Goalies: To the shock of absolutely nobody anywhere, Robert Kristan and Luka Gracnar will be the two main goalies seeing duty between the pipes for Slovenia. Kristan knows just a thing or two about magical goaltending runs for Slovenia. made a name for himself after making 60 saves for Slovenia during a 5-1 loss to Canada at the 2008 World Championships. He faced 31 shots in the second period alone! Despite the fact he is unknown to most people in North America, Kristan has been a netminding juggernaut ever since getting up into the pro ranks back in 1999. It didn’t take long for the Slovenian puck stopper to win hardware at the international level, winning both the U18 WJC (D2) Gold Medal and U20 WJC (D2) Gold Medal during the 2000-2001 season. He arguably put up his strongest international performance at the 2012 World Championship (D1A) tournament, winning the Gold Medal, MVP, Best Goaltender and All Star team honors, all in the same year. Last year, Kristan gained international praise for helping the Slovenians defeat Slovakia at the World Championships, a feat that almost looked impossible. Joining him again will be Gracnar, who is expected to be the Slovenian goalie of the future. It’s worth mentioning that the 21-year-old helped his country win the gold medal at the 2014 Division IA World Championships, earning the MVP award in the process. He may not exactly be ready to take over the starting role, but with his accomplishments at his age, he could end up being one of the best international goalies for some time.
Defensemen: This is Slovenia’s weakest position, and if you’re following along with this tournament, that’s pretty much the case across the board. An expected top pairing could include Aleš Kranjc and Klemen Pretnar. Kranjc is a staple on the blue line, having played in over 50 WC games during his time with the team. At 33, he also knows a thing or two about overcoming challenges, winning three Division IA gold medals. His scoring ability, combined with the playmaking abilities of Pretnar will give the team some insurance on the back end. Another solid pair could include Mitja Robar and Sabahudin Kovačevic, who also bring a good chunk of experience to the team. Neither are standout guys and you probably wont hear much about them, but there is some experience which can help down the road.
Forwards: So, heard of this Kopitar guy? You know, Anze Kopitar, from the LA Kings? Heard he is secretly Slovenia’s king or something. Anyways, in case you’re new to hockey, Kopitar is the greatest player to ever come from the country. But did you know there are some other players up front that are worth mentioning? If you don’t follow international competition, that may sound crazy, but it’s true. Jan Mursak, for instance, played parts of three seasons for the Detroit Red Wings and will help add some secondary scoring on the first line with Kopitar. Mursak is a quality offensive weapon with CSKA Moscow of the KHL, and with ten points in ten games at two separate Division IA World Championship events, he knows how to put up points internationally. Rok Ticar and Tomaz Razinger both had solid Olympic performances a year ago and will likely see some action together on the second line with Czech league forward Robert Sabolič. Žiga Pance and Jan Urbas are both worth keeping an eye on, as they’ll more than likely see a lot of action throughout the tournament as dynamic scoring options.
Projection: Long story short, good luck Slovenia. They’ve been stuck in the never ending death trap called relegation for years now (click here to find out what that means), and this year will be no exception. Kopitar will easily be the biggest star on the team, while some solid goaltending should be in the cards. This is a team that has seen a bit of success in the past year, and while Slovakia wasn’t exactly the best team at the 2014 Olympics, it was a huge victory for them. They may keep themselves out of relegation, but don’t expect much better than that.
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