The Slovakian team has always been an interesting one to watch. They always seem to have one or two young studs that you know will be great someday.
However, the supporting cast around such players have been the weakness surrounding the team ever since the dissolution of Czechoslovakia. All-time, Slovakia is 50-80-2, with nine ties. Slovakia has won only won two medals since being promoted to the top division in 1996. They won the Bronze Medal in 1999 and 2015, and lost in the Bronze Medal Game in 2009 to the Russians. This year’s team is almost a brand new team, with only two returnees from last year’s squad. Offensively, this team is set to hold their own. However, they are very young and inexperienced on the back-end, and the goaltending will be a huge question mark come next Wednesday.
As stated before, talent as often ran thin for Slovakia. However, that does not mean the players are not recognizable to each other. The Slovakian Junior National Team works differently than some of the top countries. The majority of the roster plays together seven or eight months out of the season. They do throw in some outside talent to strengthen the team, however eleven members of this Slovakian team are from the Under-20 team that has been playing against other teams from the Slovak Extraliga, the top league in Slovakia. If there is something that the Slovaks have that most of the other teams do not, it is the common bond that these players have built together over the past few years.
Who to Watch For
Goaltending could certainly be an issue for the Slovaks throughout the tournament. Quite frankly, it could be a toss-up between the three which you could play. However, Sklenar may be the one to really step up for the Slovaks. He certainly has the international pedigree, as he has represented Slovakia on the world stage since he was 16. He played in the 2016 Ivan Hlinka U18 tournament, where he posted a 3.37 GAA and .900 SV% in his four games. He’s only played in four games with HK Nitra this season, due to his duty with the National Junior Team, but in his four games he’s posted a respectable 2.28 GAA and .923 SV%.
The Washington Capitals second-round draft pick is going to have to play a huge role for this year’s team. The Bratislava native has split his time the SHL between Malmo and HV71, and has slowly improved over the four seasons into a stable defenseman. In the past two WJC tournaments, he’s only amassed three points in ten games. However, he is only a -3 in those games, and for a team that has struggled defensively, he’s been solid on the blue-line. A usual stay-at-home defenseman, Fehervary is very capable of moving the puck, and has a heavy shot from the point if he can find the space to let one rip.
As one of the defensive pieces that helped Acadie-Bathurst Titan to the Memorial Cup last Spring, Ivan knows how to win on the big stage. This year with Titan, not so much, as they are towards the bottom of the ‘Q’ standings. However, Ivan has steadily produced offensively for the struggling club. He has amassed 12 points in his first 29 games. He is already on pace to jump his point total from last season (17) when he returns to the Bathurst lineup. Ivan is a defenseman you will see move up in the rush fairly frequently, and will find areas in the offensive to create scoring chances where other young defensemen may not.
As a very moderate scorer in the QMJHL, Hrehorcak will be looked upon to really bolster the Slovakian offense. In his 97 games played with Rouyn-Noranda, Hrehorcak has scored 39 goals and 34 assists for 73 points. He is a very quick winger who can sneak is way in to open areas in the offensive zone. Not the biggest guy, standing at 5’10”, but he uses his speed to create scoring chances. He has very quick hands, which makes him a very dangerous threat around the side, and front of the net.
A veteran on the Slovakian roster, this will be Roman’s third appearance at the WJC. In nine games playing for Team Slovakia, Roman has scored four points. The Calgary draft pick is certainly going to be asked to play a big role, much like last season It will be also in his backyard, as the Vancouver Giant will be playing in very familiar territory. The centreman has really stepped up his goal-scoring abilities this season. Last year, he spent most of the year setting up Ty Ronning. In his second season in Vancouver, he’s well on pace for over 30 goals, which would triple his total from last season. He has the ability to get off a very accurate shot while in motion, which will be a nightmare for goaltenders throughout the tournament.
Another WJC veteran, the big Calgary prospect is going to be on every opposing coaches’ to-do list, with good reason. This season has been old hat for Ruzicka. As he continues his point-a-game pace with the Sarnia Sting. Before leaving to go play for his country, Ruzicka had scored 35 points in 33 games, good for third best on the Sting. The big 6’4″ Bratislava native is a perfect mix of size and skill. He has the vision and hands to set up a goal, and the hands to score one as well. His large frame allows him the freedom to be a presence in front of the net, making every goaltender’s lives a little more difficult.
Samuel Hlavaj (Slovakian Jr. National Team)
Jakub Kostelny (Slovakian Jr. National Team)
Juraj Sklenar (HK Nitra, Slovakia U20)
David Boldizar (Slovakian Jr. National Team)
Daniel Demo (Lulea HF J20, SuperElit (Sweden))
Marcel Dlugos (Slovakian Jr. National Team)
Martin Fehervary (HV71, SHL)
Andrej Golian (Slovakian Jr. National Team)
Michal Ivan (Acadie-Bathurst Titan, QMJHL)
Marek Korencik (Lulea HF J20, SuperElit (Sweden)
Martin Kupec (Slovakian Jr. National Team)
Enrik Svec (Slovakian Jr. National Team)
Adam Ziak (TUTO Hockey, Mestis (Finland))
Jozef Balaz (HC Vitkovice, Czech Extraliga)
Maxim Cajkovic (Saint John Sea Dogs, QMJHL)
Milos Fafrak (Slovakian Jr. National Team)
Oliver Giertil (Slovakian Jr. National Team)
Patrik Hrehoracak (Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, QMJHL)
Milos Kelemen (HKM Zvolen, Slovak Extraliga)
Andrej Kollar (Slovakian Jr. National Team)
Filip Krivosik (HPK, Liiga)
Andrej Kukuca (HPK, Liiga)
Adam Liska (HC Slovan Bratislava, KHL)
Oliver Okuliar (Sherbrooke Phoenix, QMJHL)
Martin Pospisil (Sioux City Musketeers, USHL)
Pavol Regenda (Vaxjo Lakers HC J20, Superelit (Sweden))
Milos Roman (Vancouver Giants, WHL)
Adam Ruzicka (Sarnia Sting, OHL)
Dec. 26 vs. USA (6:30 pm ET/3:30 pm PT)
Dec. 27 vs. Sweden (6:30 pm ET/3:30 pm PT)
Dec. 29 vs. Finland (6:30 pm ET/3:30 pm PT)
Dec. 30 vs. Kazakhstan (6:30 pm ET/3:30 pm PT)
Statistics from eliteprospects.com
Records from iihf.com
Featured image photo credit – Pixbay