Anze Kopitar, Slovenia can feel proud despite Olympic hockey loss
SOCHI, Russia -- The disappointment Anze Kopitar felt was immediate and deep after Slovenia’s 5-0 loss to Sweden Wednesday in the quarterfinals of the Sochi Olympic hockey tournament, the end of the road for a gutsy team that won the admiration of hockey fans everywhere with its perseverance to get this far in its first-ever Olympic appearance.
But soon that ache will fade and Kopitar, the Kings’ standout center, will be able to appreciate the magnitude of what he and his teammates did here.
“It stinks losing right now, that’s for sure,” he said after a weary Slovenia yielded four third-period goals to No. 1 seed Sweden at the Bolshoy Ice Dome.
“But I think in a little while, when it’s all said and done, I think looking back we’ve got to feel tremendous pride with what we’ve accomplished, just to get in this tournament and the way we represented our country here.
“It was a surreal feeling within the locker room, and I hope everybody else outside hockey and back home recognized what we did here and what we accomplished and how much effort we put in this thing.”
Slovenia, ranked 17th in the world, won its Olympic berth in a qualifying tournament. With only one NHL player -- Kopitar -- Slovenia defeated Slovakia in preliminary-round play and defeated Austria in a playoff qualifying game on Tuesday.
Sweden’s lead after 40 minutes was only 1-0, and Kopitar said he had visions of pulling off a huge upset.
“You always think you can win. We had some good chances and we just couldn’t connect on them,” said Kopitar, who played a game-high 22 minutes and 51 seconds. “Quarterfinals, there’s very little margin of error. We didn’t score on the chances, our power play was not as good today. But give the Swedes a lot of credit. They played good. There was a couple breakdowns in the third period but definitely, going into the third we thought we could make it happen.”
Goals by Daniel Sedin and Loui Eriksson and two by Carl Hagelin quashed Slovenia’s hopes. Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers -- who played for Sweden’s gold-medal-winning team in 2006 -- stopped 19 shots for the shutout.
The Swedes, who advanced to the semifinals against the winner of Wednesday’s quarterfinal matchup between Finland and Russia, felt they got a good test from Slovenia.
“I was really impressed. I didn’t know what to expect. Never played against them,” said Swedish winger Daniel Alfredsson of the Detroit Red Wings.
“We scouted them pretty good and we knew that they were a feisty team. ... We knew they could play defense and solid through the neutral zone. I can see them getting better and better, especially if guys get experience on the big stage.”
Kopitar said he’s hopeful the team’s success here will be a catalyst in making hockey more popular back home.
“I sure hope so. I think a lot of positive things are happening back home with hockey,” said Kopitar, who brought the Stanley Cup to his homeland after the Kings’ 2012 championship run.
“With us winning the Cup a couple years ago and the guys qualify for the Olympics and now this result, things are rolling, so now hopefully kids can pick up a hockey stick and start
playing. And hopefully in the near future we can develop some good hockey players.”
They had some good players who collectively raised their games here.
“I’m very proud of the guys,” said Kopitar, who will return to North America in the next day or so. “Nobody gave us a chance. It’s been an awesome experience for us.”