Anze Kopitar

PHT’s Pressing Olympic Questions: Do Austria, Norway, Latvia and Slovenia have a chance?


You know about the powerhouses of international hockey, the countries that will likely be battling for gold.

But what about the other guys? Y’know, countries many are chalking up as an automatic victories. Do Austria, Latvia, Norway or Slovenia have a chance to win a medal in Sochi?

To be blunt, probably not. But let’s take a look at what they have going for them — maybe there’s a Team USA in 1980 or Belarus in 2002 in the bunch.


Led by New York Islanders forward Thomas Vanek — the captain of the team — and Islanders teammate Michael Grabner as the two big guns offensively. Joining them is Philadelphia Flyers forward Michael Raffl (and his brother Thomas) as well as former NHLers Thomas Pock and Andreas Nodl, a late addition to the team.

Austria is in Group B with Canada, Finland, and Norway, and Vanek is realistic about what it’ll take to manufacture an upset over the first two in the preliminary stage.

“It’s tough,” he said, per “I don’t want to put any pressure on our goaltending, but it comes down to goaltending. I think anytime you can have a goalie that’s hot and can give you 50, 55 saves, maybe you can get a few odd-man rushes and capitalize on them.

“That’s why you play the game. It’s a one-game shot.”


New York Rangers forward Mats Zuccarello is the only NHL player on the roster, meaning the Norwegians — fan favorites from the ’10 Vancouver Olympics — will have yet another uphill battle in Sochi. Aside from having to deal with Canada and Finland in Group B, Norway won’t have decorated international veteran Tore Vikingstad to help lead the way, as he retired in 2013.

Norway will have to keep opponents off the board, and it does have some quality blueliners to aid in that cause. Ex-Colorado Avalanche defenseman Jonas Holos and Ole-Kristian Tollefson — who played for Detroit, Columbus and Philadelphia — stand out as leaders on defense.


Latvia and their wild fans will storm into Sochi looking to surprise in Group C. The team is led by Buffalo Sabres coach Ted Nolan and features a roster filled with faces new and old. Among the old guys is former Sharks and Avalanche defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh — at 41, he’s the elder statesman and a guy Nolan credits for getting Latvia into the Olympics.

Ozolinsh is joined on defense by former Flyer Oskars Bartulis, former Jet Arturs Kulda, and current NCAA Bowling Green prospect Ralfs Freibergs. The Latvians also have a semi-familiar group up front with Sabres forward Zemgus Girgensons, ex-Ottawa/Boston shootout specialist Kaspars Daugavins and former Lightning forward Martins Karsums.

Latvia is looking up the pecking order at group mates Sweden, Switzerland and the Czech Republic, but boasts the most talent of the four minnows mentioned here. Nolan figures if they play hard enough and get some bounces, the Latvians could surprise.

“We took Finland to overtime at the world championships last year,” he said, per “We’re a hardworking team. And now they’re starting to believe. And that’s a deadly combination once in a while.”


The Slovenians are a Kopitar family affair. The team is led by Kings superstar Anze and his father, Matjaz, is the coach. Somehow Anze’s brother Gasper didn’t make the team… which could make the Kopitar family Christmas a little awkward.

As for the rest of the team, you might know former Red Wings prospect Jan Mursak and you’ll get to know a handful of guys with fun names, like the Rodman brothers (David and Marcel), Rok Ticar, Ales Music, and Ziga Pance. They’re all forwards, so for entertainment sake let’s hope they can score in bunches.

As for the outlook? Well, simply qualifying for the Olympics was a huge victory for Slovenia. From the New York Times:

Slovenia, known for Alpine skiers and ski jumpers, has a pool of hockey talent that is shallower than a puddle. A country of roughly two million, it has seven rinks and 148 registered senior men’s players.

“Out of those 148 players, you can maybe pick out 40 players good enough to compete at a high level,” Anze Kopitar said in a recent interview at the Kings’ practice complex.

“And 40 is actually stretching it, so it is a miracle, I think, what we’ve done to be in the Olympics.”

Rakell back skating in Anaheim, but no timetable for return

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 21: Rickard Rakell #67 of the Anaheim Ducks skates against the New York Islanders at the Barclays Center on December 21, 2015 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. The Islanders defeated the Ducks 5-2.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The contract’s signed, the visa issues are sorted and he’s already taken a morning skate.

Now, all Rickard Rakell needs to do is get clearance.

Rakell, who 12 days ago signed a six-year, $22.8 million extension, was back on the ice this morning ahead of Anaheim’s game against the visiting Nashville Predators this evening.

The 23-year-old’s return was hung up by a variety of issues. First, there was the obvious one — he had no contract — and once that was signed, Rakell was in limbo awaiting his visa.

And he’s still not in the clear.

Rakell is dealing with the ramifications from offseason abdominal surgery — a procedure related to an earlier appendectomy, that kept him out of the World Cup of Hockey — and is unclear as to when he can make his season debut.

“I’m just anxious to get back and at least try,” he said, per

Prior to rejoining the Ducks, Rakell had been working out and skating in his native Sweden, though none of his activity included contact. That will be the next step in his progression.

Following a lengthy road trip to start the year, the Ducks are now locked into the state of California for quite some time. Tonight’s home tilt is followed by another Friday against the Jackets, followed by a “road” game in Los Angeles on Tuesday, Nov. 1.

From there, the team plays three more times at Honda: Nov. 2 against the Penguins, Nov. 4 against the Coyotes, and No. 6 against the Flames.

So, there’s a pretty good chance Rakell’s debut will come at home.

Another twist to the Seattle arena saga

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Just one day after news broke that investor Chris Hansen was willing to forego public financing to build a downtown arena that could potentially house an NHL and/or NBA team, there’s been another twist in the long-running Seattle saga.

The latest from King 5 News:

If Chris Hansen passed the ball back to the city Tuesday, Mayor Ed Murray isn’t ready to execute a slam dunk.

In other words, Murray has other ideas for a new sports arena in Seattle, and it involves Key Arena.

The mayor’s budget director, Ben Noble, told KING 5 that the mayor’s office is quietly exploring a major renovation of Key Arena at Seattle Center. The facility was home to the NBA’s SuperSonics until 2008 when efforts to renovate and expand its size fell through, prompting the team’s sale and move to Oklahoma City.

It’s definitely worth noting that AEG, the same company that owns the Los Angeles Kings, is the facilities manager for Key Arena. It was reported last year that billionaire Victor Coleman had been in touch with AEG, and that his group was willing to explore the Key Arena option for an NHL team.

Coleman, of course, has also worked as Hansen’s NHL partner, though their agreement to work together was reportedly “non-binding.”

At the moment, it’s not clear which option — Hansen’s project or Key Arena — Coleman would prefer to pursue, or even if he’s still involved at all.

But for Seattle hockey fans, the good news is that there’s, well, news.

And there may be more news soon.

Here’s a radio interview with King 5 reporter Chris Daniels, who’s been all over this story:

Related: Bettman rejects notion that the NHL is waiting for Seattle

Letang had a ‘good day’ at practice, Penguins hoping he can return soon

PITTSBURGH, PA - JUNE 09: Kris Letang #58 of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Joonas Donskoi #27 of the San Jose Sharks battle for the puck during the third period in Game Five of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Consol Energy Center on June 9, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Yesterday, they got Sidney Crosby back.

Soon, the Pittsburgh Penguins should have another key player back in the lineup. Kris Letang, their top defenseman, participated in full-contact practice today, taking the same step Crosby took two days ago.

“He had a good day on the ice today, we’ll see where it goes from there,” head coach Mike Sullivan said of Letang, who’s missed three games with an upper-body injury. “We’re encouraged with his progress. We’re hoping to get him back soon.”

The Penguins host the Islanders tomorrow night. Don’t be surprised if Letang plays. He skated with Ian Cole at this morning’s practice.

If Letang isn’t ready to go against the Isles, his next opportunity to return will be Saturday in Philadelphia.

Goalie nods: After Subban’s rough outing, B’s turn to McIntyre

BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 22: Zane McIntyre #50 of the Boston Bruins makes a save against the Washington Capitals during the second period at TD Garden on September 22, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Crazy start to the year in Boston.

On Wednesday night, the B’s will start their fourth different goalie of the season — a season that’s just six games old, remember — as Zane McIntyre gets the nod at MSG against the Rangers.

McIntyre made his NHL debut in last night’s 5-0 drubbing at the hands of Minnesota, coming on in relief of Malcolm Subban, who was making his second-ever start. Subban allowed three goals on 16 shots before getting hooked midway through the second period, and McIntyre made 15 saves on 17 shots to close things out.

Needless to say, these are tough times in Boston’s crease.

The club’s No. 1 netminder, Tuukka Rask, is still sidelined with injury (though head coach Claude Julien said Rask may be available for Saturday’s game against Detroit). Anton Khudobin, the club’s No. 2, is out three weeks with an upper-body ailment.

Unsurprisingly, the Bruins have struggled with all the flip-flopping in goal. They’ve allowed nine goals over their last two games — both losses — and that came after Rask stopped 62 of 64 shots in back-to-back wins over the Jets and Devils.

For the Rangers, Henrik Lundqvist gets the start in goal.


— Battle of the Backups in Brooklyn, as Al Montoya and the Canadiens take on Thomas Greiss and the Isles.

Cam Talbot, fresh off a shutout win over Winnipeg in the Heritage Classic, goes for the Oilers. Braden Holtby is expected to play for Washington.

— Some uncertainty in Anaheim: John Gibson, who came on in relief for the injured Jonathan Bernier in last night’s OT loss to San Jose, would (presumably) be the guy tonight against Nashville. That said, Gibson has played quite a bit lately — three games in the last six nights — and the club did recall Dustin Tokarski from AHL San Diego today. Tokarski has a fair bit of NHL experience, with 33 regular season and five playoff games on his resume.

No word yet on a Preds starter.