The Slovenian hockey team couldn't have been thrilled upon discovering their opening opponent for the 2014 Olympics.
I mean, on this kind of stage it is best not to worry about the opponent as much as just focusing on playing well as a team. That said, drawing Russia to begin the Olympic journey is not a favorable starting point.
The Russians haven't won a hockey Olympic medal since 2002, and the 2010 team was such a disappointment that it was addressed at the regional parliament of the Siberian city of Tomsk.
The Russians really want this gold. The team is loaded with talent, and they would appear to be the biggest stars on the Russian landscape:
RT @MichaelFarber3: Russia's press is free…to applaud its men's hockey team at a press conference. Three ovations. A hat trick of adoration.— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) February 11, 2014
Alex Ovechkin leads a talented team. The Washington Capitals star is the poster boy for this team and perhaps the whole Russian Olympic experience:
This is for good reason. His otherworldly skill has been dominating the NHL for years. Also Ovechkin, one of the torch bearers for these games, has really embraced the importance of the hockey team with the Olympics being held on Russian soil.
Here is a quote from Ovechkin, provided by Yahoo's Greg Wyshynski, speaking to that point: "You can ask any Canadian guy what’s the biggest moment for them when they play on national team, it’s home Olympic Games.”
The setting will be electric for this one.
Where: Bolshoy Ice Dome, Sochi
When: Thursday, Feb. 13 at 7:30 a.m. ET
TV: CBC, MSNBC
Live Stream: NBCOlympics.com
Key Storyline: Will Slovenia be overwhelmed by the moment?
Slovenia will be a facing a team on a mission featuring all-world talent. That team will be backed by a boisterous and passionate home crowd that is ravenous for hockey gold.
Slovenia will be doing so not just in their first appearance in these Olympics but in any Olympics.
On paper, the Slovenia roster would not seem to have a roster that is capable of handling all of this. The team boasts of just one current NHL player: Kings center Anze Kopitar.
For his part, Kopitar is doing a good job of maintaining perspective. Here is a quote from the center, as provided by Helene Elliot of the Los Angeles Times:
I’m sure they've been looking forward to this day for a long, long time too. The crowd’s going to be fired up and we’re going to be fired up, so it should be a good match.
If Slovenia can manage to keep this game close in the late stages, all of the crowd support and emotion could actually start working against Russia. The weight of the expectations has the power to build into a smothering tension.
Of course, what is more likely is that Slovenia will fall behind early and essentially become spectators to a celebration of Russian hockey.
Prediction: Russia 4, Slovenia 0
Slovenia is going to be overwhelmed. Russia will be backed with way too much emotion, and they have far too much proven talent to let those emotions overwhelm them.