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KOPITAR LEADS SLOVENIA TO WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS

by Staff Writer / Los Angeles Kings
 Slovenia is returning to the premier level of international men's hockey.


Anze Kopitar of the NHL's Los Angeles Kings set up four goals during a 7-1 win over Japan at the IIHF's Division 1 tournament in Ljubljana on Thursday, earning the host country a berth in the 2008 world championship in Halifax and Quebec.

A capacity crowd of 5,000 was chanting and jumping for joy as the clock wound down in celebrating a fourth straight victory and the return to the top bracket.

Slovenia was in the top group in 2002, 2003, 2005 and 2006. Best finish was 13th in 2002 and 2005. The team was relegated last year in Riga, Latvia.

Ted Sator, the American who once was head coach of the NHL's New York Rangers and Buffalo Sabres, was behind Slovenia's bench.

Kopitar, 19, has one goal and 11 assists in four tournament games. The six-foot-three teen scored 20 goals and assisted on 41 in 72 Kings games in his rookie NHL season.

Meanwhile, in an IIHF Division 3 tourney in Dundalk, Ireland, Jeff Bonazzo of Thunder Bay, Ont., coached New Zealand to a 10-1 win over Mongolia - undefeated New Zealand's third win in a row - that enhanced the Ice Blacks' chances for gold.
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