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.”

Seidenberg doesn’t want to think about waiving no-trade

Boston Bruins v Colorado Avalanche
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Another offseason, another round of trade talks surrounding Dennis Seidenberg.

Boston’s veteran defenseman — who, last year, said he wanted to stay in Boston, then told reporters being involved in trade rumors was a “slap in the face” — is now facing another round of questions.

Why?

Seidenberg’s full no-trade clause expires in December. After that, it becomes a modified NTC in which he submits a list of eight teams he’s willing to accept a move to.

More, from the Boston Herald:

“No, nothing was mentioned,” Seidenberg said [of being asked to waive]. “I’m planning to come back here. I’ve got two more years here, so we’ll see.”

And if management came to him sooner asking him to waive his no-trade?

“I haven’t thought about that . . . and right now I don’t want to think about it,” he said.

Seidenberg has said in the past that if the team didn’t want him any more, then he’d be amenable to a move.

Boston’s in a bit of a tricky spot with the soon-to-be-35-year-old.

Injuries have really taken their toll since he signed a four-year, $16 million extension in ’13. Specifically, a torn ACL and last year’s back injury, which cost him the first four weeks of the campaign and seemed to throw his entire season out of whack.

Seidenberg certainly isn’t part of Boston’s future on defense, but could have some value across the league as a veteran depth guy.

If you’re thinking “hey, $4M is a pretty hefty cap hit for a depth d-man,” remember that GM Don Sweeney could facilitate a move by retaining some salary. Financially, it wouldn’t be much different that buying Seidenberg out — something the Herald floated as a potential move — and there could be the potential to net an actual asset in return.

Of course, the B’s could stand pat and hope Seidenberg gets healthy, and contributes.

Do remember that, after returning from that serious knee injury, the German rearguard appeared in all 82 games during the ’14-15 campaign, scoring 14 points while averaging over 22 minutes per night.

Jagr confirms he’s not available for Czechs at World Cup

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 14: Jaromir Jagr #68 of Czech Republic looks on in the first period against Latvia during the Men's Ice Hockey Preliminary Round Group C game on day seven of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Bolshoy Ice Dome on February 14, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Martin Rose/Getty Images)
Getty
Leave a comment

PRAGUE (AP) The Czech Republic will have to do without Jaromir Jagr at the World Cup of Hockey after the star winger confirmed he won’t be available to compete in September.

Czech Republic general manager Martin Rucinsky says Jagr announced his decision in a telephone call over the weekend.

Jagr retired from the national team after last year’s world championship, and was not included in the first 16 players for the Czech’s World Cup squad.

But Rucinsky hoped the 44-year-old Jagr would change his view after yet another decent NHL season. Jagr led the Florida Panthers with 66 points (27 goals, 39 assist) in 79 games in the regular season, and added two assists in the playoffs.

Rucinsky told Tuesday’s edition of the Sport daily he respects Jagr’s decision.

The Blues could sure use a goal or two from Tarasenko

SAN JOSE, CA - MAY 19:  Vladimir Tarasenko #91 of the St. Louis Blues and Marc-Edouard Vlasic #44 of the San Jose Sharks fight for control of the puck in game three of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at SAP Center on May 19, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Getty
Leave a comment

The “hard lessons” continued last night for Vladimir Tarasenko. For a fifth straight game — i.e. the entire Western Conference Final — the Blues’ sniper went goalless. In his last three games combined, he’s managed just four shots total.

“He’s a guy that’s struggled this series,” conceded coach Ken Hitchcock after Game 5, a 6-3 loss that put St. Louis on the brink of elimination. “He’s struggled offensively. He hasn’t got the looks offensively that he normally gets. But he’s one shift away from breaking it open.”

Tarasenko was a big reason the Blues got through the first two rounds. The 24-year-old had four goals against Chicago, then potted three more versus Dallas. In 14 games, he had 13 points.

Against the Sharks, he doesn’t even have an assist. And if plus-minus still means anything, he’s a minus-four.

Credit to the under-appreciated Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and his defensive partner Justin Braun, for much of that.

“Take away his time and space,” Vlasic said when asked the key to shutting down Tarasenko. “Our forwards have been doing a good job as well supporting us. Good back pressure does not allow them to have one-on-ones with our D.”

Not to downplay the challenges he’s facing, but if Tarasenko doesn’t start contributing offensively, the Blues are going to find it extremely tough to beat San Jose two straight times. During the regular season, he scored 40 of the Blues’ 224 goals. That’s almost 20 percent of them. Yes, some of his teammates need to step up too, but he’s the one with the most goal-scoring talent.

“It’s like any other goal-scorer, when they don’t score, there’s a frustration level that comes in,” said Hitchcock. “It’s my job to make sure and correct the frustration level if I can.”

B’s turf another assistant — Jarvis out, Pandolfo and Cassidy in

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - FEBRUARY 14:  Associate coach Doug Jarvis of the Montreal Canadiens looks on against the New Jersey Devils at Continental Airlines Arena on February 14, 2007 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Devils won 5-2. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Getty Images
2 Comments

Boston continued to shake up Claude Julien’s coaching staff on Monday, as GM Don Sweeney announced that longtime assistant Doug Jarvis would not be back next season.

Longtime NHLer Jay Pandolfo and Bruce Cassidy — who had spent the last five years as the head coach of Boston’s AHL affiliate — have been named as Julien’s new assistants, joining Joe Sacco and Bob Essensa on staff.

Earlier, Sweeney had dismissed Julien’s longtime right-hand man, Doug Houda. Houda has since landed an assistant’s gig in Detroit.

In Cassidy, the B’s get an experienced bench boss. He served as the head man in Washington from 2002-04, then as an assistant in Chicago before moving on to a lengthy stint in the American League.

One would think Cassidy is an at-the-ready replacement for Julien, should the team struggle and Sweeney is forced to make a more significant coaching change next season.

In Pandolfo, Boston gets a local guy — he’s a Massachusetts native that played collegiately at Boston University. At the tail end of a lengthy career that included two Stanley Cups with New Jersey, Pandolfo wrapped up his playing days with the Bruins, then moved into a player development role.

In another hire, Sweeney announced that announced the club has hired Paul Whissel as the Bruins Director of Sports Performance and Rehab.

Related: Julien will be back behind B’s bench, Sweeney has ‘work to do’