Continental test helps Slovenia
by Andy Potts|27 NOV 2022
Gasper Galvic captained Acroni Jesenice at the IIHF Continental Cup Group E in Cardiff.
photo: James Assinder
It’s a big year for Slovenian hockey. While the national team prepares for an eagerly awaited return to the top division of the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship, there are encouraging signs from Acroni Jesenice in European competition.

Although the team could not progress to the final of the Continental Cup, a third-place finish in Group E in Cardiff last weekend brought plenty to encourage team captain Gasper Galvic. He and his teammates produced a spirited fightback to defeat Zemgale Jelgava in the opening game and held their own against a powerful host team.

“It was a really great team effort [against Zemgale]. We came back from 0-2 in the third period and we showed real character throughout the team,” Galvic said. “We did well to bring the game to overtime and I think we deserved to win it.

“Then, next game, we were up against the hometown team. They were better than us, but we tried to make it hard for them and we fought to the end.”

That fighting spirit is no surprise to followers of Slovenian hockey. Jesenice has always been a hotbed of the game, with a track record that dates back to the days when Yugoslavia was a regular competitor at the top level of international hockey. It’s the birthplace of Anze Kopitar, Slovenia’s most celebrated player, and gave a start to a host of senior internationals, including many of the Olympians who represented Slovenia in Sochi and PyeongChang.

Galvic is one of a group of current Jesenice players looking follow the likes of Roc Ticar and Robert Sabolic into the Slovenian team at a top-level World Championship. Along with six of his clubmates, the 25-year-old featured in the Lynx’ recent exhibition games against Italy, Ukraine and Japan in Budapest. For a Jesenice native, representing his city and country on international ice is a dream come true.

“Our city is quite small, and hockey is our main sport,” Galvic said. “The whole city gets behind the team. People in Jesenice grow up from a young age playing hockey, wanting to be players. Maybe that’s why we produce so many good players in our club.”

On the international stage, Slovenia is back in the elite for the first time since 2017. After twice missing out on promotion in 2018 and 2019, the pandemic added another two years to the wait before the team took gold back in April.

“Of course it’s a big season for Slovenia,” Galvic said. “The top division is where we want to be all the time, but for two or three years we weren’t able to get back there.

“Now the big task is to try to stay there.”

The experience of playing Continental Cup hockey, and facing opponents from different countries and different hockey traditions, can only help with that survival bid. And, as he returns from Cardiff with plenty of positives, Galvic wants to see more opportunities for Slovenian players to compete at a higher level.

“Right now we only have two professional teams in Slovenia, then six semi-pro or amateur clubs,” he said. “The good thing is that our two top teams play at a high level. We are in the Alps League, and our rival in Ljubljana is playing at a level higher than us. That’s good for Slovenian hockey.

“But our Slovenian league is not perfect. From year to year I worry that it is getting worse.

“That’s why tournaments like this are so important. It’s a step higher in hockey and a great experience for us. We get to see a higher level, try playing at a higher level, and that can only help us.

“All these events, whether it’s the Continental Cup or playing for the national team, they’re all great for us.”