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The Slovenian national ice hockey team won the Division I World Championship in Ljubljana, securing a place among the world’s top 16 teams and participating for the seventh time in the Pool A World Championships next year.
Slovenia started the championship with a hard earned win against Great Britain (3-2), after scoring the decisive goal only two and a half minutes before the end. After struggling even more so against Japan (the match was decided 1:30 before the end), sceptics began to doubt the ability of the team. It became clear that coach, Matjaž Kopitar, was right when he said before the tournament that this was going to be a closely fought competition and that a step-by-step approach should be taken. After a somewhat easier job against Hungary (4-1), a pre-tournament favourite and Austria beating Hungary the next day, Slovenia advanced into Pool A. The remaining two matches did however draw a large attendance. The final match against Austria (3-2) saw 10,500 spectators attend which was the largest ice hockey crowd ever in Slovenia, while combined, all five matches were attended by nearly 50,000 people. This was possible as a result of moving the tournament from the traditional venue at Tivoli to the new Stožice hall, although it took a lot of effort and money to transform the basketball court for ice-hockey purposes.
This was the fourth time that Slovenia has hosted the Division I championship and the national team has been successful on all occasions. Furthermore, they haven’t lost a match at either Tivoli and now Stožice, since 1993. In 2001, it was a historic tournament because Slovenia qualified for Pool A for the first time.
Kopitar was of course delighted with the outcome, but for him, this is just the beginning of something bigger. “Our goal is to qualify for the Olympics in Sochi in 2014. We know it is going to be difficult but it would be foolish to set modest goals.” The qualifying tournament will take place in February 2013.
The national team’s success is also of utmost importance for ice hockey in Slovenia in general. With the financial problems of the two strongest clubs (see The Slovenia Times, March and April 2012) a downward trend could jeopardize the future of competitive ice hockey.
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