Unlike most Olympic rosters, which are predominately NHL players, Slovenia’s will likely require at least 23 or 24 initial introductions to North American audiences. There will, fittingly enough, be a prime opportunity for that when Slovenia faces the United States in each squad’s round-robin finale on Feb. 16.
In advance of that and the rest of the country’s first Olympic hockey endeavor, here is a look at one internationally familiar pioneer and his Sochi-bound countrymen.
Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics and player information for this report were found via Elite Prospects
Forwards: Bostjan Golicic, Ziga Jeglic, Anze Kopitar, Anze Kuralt, Jan Mursak, Ales Music, Ziga Pance, Tomaz Razingar, David Rodman, Marcel Rodman, Robert Sabolic, Rok Ticar, Jan Urbas, Miha Verlic
Defensemen: Blaz Gregorc, Sabahudin Kovacevic, Ales Kranjc, Ziga Pavlin, Matic Podlipnik, Klemen Pretnar, Mitja Robar, Andrej Tavzelj
Goaltenders: Luka Gracnar, Andrej Hocevar, Robert Kristan
First Line: David Rodman-Anze Kopitar-Jan Mursak
Although one has flaunted it more often and more steadily than the other, Kopitar and Mursak are the lone Slovenian skaters with certified NHL-caliber craft. This squad has no offensive starting point unless it can mesh those two players with Rodman, whom head coach Matjaz Kopitar, per ILHF.com reporter Szymon Szemberg, has called “a pure goal-scorer, our difference-maker.”
Second Line: Ziga Jeglic-Rok Ticar-Marcel Rodman
Ticar is a leading playmaker and point-getter for his DEL (German League) team, Kolner Haie, and has been as deft at finishing as he has been at setting chances up when playing for his national squad. On the wings, Matias Strozyk of Elite Prospects writes at length of Jeglic’s initiative and “stride,” while Rodman is a veteran alternate captain who can either play right wing or fill in at center.
Third Line: Tomas Razinger-Jan Urbas-Robert Sabolic
Razinger has consistently been wearing letters of leadership for the Slovenians and continues to post decent data wherever he goes. As Ulf Andersson of Elite Prospects writes, Sabolic “is a hard worker who doesn’t mind being aggressive.” Meanwhile, the hulking Urbas (6'3", 216 pounds) can center these positionally versatile wingers to round out the checking/depth troika.
Fourth Line: Bostjan Golicic-Ales Music-Ziga Pance
The next point Pance collects will be his first in a Team Slovenia jersey since 2010, but he has at least been wearing that jersey at every potential instance. Similarly, Golicic’s familiarity with the program from the last four World Championships helps his cause despite a lack of tangible output. Music’s versatility as a winger and center is his tiebreaker to take the last regular forward slot.
Extra Forwards: Anze Kuralt and Miha Verlic
Both Kuralt and Verlic are new to the national team beyond the 20-and-under age group and have lately honed their craft at lower professional levels than their Olympic teammates.
First Pairing: Ziga Pavlin and Blaz Gregorc
The two most imposing defensemen on the roster, size-wise, have been refining their game against some of the most imposing competition available on their side of the ocean. Pavlin has been skating in Sweden, and Gregorc is playing in the Czech League, which has a particular smattering of former NHL mainstays on its scoring leaderboard.
Second Pairing: Sabahudin Kovacevic and Mitja Robar
As evidenced by their output in last year’s IIHF World Championship, both Kovacevic and Robar are capable of handling nightly minutes in the upper teens. In addition, they ought to form an ideal complement in that Robar is a left-handed shot with some offensive aptitude while Kovacevic is a bulkier, right-handed shooter.
Third Pairing: Ales Kranjc and Klemen Pretnar
Granted, Kranjc has assumed bigger roles on this team, such as when he averaged 21 minutes per games in the World Championships last spring. However, for the structure of this team going up against the world's very best opposing talent, it is better that he join Pretnar to ensure that no pairing has two blueliners each standing south of 6’0” and tipping the scale below 200 pounds.
Extra Defensemen: Andrej Tavzelj and Matik Podlipnik
In the most recent World Championship, Tavzelj was essentially a seventh active defenseman, dressing for all seven games but playing fewer minutes (10:53 per night) than six fellow Slovenian rearguards. This will be the 21-year-old Podlipnik’s first international event beyond any youth or junior levels with a maximum age limit.
Robert Kristan, starter
The 30-year-old Kristan is easily the most seasoned and battle-tested member of the Slovenian goalie guild. That applies not only to past international tournaments, but also to this season’s quantity of games and quality of competition in the professional ranks.
Luka Gracnar, backup
In a novice Olympic program, goaltenders should be sorted based on who is the most proven. Gracnar gets the middle slot by virtue of having seen the second-most action in recent tournaments while also logging regular professional action with EC Salzburg in Austria.
Andrej Hocevar, third string
Continuing in the same vein as Kristan and Gracnar, Hocevar ranks third because he is the incumbent third-stringer based on the most recent international events. In addition, his seasoning figures to be less strong than his two colleagues given that he has labored in French, Ukrainian and Italian leagues of late.
Kind of hard to keep the top Slovenians a secret, is it not?
With his advanced craft, it will be on Anze Kopitar to make his linemates better and thus lend a little sturdiness to Slovenia’s hopes. With his swiftness, stick-handling and superior instincts, he will be sniffing out seams and exploiting opportunities as best as one individual player can.
The results he reaps for himself and his team will partially depend on how often his colleagues can feed him a crisp pass when he hustles into a favorable shooting position. Ditto how often his own passes initiate and perpetuate effective, momentum-building rushes into and swarms within enemy territory.
Naturally, Kopitar cannot carry the Slovenians alone, and the fact that he is the country’s lone NHL mainstay should not be an excuse for others to stay invisible. Still, he is the logical catalyst for the Slovenian skaters to feed off of more than anyone else on the team.
Meanwhile, presumptive linemate Jan Mursak has not shown much of what he can do against anything close to the caliber of competition he will face in Sochi. In fact, his NHL transcript consists entirely of 46 appearances, two goals and two assists spread over each of the previous three seasons.
Highlights, however, do exist.
Mursak’s first and second NHL tallies were both a reward for cutting to the porch of the net. He made the former possible by using his turbine blades to start up an offensive threat behind the opposing goal line to begin with.
He has whipped up even more spectacular scoring plays when the chances have arisen at lower levels, such as this end-to-end connection in the AHL last March.
The 32-year-old Marcel Rodman has a dense recent track record of leadership, holding at least one captaincy or alternate captaincy for his national team every season between 2006-07 and 2012-13.
Marcel’s younger brother, the 30-year-old David, figures to provide the most supplementary flair on offense behind the celestial Kopitar and Mursak. As small as the sample size might be, he has consistently led or co-led the Slovenians in at least one fundamental offensive statistic over virtually every international tournament.
Highlights of David Rodman’s most meaningful doses of dazzle begin at the 11:20 mark of this video. If and when he gets the opportunity, he just might compose and deposit another product of slick puck movement and keen vision, just as he did to down the Danes in last year’s Olympic qualifying games.