Slovenia's seemingly impossible hockey dream will continue for at least one more game.
The biggest underdog in the entire tournament advanced to the quarterfinal round of the men's hockey tournament on Tuesday with an impressive and thoroughly dominating 4-0 win over Austria, setting up a game against Sweden on Wednesday.
After qualifying for the Olympics by winning a qualification tournament last February, Slovenia has been the biggest surprise to date and has won two of its first four games while playing Russia and the United States much tougher than anticipated. Their two wins, the playoff win over Austria and a preliminary round win over Slovakia, were not only completely one-sided in their favor, they represented the first two Olympic wins ever for Slovenia's hockey program in its first ever appearance in the games.
Let's be honest, nobody saw this type of performance coming.
On Tuesday, it was a pretty similar recipe from what we've seen over the first three games: An aggressive style of play and as much Anze Kopitar as he was physically able to play. When healthy, Kopitar has been a workhorse for Slovenia in the tournament and outside of the third period against the United States when he was dealing with an illness, has been playing more than 23 minutes per game in the tournament while being the best player on the ice pretty much every time he has been out there.
That continued against Austria as soon as the puck dropped.
On Kopitar's opening shift he created the first scoring chance of the game by hitting the post after badly beating Austria goalie Mathias Lange. Just minutes later his luck balanced out when he was left all alone in the slot after some slick puck movement on a power play and fired a shot that just trickled through Lange's legs to barely roll across the line to open the scoring.
After that, the floodgates opened for Slovenia.
Jan Urbas added a shorthanded goal for Slovenia later in the period, while they later added goals from Sabahudin Kovacevic (returning to the lineup after being suspended for the game against USA on Sunday) and Jan Mursak.
After losing his shutout bid with just 17 seconds to play against Slovakia, Robert Kristian completed the shutout on Tuesday by stopping all 30 shots he faced, including a couple of highlight reel stops on Michael Grabner and Thomas Vanek.
Vanek had a particularly rough game for Austria, turning the puck over at the blue line on the shorthanded goal scored by Urbas and not making much of an effort to get back into the play. He also took a penalty and was stopped on a breakaway in the third period.
Austria may not have been the most powerful lineup Slovenia has faced so far, but it did have three NHL players, including the tournament's leading goal-scorer to date (Grabner). That trio was pretty much a non-factor for most of the game as Slovenia did a tremendous job shutting them down.
For the tournament Slovenia is now 2-2 and with a goal differential of just minus-1 despite playing a pretty touch schedule that has included Russia, the United States, Slovakia and Austria.
It's not going to get any easier in the Quarterfinals where they go up against Sweden.
But simply getting there is quite an accomplishment for a team that has just one NHL player (Kopitar) and only one other player with NHL experience (Mursak).