Since its divorce from the former Czechoslovakia in 1993 the Slovak men’s national ice hockey team has participated in four Winter Olympics, finishing in a team best of fifth in 2006. They have also appeared in the IIHF World Championships 15 times since 1994, bringing home a gold medal in 2002.
During the 2006 Winter Olympics, Slovakia posted a 5-1 mark, defeating Russia, the United States and eventual gold-medalist Sweden in pool play before losing to the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals. The country has produced a multitude of big, physical NHL defensemen over the years, and this season was no exception.
The team competing in Olympic ice hockey at the 2010 Winter Olympics is nearly equally split of NHL players and other European based Slovakian born hockey players.
The Slovaks play a Canadian kind of grindy game that includes a tendency to play the boring trap. They can lull an opponent to sleep and turn it on when they need to get that one goal they need in a tight game. They play with an impressive intensity much like the Latvians but with less of their offensive idiosyncrasy and within more of a defensive system.
The Slovaks have already beat two of the most talented teams in the 2010 tournament. Russia (by a score of 2-1) and Sweden (4-3) in the quarterfinals. The defeat of Sweden was referred to by Miroslav Satan “As the biggest achievement so far in the short history of the Slovak Republic.” Which ought to warrant some kind of wild- party and national holiday for the good republic.
The Slovaks don’t have depth on defence or on the forward lines. But they do have many stars on their squad. Jaroslav Halak who has been frustratingly inconsistent with the Montreal Canadiens has stepped up his game and has a 1.97 goals-against average in the Olympics. Halak has the talent to do what American goalie Ryan Miller did — beat Canada all on his own.
The Slovaks (is that what they are called- Slavs-Slovos ? ) are led by Zdeno Chara. The Captain of the Boston Bruins, Chara is the third Slovak Captain to play in the NHL joining Peter Stasny for the Quebec Nordiques (his son Paul born in Quebec City plays for the American Olympic squad) and Stan Makita.
Chara has been nominated for the leagues best defenceman -The Norris Trophy- twice.
Chara has the fastest shot in the league clocking in at 105.4 miles an hour. He plays literally half the game –every other shift and is a mighty as the oak game –changer.
And yes he stands Six –Ten and would make Larry ‘Big Bird’ Robinson, who’s wicked slap shot and rushing defenceman style he shares – appear a mere chickity.
Chara is an intelligent thinking man’s athlete (-thus the Captaincy). And as a side note which speaks to his character supports Right to Play
Marian Hossa is a goal scoring threat as is Marian Gaborik who scored 42 goals for the Wild a few season back. Pavel Demitra the Vancouver Canucks player who had been plagued by injuries and frankly underwhelming with the NHL home team has stepped up his game playing for the homeland.
Slovakia has medaled three times during the last eight years at the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championship — including a gold medal in 2002.
Here’s a look at NHL.com’s choices of the top 10 Slovaks in the game today. As a side note, forward Miroslav Satan does not appear on the list since he remains an unrestricted free agent.
1. Zdeno Chara, D, Boston — Chara, the two-time winner of the NHL’s Hardest Shot competition, was sixth in the League in average ice time (26:04), second on the Bruins in hits (169) and finished with a career-high 19 goals, 31 assists and a plus-23 rating in 2008-09. He became the third Bruin to capture the Norris Trophy — joining Hall of Famers Ray Bourque and Bobby Orr.
2. Marian Hossa, F, Chicago — Recent surgery to repair a small tear in his right rotator cuff certainly won’t keep him off the Slovak Olympic roster. Hossa led his countrymen in goals (40), points (71), shots (307) and plus/minus rating (plus-27) with Detroit last season. He has 719 points in 775 career games during his 11 NHL seasons.
3. Marian Gaborik, F, New York Rangers — The two-time NHL All-Star has reached 30 goals in five of his eight seasons, including a 42-goal performance in 2007-08. He skated in 502 regular-season games in Minnesota, registering 219 goals and 437 points, before signing with the Rangers this summer. Gaborik made his Olympic debut in 2006, scoring 3 goals and 7 points in six games.
4. Pavol Demitra, F, Vancouver — In his first season with the Canucks, in 2008-09, he had 20 goals and 53 points — his seventh straight season of at least 50 points. It also marked the 10th time in the last 11 seasons Demitra scored at least 20 goals.
5. Michal Handzus, F, Los Angeles — The 6-foot-4, 218-pound center not only finished fourth among Slovakian scorers with 18 goals and 42 points last season, but he was first in faceoff winning percentage, (54.5, on 1,320 attempts), tied for second in takeaways (28), fifth in hits (75), and sixth in blocked shots (69).
6. Lubomir Visnovsky, D, Edmonton — A dislocated shoulder limited him to 50 games in 2008-09, but he still produced at least 30 points for the fourth straight season. Visnovsky, who was voted the best player in Slovakia during the NHL work stoppage in 2004-05, is a key contributor to the Oilers’ power play and a veteran of three Olympics.
7. Andrej Meszaros, D, Tampa Bay — He was second among Slovakian players in average ice time per game (24:10) and amassed 68 hits and 98 blocked shots. Prior to last season, his first season with the Lightning, Meszaros hadn’t missed a game in his first three NHL seasons. He had 16 points in 52 games in 2008-09.
8. Milan Jurcina, D, Washington — Jurcina appeared in a career-high 79 games last season and set personal highs in assists (11) and points (14). He was first on the Caps and among Slovaks with 131 blocked shots and second with 157 hits.
9. Marek Svatos, F, Colorado — The 27-year-old, a top-six forward with the Avalanche, has registered at least 30 points in his four NHL seasons. He had a career-high 32 goals and 50 points as a rookie in 2005-06; he had 14 goals and 34 points last season. Svatos also played in the ’06 Olympics.
10. Jaroslav Halak, G, Montreal — The 271st pick in the 2003 Entry Draft took over as the backup to Carey Price following the trade of Cristobal Huet. He went 18-14-1 with a 2.86 goals-against average and .915 save percentage in 34 games last season, and played for Slovakia at the 2007 World Championships.
Should be a gritty grinder Canadian, uh Slovakian style game. Players to watch
Charra! Charra! Charra! (And while we are at it –a word for Charo)
Beware: Havlak having the game of his life and the Slovaks grinding one out. Also note if you haven’t already they have a player named Satan.
Enjoy : On the Canadian side the continued fine play of the young defencemen Drew Doughty , Shea Weber, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook .
It will be fun to watch a game with a definite European league based flair. Sports Crap predicts Canada 4 –Slovakia 2.
Slovaks Nice to Meet You
Game on and Bon Chance!