Will he bring Slovenia up?

John Harrington: “I rub my 1980 Olympic ring for good luck!”

25.03.2010
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Will John Harrington's Olympic ring bring Slovenia luck in the World Championship Division I on home ice in Ljubljana? Photo: Ekipa

LJUBLJANA – John Harrington is not just a great former hockey player with the ‘Miracle on ice’ gold medal from 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid, but the American is also the head coach of the Slovenian national team since last year.

Being one of the most famous coaches to work with Slovenian players, the Slovenes expect nothing else than the first place at the 2010 IIHF World Championship Division I Group B on home ice in Ljubljana and to bring the country of Anze Kopitar back to the world’s elite teams. Last year, Slovenia missed the promotion after losing 2-1 to Kazakhstan.

Will Harrington use home ice advantage to win the tournament against Hungary, Great Britain, Poland, Croatia and Korea?

Which team is the biggest competition for first place?

I think that all of the teams will be competitive, and that it is important that we take each game one at a time, and not get ahead of ourselves. Hungary has the experience of winning the World Championship Division I two years ago, and playing up in the top division last spring. They know what it takes to be successful. 

How will the team prepare for the World Championship Division I?

We hope to start training camp on April 4th. We will have a number of days with two practices, as well as exhibition games vs. Denmark and Japan. It will be important that our players are in top physical and mental condition, and we will work hard on our system. Also important is the acceptance of our players to take roles on the team.  We need to build a "team philosophy”.  I will also stress the importance of having fun.

What do you see as your team’s biggest challenge and biggest advantage?

I think they may be one and the same: having the tournament at home. Our fans will be terrific, and will give us the feeling of having an extra man on the ice. But being at home, we will need to avoid being self-content.

You tried some young players in the past exhibition games. Who has impressed you the most?

I have been impressed by all the young players that have played for us. I think the line of Ziga Pance, Rok Ticar and Ziga Jeglic was very impressive in Nagano in February.

Can we expect any new players on the roster for the World Championship?

Possibly. Jan Mursak (Grand Rapids Griffins, AHL) and Luka Vidmar (University of Alaska-Anchorage, NCAA) are two players that I am very interested in having on our team. There may be more new faces, depending upon the availability of some veterans, injuries, etc.

Who are the players you expect the most from?

Of course the veteran players are the ones that you expect the most from. Marcel and David Rodman, Tomaz Razingar, Andrej Hocevar.  All these players will have to lead by example for us to be successful.

How will you get the players into real team spirit?

We will certainly do some team building exercises, and I will not allow any club team clothing or logos to be worn by our players. They will be playing for Team Slovenia, and they will live that for the training camp and the tournament.

The arena, Hala Tivoli, has been a very successful place for the Slovenian national team.

I think our guys will be comfortable playing there, and will not be surprised by anything in the rink.  They have all played there at one time or another in their careers.

You have different players available for different playing positions. How tough is it to form effective units to achieve the most with the available players?

The key will be to put together units that understand their roles.  They are not all going to be in power-play units, or scoring units, so we will have to take into account the strengths and mental make-up of each player as we are selecting the team.

What are the things the players could work on themselves?

I think the most important things at this time of the year are keeping their bodies in good physical condition, and having and living a healthy, professional lifestyle. Some of the players will have been off the ice for a period of time before we start the camp, so they will have to train on their own until we start the camp.

The Slovenian team played well in last year’s World Championship Division I in Lithuania. But at the end that was only good enough for second place. What will be the differences between last year's and this year's team and its performance?

I don’t know yet, as we have not put our final team together.  We had great goaltending last year, great team defence, good special teams, and discipline. We will need all of those components again this spring if we want to become champions.

The best Slovenian player Anze Kopitar will not be able to play in Ljubljana as the Los Angeles Kings will likely reach the playoffs. What can you say about him and his performance in the NHL?

Anze Kopitar is a top level, world class hockey player. He is, and should be, a role model for young Slovenian players. I am happy for the LA Kings' success this season, and wish Anze the best. I sure wish I would have him in Ljubljana, though, he would make me a better coach!

You have an Olympic gold medal from Lake Placid. What can you say about this year’s Olympics in Vancouver? Which was the biggest surprise for you and what can you say about the medal winners?

I thought that Russia would have more success than they did, but their team never came together. I thought the U.S. team improved more from the beginning of the tournament to the end than any other team in Vancouver. The final game was tremendous, and the U.S. could have won the gold.

Do you have any traditions or rituals before the games?

When I walk onto the bench before the game, I will open the far door on the bench just a little bit. I then straighten my tie, pull up my socks, and then rub my 1980 Olympic ring for good luck!

MATEJA VODISKAR

Note: The Ice Hockey Federation of Slovania launched the new website for the 2010 IIHF World Championship Division I Group B in Ljubljana in English and Slovenian under www.hockey2010-slo.com.


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