Ice hockey is played in front of the Slovenian parliament during the Ice Fest 2014. Photo: Matic Klansek Velej
(ISN) – LJUBLJANA – Winter Classics are nothing new, not even for Slovenia. The first modern winter classic in Ljubljana was organized in January 2013 at the Bezigrad Central Stadion, which was designed almost 90 years ago by Joze Plecnik, the famous Slovenian architect who also worked in Prague and Vienna.
This year the Slovenian winter classic got a new meaning. It was the first time that ice hockey was played in the very centre of the Slovenian capital of Ljubljana. And not just that, the venue was built on one of the most important squares in the country. The Republic Square was designed in the second half of the 20th century by Edvard Ravnikar and Slovenia declared its independence there in June 1991. 23 years later the Republic Square was declared a cultural monument of national importance.
The picturesque city centre so far hosted the traditional Ljubljana Marathon, the best cyclists rode through it at the Giro d’Italia in 2001, rowers felt city throb from the Ljubljanica river, and the best Slovenian athletes are awarded there by big crowds when returning home with medals from the biggest championships.
A special touch was now given to the heart of the metropolis by hockey players only a few days after the national hockey team had won the award for the best Slovenian sports team of the year thanks to brilliant games and a seventh-place finish at the Olympic Games in Sochi and earning its return to the top division for the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in the Czech Republic.
Third time was a charm for Slovenian club Olimpija Ljubljana. Twice before Olimpija wanted to play under the open sky, but the first two games of Ice Fest 2014 were moved inside due to the warm weather and soft ice. On another warm December night Slovenian hockey fans got what they asked for – a spectacle on one of the most important squares in the country.
It is not a coincidence that the game between archrivals Olimpija and Jesenice was played on 18th December. On this date the teams celebrated the 50th anniversary of the last outdoor game between these two teams. In 1964 Jesenice was much better winning 8-1 with legendary Albin Felc scoring four goals. It was only logical that Felc, who still plays hockey as a 73-year-old, had the honour of dropping the puck for the ceremonial opening face-off 50 years later.
Even before the official start of the game spectators awarded legends with the loudest applause. The same players who played the battle between Olimpija and Jesenice 50 years ago were presented in front of today’s fans of these two teams and got special commemorative coins. The same coins were presented to the current players after yesterday’s game.
4,000 spectators saw an Olimpija win this time, 2-1, but it was not as easy as one would think considering the fact that Olimpija is the only true professional ice hockey team in Slovenia. But the team that plays in the Austrian EBEL didn’t play with all of its best players. Olimpija coach Fabian Dahlem didn’t want to take risks with his best men only one day before the next league game against the Vienna Capitals. The majority of imports were not on the ice and the captain Ales Music also watched the game from the bench: “The idea of playing under the open sky is great. The atmosphere was fantastic. There were much more spectators than when we play indoors, which means that people love this kind of events. I hope there will be much more in the future. Playing in the city centre is special and I’m looking forward to the next games, where I will be able to play too.”
The next chance of playing on the Republic Square will come in a few days. Olimpija will play a league game against Dornbirn on 23rd December. The ice rink will likely stay in front of the Parliament until the end of February. That means there will be plenty of opportunities for Slovenes of all generations to put their skates on and sense the same special feeling.