If there is indeed a Group of Death in the 2014 Winter Olympics, it is Group A. And Slovenia just happens to be in that group, along with USA, Russia and Slovakia. Welcome to the Olympics, guys.
Every player on the Slovenian team, including NHL star Anze Kopitar will be an Olympic rookie in Sochi. That doesn’t mean they have to go in all starry-eyed for their first game, which pits them against Russia Feb. 13, but they’re realistic about their chances, too. Kopitar is hopeful, but not expecting any Miracles on Ice.
“Hey, you have a chance to win gold,” said Kings teammate Justin Williams.
But even though Kopitar is part of the only team in NHL history to win a Stanley Cup after entering the playoffs as the eighth seed in its conference, he knows what lies ahead in Sochi.
“It’s a little different,” he said. “We’re going to go there and give it our all. We’re going to go and compete and put up a fight for sure and I’m sure nobody expects us to win any games, but, you know what? Maybe we can have an upset somewhere.”
The Slovenians know all about upsets, considering they shocked the hockey world last year by just getting to Sochi. Playing in a qualification pool against more established countries, such as Belarus and Denmark, which hosted the tournament, Slovenia went undefeated to take one of the spots up for grabs.
“The last couple of years, our guys have been playing consistently better and better,” Kopitar said. “And once I saw that little group back home, you have to think there’s a chance. And they pulled through.”
The Olympics has the chance to be a very special time for Kopitar, regardless of how the Slovenians fare. His father, Matjaz, is coach of the Slovenian team and his younger brother, Gasper, is a candidate for a roster spot. The 21-year-old is playing this season with Mora in Sweden’s second-tier league.
“We’ll see if my brother makes the team,” Kopitar said. “If he does and we’re all together there, it’s going to be one hell of an experience.”
Of course, it might not be so great to be around the kitchen table at the Kopitar family abode – which has shifted to Manhattan Beach, Calif., with Kopitar’s parents moving to L.A. – if Matjaz has to cut Gasper from the team.
This feature originally appeared in The Hockey News magazine. Get in-depth features like this one, and much more, by subscribing now.