Sochi Preview: Depleted Slovakian Squad Needs Surprise Performances
At the conclusion of their time in Vancouver for the 2010 Olympics, Slovakia managed to secure their best finish since the country separated itself from unified Czechoslovakia.
Despite the fact that there weren’t many expectations coming into the tournament, the Slovaks put on quite the show as they reached the semifinals before inevitably falling 3-2 to the present reigning, Canadian gold medalists. Ultimately, they fell once more in the bronze-medal game as the Finnish team pulled off a come-from-behind 5-3 victory courtesy of four unanswered goals in the third and final period pushing Slovakia entirely off the winner’s podium.
In 2014, first-time Olympic head coach Vladimir Vujtek will attempt to lead the country to another deep run as their tournament action kicks off on Thursday, February 13th when they take on the feisty United States team.
Forwards: Marian Hossa, Michal Handzus, Tomas Tatar, Marcel Hossa, Tomas Jurco, Tomas Kopecky, Richard Panik, Tomas Marcinko, Michel Miklik, Peter Ölvecky, Milan Bartovic, Tomas Surovy, Tomas Zaborsky, Marian Gaborik (Injured).
Marian Hossa, the Chicago Blackhawks’ 35-year-old superstar right-winger, will be forced to carry the majority of the offensive workload for the Slovakian team this year. His 24 goals and 26 assists combine for 50 points in 55 games so far this season. Sporting an outstanding plus-26 rating for the Hawks, Hossa’s superb two-way defensive play has gained him a reputation around the world as one of the best in the game.
Unfortunately, Hossa doesn’t have much of a supporting cast when it comes to putting pucks in the back of the net. With Columbus Blue Jackets’ right wing Marian Gaborik suffering a broken collarbone earlier this season, the three-time 40-goal scorer’s lethal production will surely be missed in Sochi. As a result, the Slovaks will be looking towards their experienced veterans as well as youthful first-timers to pick up the slack and have breakout performances.
Players such as Stanley Cup champions Tomas Kopecky and Michal Handzus will need to step up and fill the essential holes in Slovakia’s front end. Additionally, inexperienced youngsters such as Tomas Tatar, Tomas Jurco, and even Richard Panik will need to make strong debuts in their first ever cracks at the Olympic Games if the team has any hopes of performing as well as they did last time around.
Defense: Zdeno Chara, Andrej Meszaros, Andrej Sekera, Martin Marincin, Ivan Baranka, Dominik Granak, Michal Sersen, Lubomir Visnovsky (Not released from New York Islanders).
It’s no secret that the Slovakian defense revolves around Boston Bruins’ 6-foot-9, 255-pound behemoth of a man Zdeno Chara. With his 13 goals and 26 points in 54 games played this NHL campaign, Chara will have to contribute in one way or another on the offensive end. When it comes to his defensive game, there’s not many better in the world that play the type of shutdown style he’s best known for. However, once an opposing team figures out how to get past Chara, there are not many players behind him to keep the Slovak’s door closed.
When the team’s roster was originally announced, New York Islanders’ defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky was selected to play in Sochi. To his and Slovakia’s dismay, Garth Snow, general manager for the Islanders, decided that it was in the team’s best interest to not release Visnovsky to compete in international play. Disappointingly, that has left Andrej Meszaros, Andrej Sekera, and Martin Marincin to round out the top-4 on Slovakia’s blue line.
Goaltending: Jaroslav Halak, Peter Budaj, Jan Laco.
Taking into consideration both the lack of substantial offensive talent as well as defensive depth that the Slovaks are victims of, their goaltending will have to be at its absolute best when it counts the most.
It’s safe to say that the clear-cut starter between the pipes will be St. Louis Blues’ net-minder Jaroslav Halak. Halak’s 24-8-4 record this season has undoubtedly secured himself as the No. 1 goalie for the Blues going forward. He was a vital component to the 2010 Slovakian squad that took Canada to its limit in Vancouver four year ago. With a 2.41 goals-against-average and a .910 save percentage, the Bratislava native played a massive role in his team’s eventual success. He’ll have to perform at an even higher level this time around if he is to achieve his goal of taking Slovakia to the gold-medal game.
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