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Kopitar's Slovenia tops Austria, advances in Sochi

The Associated Press
Kopitar's Slovenia tops Austria, advances in Sochi

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) -- Anze Kopitar gets to keep playing for his father in the Olympics for at least another game.

The Los Angeles Kings forward scored 5:29 into the first period Tuesday to help Slovenia beat Austria 4-0 in the qualification round of the Sochi Games, extending the experience of playing for his father, Matjaz, on the world's stage.

Slovenia, in the Olympic hockey for the first time and with only one NHL player, is among the final eight teams in the tournament. It will face top-seeded and 2006 gold-medal winning Sweden on Wednesday.

''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?''

And, the fact that a father is coaching his 26-year-old son just adds to the feel-good story.

Matjaz Kopitar, though, can't fully celebrate the family angle. His 21-year-old son, Gasper, who was a candidate to make the team, is nearly 7,000 miles away, playing for the Ontario (Calif.) Reign in the East Coast Hockey League.

''As a father, it's not easy for me because my other son is not here with us,'' Matjaz Kopitar said. ''We're going to enjoy this moment. But hopefully, all three of us will be together for the next Olympics.''

Slovenia earned a surprising spot in the Sochi Games by knocking off Belarus, Ukraine and Denmark in last year's qualification tournament. That alone was quite an accomplishment for the team ranked 17th in the world.

The country has fewer than 2 million people, just seven hockey rinks - two of which its coach said are not fully enclosed - and only one professional team.

In the preliminary round, Slovenia upset usually steady Slovakia 3-1 to improve its seeding for the quarterfinals.

Coach Kopitar acknowledged being surprised to see his team still standing.

''In the beginning it was mission impossible,'' he said. ''But we played well.''

He hopes that success at the Olympics will help advance the sport back home.

''I wish we could get five more ice rinks,'' the coach said. ''I want to see more ice rinks. I want to see more organizations going on. This is the message to the people.''

The person the coach knows best on the team, his son, scored on a shot from the slot early in the game.

During and after games, it's virtually impossible to tell there's a personal connection between the two, and that is by design.

''It's the same for me as for everybody else on the team,'' Anze Kopitar said.

The two-time NHL All-Star and Stanley Cup champion grew up playing for his father and said he is enjoying every minute of doing it again at the Olympics.

During the game, Slovenia's goalie, Kristan, got plenty of support offensively.

Jan Urbas scored a short-handed goal midway through the first period, and Sabahudin Kovacevic's slap shot put Slovenia up 3-0 early in the second.

Austria called a timeout late in the game to add an extra skater and Slovenia's Jan Mursak took advantage with an empty-net goal.

''We had a rough start,'' Austrian defenseman Andre Lakos said. ''They had a couple of chances, and they got a couple early, and we couldn't get anything past their goalie. Their goalie won the game.''

The Austrians, who share a border with Slovenia, were eliminated with one victory and three lopsided losses. They lost the first two games by a combined score of 14-4 to Finland and Canada before beating Norway 3-1 in their final game of the preliminary round.

In a game that Austria was expected to at least be competitive, it got routed.

''Very disappointed, very disappointed,'' coach Emanuel Viveiros said somberly. ''Not to take anything away from Slovenia, I'm not sure why we didn't come to play. We had the chance to go to the quarterfinals, and we did not start the game.''


Follow Larry Lage on Twitter: https://twitter.com/larrylage

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