The only way is up
by Mateja Vodiskar|03 MAY 2022
Mitja Robar will play for the first time for the Slovenian national team since the 2018 Olympic Winter Games and after having retired from hockey.
photo: Jeff Vinnick / HHOF-IIHF Images
On home ice, the Slovenian men’s national team will be chasing the top-two spots of the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A to join next year's elite nations at the 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship.

With France and Austria moving from up already for this year, the Slovenes are considered favourites to win and to advance to the top national teams. They will start the championship at the Tivoli ice rink against Lithuania, continue against Romania and Hungary, and finish with a match against Korea. The last two opponents will be the toughest.

For the first time since the 2018 Olympic Games, the Lynx will also welcome back Mitja Robar, who hung up his skates two years ago, but made a triumphant return to Olimpija Ljubljana this year and hopes to finish the season with another successful appearance for the national team.

It has been an unexpected competitive period for the experienced defenceman. After the 2018/19 season, in which he skated for Medvescak Zagreb in the EBEL league, he started his second career, becoming the president of HDK Maribor, working as a manager and agent, but was still keeping in touch with hockey in Maribor on an amateur level. A few months ago, the story took a turn, and after a series of injuries at Olimpija Ljubljana, he returned to the professional scene, successfully playing with in the ICEHL playoffs.

“Even though my career was officially over, my love for hockey remained. That is why I played at an amateur level in Maribor. I have to admit that if someone had asked me before the last season if I would come back, I would not even have thought about it,” said Robar. “However, it turned out that there was still some fire in me. Mitja Sivic, the head coach of Olimpija, and I had been in contact before, but when he had some problems with injuries in his team and needed help in the short term, we quickly agreed that I would come to Ljubljana.”

After playing for Olimpija in the ICEHL playoffs, he unexpectedly received an invitation from national team head coach Matjaž Kopitar to return to the roster to play at the World Championship Division I Group A in Ljubljana: “Some of the younger players got injured, but I showed good fitness at the end of the club season. I was in contact with the ice all the time of my official retirement, I was physically fit also because of my lifestyle, and experiences definitely help a lot. All of this turned up to be enough for the coach’s phone call.”

After a two-year break, it is not the easiest thing to get back into the rhythm of competition at the age of 39: “That was the biggest difficulty, the biggest leap to get back into game shape. In Maribor, the games were not so intense. It took a while to get used to the speed and the fatigue, and a few games to get into competitive shape. Once my body got used to it, everything went back to normal.”

The popular defenceman cannot wait for the home championship, because playing in front of the home crowd is always special: “It's the best to play at home. The fans came back to Tivoli in this year’s club season, because they could enjoy hockey at a high level. The World Championship team is of high quality, everyone is back from abroad, except Kopitar and Drozg. I believe there will be a lot of interesting games, and I am sure the spectators will be satisfied.”

“The atmosphere in the team is great. We all know each other very well, so it is the same atmosphere as always. That is what I missed. The team spirit from the national team. Everything is really as it should be, and we are already looking forward to the World Championships,” says Robar.

The Slovenes will open the World Championships tonight against Lithuania, Romania tomorrow, Hungary on Friday and Korea on Sunday.

The Hungarians and the Koreans are considered the strongest candidates for promotion alongside Slovenia. The top-two ranked teams will move up, which is the only goal of the Slovenian national team. The non-appearance of Austria and France, who replaced Russia and Belarus in the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Finland, will certainly make Slovenia’s task easier, but they must not underestimate any opponent.

“We cannot run away from that. Our national team has always been characterized by its fighting spirit, its relentlessness. I believe that we will reward the fans who will come to support us. I hope they will come in as big numbers as possible, because sport is played for the fans, and that together we can finish the season successfully,” says Robar, who will wait to answer whether he will extend his career.

“I don’t want to be too fast twice. I am concentrating on the World Championship now, on achieving the goal we have set for ourselves. Then we will see what the summer will be like. Then I will think again and decide.”

Whatever decision he will make, he will in the future focus again on his role as hockey agent and president of his club in Maribor  where they are working very well with young players, which should also help for a stronger national team in the years to come.

All games of the tournament can be watched live worldwide. Click here to find out more.