June 25, 1991: Slovenia gains independence from Yugoslavia.
May 6, 1992: Slovenia joins the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF).
March 21, 1993: Slovenia finishes in 20th place at their first World Championships. They would only finish in the top 20 once in the next eight seasons.
June 27, 1998: Right winger Edo Targlav becomes the first Slovenian-born player drafted by the NHL when he is taken in the ninth round by the Buffalo Sabres.
April 15-21, 2001: Slovenia hosts Group B of the IIHF Division I tournament, which consists of teams outside of the top 16 of the world rankings. After Great Britain routs Kazakhstan in a controversially lopsided affair, Slovenia needs to win their final game by twelve goals in order to win their group. Their 16-0 stomping of Estonia does the trick, and they earn promotion to the IIHF World Championships for the first time.
April 26-May 5, 2002: Slovenia loses all three games at the 2002 IIHF World Championships and is forced into the consolation bracket, where they win three consecutive games to avoid relegation. This 13th place finish remains their highest-ever World Championships finish (matched in 2005).
May 5, 2003: Slovenia is relegated back to Division I after a 15th place finish. Over the next ten years, they will be promoted four more times... and relegated four more times, including in 2013.
July 30, 2005: Soon after his national team debut, Anze Kopitar is selected 11th by the Los Angeles Kings in the 2005 NHL Draft. One year later, he becomes the first Slovenian-born player to play in the NHL. (He's still there.)
February 5-8, 2008: Slovenia finishes last in their group in the qualifying tournament for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. This includes one-goal losses to Austria, Japan, and eventual qualifiers Germany. Slovenia had finished third in their qualifying group for 2002 and 2006; only the winner of each group qualifies for the Olympics.
December 12, 2010: Matjaz Kopitar becomes the 11th coach of the Slovenian national team, replacing John Harrington. (Fun fact: Harrington was a member of the 1980 U.S. Olympic team, and assisted on Mike Eruzione's game-winning goal in the "Miracle on Ice" game.)
December 28, 2010: Jan Mursak makes his NHL debut for the Detroit Red Wings, becoming the second Slovenian-born player in NHL history. Mursak has since left the USA and is currently playing in the KHL, but he will be in Sochi as well.
July 5, 2012: The Stanley Cup visits Slovenia for the first time, courtesy of Anze Kopitar.
February 7-10, 2013: The impossible happens at the men's qualifying tournament for the upcoming Olympics. Playing without Anze Kopitar, 18th ranked Slovenia beats 13th ranked Belarus 4-2. Due to other results, Slovenia can qualify for the Olympics by winning their next game. The problem: it's against 12th ranked Denmark on Danish ice. Here's what happened.
With the 2-1 victory, Slovenia qualified for the Olympics for the first time ever. They put an exclamation point on their improbable run with a 6-1 victory over Ukraine two days later. Thousands of miles away, Anze Kopitar scored a goal against Detroit in celebration. That game was one year ago today.
February 13, 2014: Slovenia will play the first Olympic game in their nation's history. It's against Russia, in Sochi. Regardless of what happens, it's been quite a journey.