SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - Slovenia savored the greatest moment in their ice hockey history on Saturday with a 3-1 upset win over Slovakia in the men’s tournament at the Sochi Olympics.
Slovenia, a country with 148 adult male players, sealed victory in their first appearance in an Olympic men’s competition thanks to a three-goal third period.
“We definitely made history just being here, but now to get our first win - it feels remarkable,” Slovenian forward Anze Kopitar told reporters. “We’ve been fortunate enough to write this fairytale, it’s hard to believe.”
After two scoreless periods, Slovenia came to life early in the third and then held off a furious rally from a Slovakian team who finished fourth at the 2010 Vancouver Games.
Rok Ticar scored on a backhand from the slot, Tomaz Razinger added another when he pounced on a loose puck from in close, and Kopitar capped the scoring on a brilliant individual effort that saw him go untouched from the corner to the other side of the net before coolly slapping the puck home.
Slovakia, which suffered a 7-1 loss to the United States in their Sochi opener that equaled their worst Olympic result, got on the board with 18 seconds left but it was too late.
“It doesn’t happen very often that a small nation like ours beats a team like Slovakia,” said Kopitar. “I think we put our team on the hockey map, for sure.”
Slovenia were placed in the toughest of the three groups at the Sochi tournament, joined by the 2010 silver-medalist U.S. team, hosts Russia and former world champions Slovakia.
They arrived in Russia with modest expectations of earning a point, awarded to teams who are tied at the end of regulation, in the three-game preliminary round.
But with this unlikely win under their belts, the Slovenians are more than ready for their final group stage game on Sunday against the U.S..
“I think it relaxes us a lot more than we already were,” Kopitar said of the win.
”Before the tournament we were talking about maybe to squeeze out a point somewhere to have a good tournament, just to represent our country the way you’re supposed to represent your country.
“To pull off this win - it’s pretty remarkable.”
Reporting by Frank Pingue; Editing by Robert Woodward