Here we go!! Team Slovenia's Olympic dream kicks off tomorrow morning in Sochia against Team Russia. The game starts at 4.30 a.m. Pacific at the Bolshoy Ice Dome, and will be playing on MSNBC and CBC, so I expect the comments section to be hopping.
For a nice overall preview of Team Russia, check out our pals at Defending Big D (although I submit that you may be deluded beyond all measure if you think that Sidney Crosby is not one of the four best players in the Olympic tournament). Suffice it to say that Team Russia is going to be good, and the pressure on them to capture gold in front of the hometown crowd is going to be stifling. Which just means that it is going to be absolutely crushing when Team Slovenia pulls off the greatest upset in IOC hockey history.
Robert did a preview of Team Slovenia yesterday. As you can see, it's tough sledding as far as name recognition goes - most of these guys don't even play in the top European leagues. But let's remember that anything can happen in a seven-game tournament! Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin on home ice? Whatever. Anze Kopitar can handle it.
- As we've mentioned a few times now, this is Team Slovenia's Olympic hockey debut. And as we've also mentioned a few times now, this Slovenian team qualified for the Olympics without Anze Kopitar, beating higher-ranked Belarus, Denmark, and Ukraine.
- There are 148 total adult male hockey players in Slovenia, one professional hockey team, seven indoor rinks, and no outdoor rinks. Anze Kopitar himself has said that the entire country of two million people has thirty, maybe forty, hockey players who can compete at a high level.
- The point is: regardless of what happens in this game or the rest of the tournament, this will be a special night for these players. Matjaz Kopitar is probably going to cry. I will probably cry too, and only a little bit from sleep deprivation. It's going to be pretty cool.
- While researching Team Slovenia, I found an article which (via Google translate) said this: "Kings find themselves in a [standings, I think] crisis, problems are mainly in the attack." The Kings' lack of offence now qualifies as an internationally-recognized crisis, apparently.
- The lovely @lassinsane on twitter was kind enough to share some of her Team Slovenia fan insights with me, so be sure to thank her/give her a follow for some Team Slovenia in #slochi insights. She feels this is probably the best team that Slovenia has ever had, although she candidly acknowledges that the goaltenders are going to have to stand on their heads for the team to win any games.
- She also reminded me that Slovenia took Canada to overtime at the World Championships last spring! Jan Urbas, who'll be playing on Slovenia's third line at the Olympics (at least, to start) scored twice in the first period, and Slovenia almost escaped the game with a 3-2 victory before Canada pushed the game to overtime and eventually won. So, while Slovenia may only feature one NHL star up front, it appears that they can still score some goals, which should be a refreshing change for us Kings fans. Let us hope they score some tomorrow morning.
- Tomaz Razingar, the veteran captain of the team, and Slovenia's flagbearer in the Opening Ceremonies, had intended to retire just before the IIHF Olympic qualification tournament in Vojens. He ended up sticking around and broke down in tears when Slovenia won - and now he gets to help make history. If you don't love that story, you are a monster.
- Gremo, fantje!