HALIFAX – Somebody, give this kid a chance.
Goalie Robert Kristan came into the IIHF World Hockey Championship about as unheralded as you can be and promptly made 60 saves for Slovenia during a 5-1 loss to Canada in Friday’s opening game. The 25-year-old spent this past season playing for HK Jesenice in Austria but still harbours hopes of catching on somewhere else soon.
“Every hockey player has got a dream to play in the NHL,” said Kristan. “I’m going to keep working hard and be the same person I am right now and we’ll see what happens.”
He looked more than capable against Canada.
Kristan faced 31 shots in the second period alone and made a jaw-dropping save on Dany Heatley during a Canadian power play. He was an easy choice as player of the game for Slovenia.
“He was incredible,” said Canadian captain Shane Doan. “It was nice to see at the end of the game, everyone kind of gave him a little bit more of a standing ovation when he won player of the game. That’s nice because he played phenomenal for them.”
He played one season for Brynas in the Swedish Elite League but has otherwise had an unspectacular pro career.
His retro-looking brown pads drew attention before he even made a save against the Canadians. Many people have asked him if they’re left over from the 1980’s.
“Those are new pads but it’s old school,” said Kristan.
Slovenia never really threatened the Canadians but his goaltending certainly kept the game close. He joked afterwards that he would be looking for bruises after taking off his equipment.
If anything, Kristan seemed unfazed by his performance.
“There was not so much pressure on me,” he said. “I feel kind of comfortable in the net.
“I was trying to show that I can play at a high level too.”
Slovenia coach Mats Waltin is among those who would like to see Kristan get a chance in a higher-tiered pro league next season. After grabbing some of the spotlight here, it could happen.
Canadian coach Ken Hitchcock was reluctant to talk about Kristan’s performance out of fear that NHL teams other than his Columbus Blue Jackets might notice.
“We might have to draft him,” said Hitchcock.