“There is no special excitement. I take this as a job, which I have been doing for the past six years. I am aware of the responsibilities brought by being the national team head coach, but I will not panic and I hope there will be no pressure,” said Jan.
"I think that only the title is different, I'm still a hockey coach,” emphasized Jan on his new role, and added: “In the national team, you may have less time to work, but there are so few players in Slovenia, that they practically know each other since the young age. I was the coach of some of them in their teams already, and I actually played with some of them. They know what kind of man I am and they know what they can expect from me.”
Jan's assistant will be Mike Zettel, an experienced Canadian coach, with whom Jan worked together in Graz. “The first tournament is also intended for players to get to know my work and the coaching team. Among the candidates there are more experienced players, which also master communication skills,” said the new head coach.
Two years ago, he was already an assistant coach of the national team, now he will be in the main role for the first time after Matjaz Kopitar’s sudden departure. He thinks it will not be difficult to get in touch with the players: "The players have already met me and they know how I work. As an assistant coach I already communicated with the players a lot, and they know I am always ready to talk to them. I will be the same now as the head coach. I hope they will not be afraid or ashamed of asking anything.”
He also stressed that the most important thing for him is that the national team does not represent any pressure or constraint for anyone: "My first job is to make sure that the boys come to the team eager to play, and not just because they think I would be angry with them if they didn’t come. Everyone who is here has shown great desire. I'm sure they will show everything they can on the ice, too.”
Jan succeeded Kari Savolainen, who led Slovenia last season at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games and at the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A in Budapest. There, the Slovenes failed to advance to the elite division; therefore, the fight for the first two spots will surely be one of the priorities at the next edition in Kazakhstan in spring. After originally appointed Kopitar had to decline due to his new job in scouting at the Los Angeles Kings, Jan eventually became the head coach.
“The analysis of the opponents will be important only before the decisive part of the season that awaits us in Astana. In the matches in Minsk, the introduction of young players is more important,” stressed Jan and added: “The national team is younger than usual or more inexperienced, and the main reason is that we do not have a large selection of players. So, young players have to be slowly introduced and we have to give them a chance. Teams that will compete against us in Minsk are of very high quality, and our highest priority is not winning the first place there. Nevertheless, we are highly motivated, although gaining experience and getting to know my work is the most important at this point.”
During the November tournament Jan saw mixed results against three better-ranked opponents. They lost to Division I rival Belarus as well as to Latvia 4-1 before losing to France in a shootout in the last game.
Such tournaments are always a good opportunity for testing younger players, that didn’t play in the national team often before. Therefore, Jan decided together with the veteran national players that they can skip this tournament while he counts on them for the more important part of the season.
“If we exclude the core of the national team, there are no other players abroad. That means, the next core of the national team are the players that play at home, in Ljubljana and Jesenice. I think, young players need to be thrown in at the deep end. And this tournament was an ideal opportunity. If the experienced players will not show what I expect from them, the youngsters will have to jump in instead,” pointed out Jan.
During the February break the situation will be different when Slovenia hosts a Euro Ice Hockey Challenge tournament with opponents closer ranked to them: Belarus, Italy and Hungary from 7 to 9 February in Bled.
It will be an important test in the quest for a return to the top division. Slovenia will battle for one of the two free spots during the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A in Astana against Belarus, Korea, host Kazakhstan, Hungary and Lithuania.