Matjaz Kopitar returns
by Martin Merk|21 JUN 2019
Matjaz Kopitar most recently coached the Slovenian national team at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games and the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship.
photo: Jeff Vinnick / HHOF-IIHF Images
After four years Matjaz Kopitar will return as head coach of the Slovenian national team. This became known after yesterday’s annual meeting of the Slovenian Ice Hockey Federation. What didn’t work out last year due to his commitments with the Los Angeles Kings will work out this time as the federation confirmed.

The contract has not been inked yet but the parties agreed on a four-year deal that will be signed when he returns to the country. Matjaz Kopitar started working as a scout for the Kings last year and was therefore not able to start his job as the Slovenian national team coach but a solution was found so he can join the Slovenian national team for several camps.

The Jesenice native and father of Los Angeles Kings star Anze Kopitar was a national team player for Slovenia and earlier Yugoslavia himself in the early ‘90s before moving to coaching in the early 2000s in Slovenia. Between 2004 and 2008 he worked at several IIHF tournaments as an assistant coach before being named head coach during the 2010/2011 season. 

The 53-year-old led the team at five World Championship events – three in the top division where Slovenia was relegated each time and two in Division I where the team earned promotion both times. He also led Slovenia to the surprise qualification for the 2014 Olympic Winter Games that ended with a historic 7th-place finish. 

After the 2015 Worlds he left the team and had a quick stint with Swiss second-tier team Martigny Red Ice in the 2016/2017 season before joining his son’s club in California as a scout for Europe.

Kopitar will bring hope with him because Slovenia has missed out on promotion twice in a row now despite Anze Kopitar on the roster at the recent 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A in Kazakhstan that ended with a fourth-place finish for Slovenia. One year earlier Slovenia was even fifth. These are the worst placings for the team since 2000. Since the first top-level appearance as an independent country in 2002 Slovenia has never missed out on getting back to the top-level twice in a row.

Matjaz Kopitar will be assisted by another former national team coach of Slovenia. Finnish coach Kari Savolainen signed an agreement as assistant coach of the national team and will also take over duties in the area of ice hockey development in other categories, in particular U20, as of January.

Savolainen was the head coach of the Slovenian national team at World Championship tournaments in 2004, 2005 and 2018 and also coached the team at the 2018 Olympics beside working as team manager and adviser for the team at other events.

Slovenia has two important tournaments in next season’s calendar and both on home ice.

In February 2020 Slovenia will host Japan, Lithuania and qualifier from a previous round at Group G of the Olympic Pre-Qualification Round 3 in Jesenice.

In spring Slovenia will host the 2020 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A where the Slovenes will battle for promotion to the top division with France, Austria, Korea, Hungary and Romania.