Slovenia adds another chapter to its hockey story
SOCHI, Russia (AP) — Slovenia added another chapter to its feel-good story.
The Slovenes beat Austria 4-0 on Tuesday in the men’s hockey Olympic qualification round, earning a spot among the final eight teams at the Sochi Games.
A little more than a year ago, no one thought Slovenia would even be here playing with the best hockey teams in the world.
It will not be easy for the Slovenes to stay on the stage because they’ll play top-seeded Sweden on Wednesday in the first of four quarterfinal games.
Russia managed to stay at the party it is hosting by beating Norway 4-0 after a slow start. The Russians will have to stay on a roll to beat Finland, the only nation with three medals in the NHL era of the Olympics, to move on to the semifinals.
The Czech Republic held off rival Slovakia, a winless team that fell well short of expectations, with a 5-3 win after having a four-goal lead late in the second period.
Latvia won its first Olympic hockey game in 12 years, surprising Switzerland 3-1, to draw defending champion Canada in the quarterfinals.
Los Angeles Kings star Anze Kopitar, the only NHL player on Slovenia’s team, scored his team’s first goal and that helped him extend the unique experience of playing for his father at the Olympics.
Slovenia is playing Olympic hockey for the first time and has two wins.
“Let’s say it is a miracle because this is really amazing,” goaltender Robert Kristan said after a 30-save shutout. “Small Slovenia, playing in the quarterfinal of the Olympic Games?”
Norway would’ve needed a miraculous victory to knock off the Russians, and it seemed to have a shot until early in the second period when Alexander Radulov ended the hosts’ scoreless streak that lasted more than 100 minutes.
The patient, puck-moving Finns will be tough to eliminate.
“It is do-or-die games right now,” Russia’s slumping superstar Alex Ovechkin said.
Roman Cervenka scored for a second time late in the second period to give the Czechs a four-goal lead that they needed because Marian Hossa had two goals to help the disappointing Slovaks pull within one midway through the third period before giving up an empty-net goal in the final minute.
Latvia’s rise to the quarterfinals — for the first time — rivals the feat pulled off by Slovenia because it also has only one NHL player. The Latvians earned their first Olympic victory since 2002, when they returned to the games after a 66-year absence.
“It’s a thrill of a lifetime,” coach Ted Nolan said.
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