Step off the elevator
Step off the elevator
Slovenia out to banish painful memories
Slovenia’s star forward Anze Kopitar is back in World Championship action for the first time since 2008 – but the Los Angeles Kings ace is adamant that his country is more than a one-man show. And after the country’s impressive show in Sochi at last year’s Olympics, hopes are high that the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship will be a breakthrough for a country determined to secure its position among the global hockey elite.
“It’s definitely comforting to know that we can play against big teams on a bigger stage like the Olympics, but what happened in Sochi is behind us now,” said Kopitar after Friday’s practice session in Ostrava. “We’ve got to look past that and play our game. We proved first and foremost to ourselves that if we play our game to a ‘t’ we can compete, and that’s what we’re going to try and do.”
In Sochi, Slovenia surprised everyone to reach the quarter-finals, picking up wins over Slovakia and Austria along the way in its debut Olympic campaign. But ambitions here in the Czech Republic are more prosaic after a dizzying sequence of promotions and relegations in recent years.
“Staying in this group would be huge. We’ve only done it twice before,” the 27-year-old said. “Last time I played in 2008 it didn’t really go the way we wanted and we got relegated, but I think we have a squad that’s good enough to correct that and stay in this group. It’s going to come down to who can play the best hockey at the right times. We’re confident, but we also realize we’re going to have to work hard and create our own luck. Nobody’s going to help us – it’s down to the 25 guys in the locker room and our coaching staff.”Continue reading
The campaign starts with a game against Belarus on Saturday – and the right result against another outsider could go a long way towards setting up a survival bid. For Kopitar it’s also a reunion of sorts – Belarus head coach David Lewis was on the coaching staff at the Kings when Kopitar began his NHL career.
That career saw him clinch his second Stanley Cup triumph in three years with the Los Angeles Kings last year and he’s already spoken of his disappointment that his team gave up that title without even reaching the play-offs. But that doesn’t mean playing in the World Championship is second best.
“This is important for me. I always like coming back to play. These are the guys I grew up playing against, or playing with. I have lots of friends here and it’s always fun to come back,” he said. “I’ve said before I’d rather be in the NHL play-offs, but this is going to be just as good. It’s going to be hard, but’s going to be fun.”
LA’s loss might be Ljubljana’s gain, but Slovenia’s star is keen to talk up the qualities of his colleagues and dismisses talk that he bears extra responsibility for his team’s prospects.
“There’s no pressure. We’ve got a really good group of guys and I don’t think anyone is looking at me to do all the stuff,” Kopitar said. “That was the biggest thing in Sochi last year – people didn’t realize how good of a team we are. It’s not just a few individuals.”
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