Anze Kopitar

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

3 Comments

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.

Austria

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 NHL.com. “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.”

Norway

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

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 NorthJersey.com. “We’re a hardworking team. And now they’re starting to believe. And that’s a deadly combination once in a while.”

Slovenia

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.”

Report: Ekblad cleared by Panthers doctors

NASHVILLE, TN - JANUARY 30:  Aaron Ekblad #5 of the Florida Panthers poses for a 2016 NHL All-Star portrait at Bridgestone Arena on January 30, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Sanford Myers/Getty Images)
Getty
Leave a comment

Aaron Ekblad has been medically cleared by Florida Panthers doctors, according to TSN’s Darren Dreger.

That’s a big relief for everyone involved after Ekblad was injured while representing Team North America in the World Cup. The injury was originally reported as a “mild” concussion, though it was later called a neck injury.

The 20-year-old has since been back on the ice working out.

“Ekblad is going to be fine,” Panthers coach Gerard Galant said. “You see him out there skating already. I think it was a little scary, but he feels real good. He’s going to skate and see how he feels, but everything looks good.”

The first overall pick in the 2014 draft, Eklbad had already dealt with at least one concussion during his playing career. He suffered one in an international exhibition game during the summer of 2014, just prior to his outstanding rookie season with the Panthers.

Ottawa sends Brown, 11th overall draft pick, back to junior

BUFFALO, NY - JUNE 24:  Logan Brown celebrates with the Ottawa Senators after being selected 11th overall during round one of the 2016 NHL Draft on June 24, 2016 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Getty
Leave a comment

It didn’t take long for one of the top picks at this year’s draft to be sent packing from training camp.

On Wednesday, Ottawa announced that Logan Brown — the 11th overall selection in June — has been sent back to his junior team in OHL Windsor.

Brown, the son of ex-NHL defenseman Jeff Brown, played in Monday’s exhibition win over Toronto and scored once. He didn’t play in Tuesday’s OT loss to Buffalo.

Though he wasn’t expected to make the team this season, Brown, 18, is considered to be a high-end prospect, which makes his early dismissal a bit curious.

At 6-foot-6 and 210 pounds, he has terrific size and the Sens wasted little time locking him in after the draft, signing him to a three-year, entry-level deal in August.

Related: Get to know a draft pick — Logan Brown

Seidenberg expected to sign with Islanders

BOSTON, MA - JUNE 08:  Dennis Seidenberg #44 of the Boston Bruins skates against Mason Raymond #21 of the Vancouver Canucks during Game Four of the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Final at TD Garden on June 8, 2011 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Getty
1 Comment

Dennis Seidenberg is expected to sign with the New York Islanders after the World Cup, according to TSN’s Darren Dreger.

It’s a one-year, $1 million deal, per Dreger.

Seidenberg is currently playing a significant role for Team Europe, a surprise finalist against the heavily favored Canadians.

The 35-year-old defenseman was unexpectedly bought out by the Boston Bruins over the summer. He had two years remaining on his contract, with a cap hit of $4 million.

Seidenberg was a key part of the Bruins’ Stanley Cup champion team in 2011, but injuries limited him to just 61 games last season, and his average ice time fell below 20 minutes for the first time since he was with the Hurricanes in 2007-08.

He’ll likely take on a bottom-pairing role with the Islanders, below Nick Leddy, Travis Hamonic, Johnny Boychuk, and Calvin de Haan. He may even be the extra defenseman, pushing the likes of Thomas Hickey, Ryan Pulock, Adam Pelech, and Scott Mayfield for a spot in the lineup.

Related: Seidenberg shocked by Bruins’ decision

Devils bolster defense, ink Quincey to one-year, $1.25M deal

Detroit Red Wings v Columbus Blue Jackets
Getty
Leave a comment

New Jersey needed some blueline depth after this summer’s blockbuster Adam Larsson-for-Taylor Hall trade and now, they’ve addressed it.

On Wednesday, GM Ray Shero announced the club signed veteran defenseman Kyle Quincey to a one-year, $1.25 million deal.

Quincey, 31, spent the last four seasons in Detroit, emerging as a regular fixture on defense — but ’15-16 was hardly a positive campaign.

He missed 35 games with a serious ankle injury and, upon his return, never seemed to find his way into head coach Jeff Blashill’s good graces.

Blashill even scratched Quincey in Game 3 of Detroit’s opening-round playoff loss to Tampa, and didn’t provide a reason why — a pretty bold move for a player that, in ’13-14, appeared in all 82 games for the Red Wings, averaging nearly 21 minutes per night.

Overall, this move seems like a pretty reasonable gamble from the Devils. Quincey has his flaws, but the term is short and the money is relatively low.

(Especially considering Quincey’s coming off a two-year, $8.5 million deal that paid $4.25M annually.)

Shero could end up getting a nice return on his investment. Quincey projects  to challenge for top-four minutes in New Jersey, looking to break into a group that features the likes of Andy Greene, Damon Severson, John Moore and Ben Lovejoy.

Jon Merrill, Steve Santini and Brandon Gormley are also in that mix, though likely to be challenging for spots on the bottom pair.