Two years ago, Team Slovenia won gold in the International Ice Hockey Federation’s Division I, Group B U18 World Championship. Just a few days ago, that same group went on to win another gold, this time at the U20 level in Group B of Division I. The win earned a promotion to Group A.
That will be a challenge. The older kids who’ve contributed so much will be gone.
“Next year will see even better hockey played in Division IA,” head coach Ales Burnik told IIHF reporter Andy Potts. “The 1999 year group is an above-average group of players for us, but some key players will stay with the team. We cannot aim for the top spots but we will put in the maximum preparation.”
Burnik’s boys won three games and picked up two overtime wins for 13 points, three ahead of tournament host Poland and Hungary, which were tied for second. The Slovenians were led by Jan Drozg, a 1999 who was drafted in the fifth round in 2017 by Pittsburgh. The current Shawinigan Cataractes winger finished with four goals and eight assists. He led all scorers by a wide margin. Several players tied for second with seven points. It was no surprise that he was named the tournament’s top forward.
Defenseman Nejc Stojan, another ‘99, was the team’s second-leading scorer, recording a pair of goals and five assists. He was one of those players bunched up for second with seven points.
At third was 2000 forward Aljaz Predan. He had four goals and two assists, and should be back next year. Predan has U.S. junior hockey experience, playing in the USPHL last season for the Florida Jr. Blades. He dominated over five games, scoring seven times and setting up five more goals.
The next 2000 doesn’t show up until 12th on the scoring list. Martin Bohinc, a forward, had one point -- a goal -- in the tournament.
Lan Brun-Rauh, a 2000 defenseman, went scoreless but was a +2.
Maybe the best news for Team Slovenia is that both goalies are eligible to return. 2000-born Ziga Kogovsek was the workhorse. In four games, he turned in a 1.92 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage. Val Usnik, a 2001, played in one game, recording a 3.00 GAA and an .893 save percentage.
The absence of the older players will be tough on next year’s team, but it opens up opportunities for the younger kids. And not only the 2000s, but 2001s such as Gasper Konc, a big defenseman who has five goals and seven assists in 22 games for the Dallas Snipers of the WSHL.
Despite losing so many veterans, Burnik is optimistic looking toward next year’s IIHF World Championship.
“The team spirit we showed here means we can stay in a higher group even after next year’s tournament,” he said.