Kukla's Korner Hockey
by Phil Davies on 11/10/10 at 12:05 AM ET
Part 2: Coaching Team Slovenia
6. You have a ton of international hockey experience, both as a player for Team USA and as a coach in the Swiss and Italian national leagues. What are the strongest traits that you bring to your job as Head Coach of Team Slovenia?
I certainly think my background as a coach and as a successful international player help my reputation with the Slovenian team. I have learned that there are many different ways to coach a team and many different systems of play that can be successful. I feel that I have learned to evaluate my players on my teams, and then to adapt to their strengths to determine our style of play, and also try to cover for our weaknesses.
7. Slovenia was in a qualification group with Germany, Austria and Japan for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, narrowly losing all three games by one goal. Although frustrating, was this tournament key in creating cohesion amongst the young squad?
It was the first Slovenia squad that I coached, and even though I had scouted the Slovene players and had asked numerous coaches in Slovenia about the players, I was still learning who the best players were, and also determining which players would make the best team. Looking back on the squad I had in Germany, it is much different than the National Team I have right now.
8. Slovenia’s next big tournament was the qualification round for the 2011 World Championships in Slovakia. Your pool also consisted of Croatia, Great Britain, Hungary, Korea and Poland. Tell us how about Slovenia’s road to the 2011 World Championships?
I made a decision to go with some young, talented players that would give us a lot of enthusiasm, versus veteran players that might give us experience but that I was afraid might be too nonchalant. Some of my choices were unpopular with people in Slovenia, but the players performed tremendously. We got great goaltending, played good team defense, and our team played cohesive, committed hockey. Our final game versus Hungary that we won to win promotion was as exciting a moment for me as I’ve had in my hockey career.
9. Slovenia is currently ranked 19th in the world and are in Group A of the 2011 World Championships, with Russia, Slovakia and Germany. As the coach, what are your expectations for this tournament?
I think it is pretty simple and reasonable to say our goal is to stay in the A Pool for the 2012 tournament. That likely means we will have to beat one of the above- mentioned teams. Regardless of the outcome, I will expect our team to play hard every game, play as a unit and not as individuals, be better at the end of the tournament than at the beginning, and to represent Slovenia well on this international stage.
10.Every National teams long range goal is the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. In general, what must Slovenia do to qualify for these games?
We will have to win a qualifying tournament, probably sometime in early 2014. That is a long way off right now, but our job in Slovenia is to continue to develop our young players, and to give them opportunities to show themselves in international events. That will contribute to developing an experienced team for future tournaments.
11. Anže Kopitar is the first Slovenian hockey player to play in the NHL. Do you foresee anymore Slovenian players in the NHL soon?
We have some outstanding young players in Slovenia, and I would think that these Slovene players would get opportunities in North America to work their way up to the NHL. The Slovenia players will have to have the work ethic, the desire to play in the NHL, and the courage to go to North America and prove that they belong.
Thanks again John and good luck with Team Slovenia!
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