STA, 23 November 2018- Ice hockey immediately springs to mind in Slovenia at the mention of Jesenice, an old steel town in the north-west of the country. The Jesenice hockey club, which dominated the sport in Yugoslavia and Slovenia for decades, is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year.
The small industrial town, which one passes on the A2 motorway north of Bled, became synonymous with ice hockey between 1957 and 1971 when HK Acroni Jesenice won 15 consecutive Yugoslav champion titles.
While engaged in a constant rivalry with the Ljubljana hockey club, Jesenice's total number of titles in the former common country reached 23. The club went on to win nine more championship titles in independent Slovenia, including in the first three seasons in 1991-1993.
The club, known for mostly developing and using local players, has played a crucial role in the impressively high level of the sport in Slovenia.
The national team reached the quarter-finals of the Olympic tournament in Sochi in 2014 and also qualified for the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics, despite Slovenia only having a handful of clubs and fewer than 200 registered players.
Bankruptcy, dissolution and new hope
However, having lost the Yugoslav markets and with the general decline of industrial production, the town of Jesenice has been struggling and unfortunately this has also been true in recent years for the ice hockey club.
It became the first Slovenian club to be invited to the Austrian Hockey League EBEL in 2006 and also managed to win the Slovenian league titles in 2008-2011, but the club went bankrupt and was dissolved in 2012.
While the hockey school was preserved, efforts have been under way to rebuild the club from scratch. An anniversary ceremony to be held at the end of the month in the town's museum complex Kolpern, located in the former premises of the now downsized steelworks, hopes to contribute.
"The steelworks were like a mother and were involved in all aspects of life here. With the downfall of Yugoslavia it became clear that this support was no longer possible," Miha Rebolj, a former player and one of the leading figures in efforts to salvage the club, reflected on Jesenice's history.
"Then there was also the curse of the EBEL league, which demanded substantial investments. The debts accumulated, the senior team was disbanded. But us veterans have managed to save Jesenice hockey, a new club has emerged that is now mounting all the challenges it encounters," he added.