Denied trips to the Winter Olympics in controversial decisions by their home countries, American-born NHLers Bobby Ryan and Keith Yandle and Canadian stars Joe Thornton, Martin St. Louis and Claude Giroux were introduced as citizens of Slovenia today, and were immediately named to that country's men's ice hockey team.
"Playing for Slovenia is a dream come true for me, I guess," said Ryan, a native of Cherry Hill, N.J. "Whenever your country calls on you to represent them in the Olympics it's a thrill, even if it's only been your country for a few hours."
In a short ceremony at the Slovenian consulate in New York City, about 15 players not named to their respective national teams were sworn in as Slovenian citizens. The influx of new Slovenians includes Alexander Semin of the Carolina Hurricanes, Kyle Okposo of the New York Islanders, Victor Hedman and Ben Bishop of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Nail Yakupov and Taylor Hall of the Edmonton Oilers, Dan Boyle of the San Jose Sharks and Brent Seabrook of the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.
Before today, the lone NHL player on Slovenia's Olympic roster was Los Angeles' Anze Kopitar, who gushed about his new countrymen and teammates.
"What can I say? We just got a whole lot better in a Ljubljana minute," said Kopitar, who could not attend the ceremony. "I can't wait to practice with these guys and get them up to speed on Slovenian traditions, like beekeeping and setting up their own family kozolec for drying hay."
The Europe-based players previously announced to play for Slovenia's national team will be notified of their releases shortly.
"It sucks for the guys who got bumped and have to go back to their other jobs," said Kopitar. "But screw them I got Joe Thornton on my side now."
All new players were issued Slovenian hockey jerseys with their names and numbers on the back and posed for pictures with the country's president, Borut Pahor, and head hockey coach, Matjaž Kopitar.
"We are proud to accept these new citizens and hockey players," said coach Kopitar, the father of Anze. "If these talented men aren't valued in their old homelands, Slovenia is happy to give them comfort between her alps and valleys."
"I hear Slovenia is beautiful," said Thornton. "I've never been, but I look forward to getting to know the team and the place a little better as soon as I get there.
"It's always great to play for a team that wants you."
For countries rich in hockey culture and loaded with worthy candidates, picking a single team of 25 players for a short Olympic tournament can be a difficult task. Plenty of great players will be snubbed, which can lead to hurt feelings and confused fans.
But none of it matters any more. Those left behind by their former countries will take the ice for Slovenia at the Sochi games in a group that includes the United States.
"It will definitely feel weird playing against the U.S., but that's hockey I guess," said Ryan. "I'm a Slovenian now and I'll do whatever it takes to get us the gold."
Coach Kopitar expected an adjustment period, but predicts Slovenia will be ready for the start of the Games on February 6th.
"Hockey is the easy part. It's getting used to wearing cropped pants with tight white socks that can be rough."
This is satire. Good luck to Kopitar and his actual Slovenian teammates in Sochi.