Feb 18, 2014, 8:43 AM EST
The Slovenian Olympic hockey team is in the midst of something unforgettable.
Just ask the players.
With a country featuring just 148 registered senior players, seven rinks and only one professional team, Slovenia has done the unthinkable in Sochi by advancing to the tournament quarterfinals after Tuesday’s 4-0 playoff win over Austria. To a man, the Slovenes almost all acknowledged the enormity of what they’ve accomplished.
“It is, for sure, the biggest thing we have ever done in the history of Slovenian hockey,” said Ziga Jeglic, per NHL.com. (Jeglic has played a crucial role in writing history; he leads the Slovenes in scoring and assisted on Anze Kopitar‘s game-winner against Austria.)
The magnitude of the win immediately resonated. Slovenia’s postgame reactions were a mix of happiness with the effort against Austria, and several remarks about how unfathomable this scenario was at the onset of the tourney.
Goalie Robert Kristian, who now has 87 saves on 93 shots for a .935 save percentage, couldn’t believe what transpired.
“The way I feel right now, I’m just speechless,” he said, per the Olympic News Service. “This is a dream come true for everybody, for all the people in Slovenia. Nobody believed that we could accomplish what happened today.”
“I know we were a little bit lucky against this opponent but that doesn’t matter. We’ve showed everyone that we can play hockey and you have to count us. This is the biggest thing in our hockey career.”
At this point, the Slovenes really are living the dream. Getting to the quarterfinals means a guaranteed top-eight finish at the Olympics — crazy, considering Slovenia is playing in the second tier of the 2014 World Hockey Championships — and they’re gaining huge recognition from the hockey world, evident by this anecdote from IIHF.com:
Kopitar said: “Yesterday I was talking to a certain someone who knows a lot about the game of hockey and he said that he’s been following us the last couple of years and he said we’ve done a tremendous work. You can just tell it’s a huge jump from where we were five years ago. To hear that from a guy like that, it’s unbelievable.”
Asked to identify the “certain someone,” Kopitar said: “A guy named Steve Yzerman.”
Following the Austria game, Kopitar expressed huge pride in what he and his teammates had accomplished.
“It means a great deal to me, a huge deal to me,” he said, per ONS. “To represent your country like we are now, it’s great.”
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