Coming into the game Slovakia was no doubt considered to be the lock for the game given that of the 25-man team they came in with 18 current NHL players from some of the best NHL teams in the standings going into the Olympic break. For Slovenia, this is the country’s inaugural Olympics in this sport and the team claims only one current NHL player.
Slovakia has a Who’s Who in Hockey roster with the likes of Marian Hossa (Chicago Blackhawks), Zdeno Chara (Boston Bruins) , Michal Handzus (Chicago Blackhawks) to name just a few—all Stanley Cup winners for the teams mentioned. And while Slovenia’s lone NHLer is also a Stanley Cup winner—Anze Kopitar (Los Angeles Kings), it did seem like Slovakia, despite their loss to the Americans on Thursday, would be the likely winner.
One thing about an underdog though is that it has nothing to lose by going all out, and that is exactly what happened during the Slovakia-Slovenia game. Despite a few short periods here and there for the Slovakians, the Slovenian team dominated the play. It was clear they were the hungrier team. And, as often has been seen throughout the other events at this Olympics, the fans in the stands have leant their support to the underdogs.
During the first period, Slovakia lost a valuable player in Tomas Kopecky (Florida Panthers) when he took an elbow to the head by Sabahudin Kovacevic while being sandwiched between Kovacevic and another of the Slovenian players. Kopecky lost his helmet and went down. He got up—as play continued—and began to try to make his way to his bench. He tumbled down, clearly suffering from the hit, and then once again pulled himself up and stumbled ultimately to the bench, again as play continued. Kopecky would not return to the game and it would later be mentioned that Kovacevic would be having a hearing about the hit.
As the teams began the third period, with Slovenia having to kill the remaining 45 seconds of a penalty, the score remained 0-0 and the shots on goal were tied at 19, though Slovenia was clearly the stronger team. Slovakian’s goalie Jaroslav Halak (St. Louis Blues) seemed to have real problems tracking the puck after rebounds. He was seen constantly looking around in search of the puck—never a good sign.
After killing the penalty, Slovenia was then on the power play just 1:36 into the third. And as the PP began to count down, forward Rok Ticar would score, with assists from Ziga Jeglic and Robert Robert Sabolic, putting the Slovenians on the scoreboard first.
Slovenia continued to bring the play to the Slovakian team, who seemed on their heels most of the game, and at 8:59 of the third, Slovenian’s captain Tomaz Razingar, assisted by Jan Urbas and Marcel Rodman, put another behind Slovakia’s Halak. And then just like that, just 23 seconds later, the Slovenians put another puck in the net, when Kopitar scored, assisted by Jan Mursak.
It looked like Slovenia’s goalie, Robert Kristan would have a shutout, when with just 17.8 seconds remaining in the game Tomas Jurco got a puck into the net, assisted by Tomas Zaborsky and captain Chara. This was the Slovakian captain’s first point in the Olympic games.
It seems somehow poetic that not only did the underdog win, but Slovenia, a country who used to be part of Yugoslavia (a country who last qualified for the Olympics for hockey in 1984) would win a game in their first appearance in the Olympics for hockey and that the game winning goal was made by their own captain, Razingar.
Slovenia will play against Team USA on Sunday, February 16 and Slovakia (who is winless so far in the preliminaries) will see Team Russia, also on Sunday.