Despite the Gold Medal success of the Slovaks at the 2002 World Championships, the future of Slovak hockey isn’t quite so bright. A struggling economy, lack of qualified coaches, lack of adequate facilities, and the fall of communism have led to the degrading of a once fine hockey-producing machine. After finishing 2nd at the 1999 U20 WJC’s, the Slovaks have finished no higher than 8th place, as they have been struggling to avoid relegation. With only 3 Slovaks drafted in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, many of the undrafted Slovaks see the tournament in Halifax as a perfect stage to show off their skills to the numerous scouts and general managers watching.
With a lack of star power, coach Jozef Fruhauf’s goals are modest: Play the spoiler role, avoid relegation, and perhaps squeak into the playoff round. The pre-tournament exhibition games showed just what to expect from the Slovaks. In a 5-0 loss to Canada, the Slovaks were completely outmatched in every area. In a 4-2 win over the Czech Republic, an inspired Slovak team showed that they could churn out a surprise win if all of the stars align just right.
Playing in the weaker of the two groups (Group A with Russia, USA, Switzerland, and Belarus), and an impressive 11-1 opening win over a weak Belarussian squad, the Slovaks just may be able to grab one of the 3 playoff spots available in their group.
A view of the Slovak lineup, with a look at the key players to watch for:
Historically a great weakness for Slovakia, the past few years have seen some solid #1 goaltenders produced. Who can forget Jan Lasak’s brilliant performance in 1999, when he won over the Canadian crowd in a 0-0 tie in the opening game against Canada? Av’s prospect Peter Budaj and Boston draft pick Peter Hamerlik have also provided Slovakia with solid goaltending in previous tournaments. Unfortunately for Slovakia, they have no solid #1 goalie with the same credentials to rely on.
The #1 job will fall to former OHL goaltender Jan Chovan (drafted 7th round/213th overall in 2000 by Toronto), who now finds himself in the USHL with Sioux City, where he has managed to find his game, to a degree. Chovan’s experience in North America, together with the fact that he is the lone Slovak goaltender with the potential to steal games, basically meant the #1 job was his by default. Chovan does not have the ability of his predecessors, nor he has shown the consistency to be #1 goaltender, and he will have to pull out miracles to lead Slovakia to any sort of success. Peter Sevela (Zvolen) has won the backup job, while Imrich Petrik will be the #3 man.
The definite strength of the Slovak team this year is the defense corps, which is big on CHL experience, offensive ability, puck movement, and speed. The defense is not very big, but the players have shown the ability to handle the physical play. A well rounded unit that will produce offensively, as well as take care of their own end.
Who to watch:
Tomas Slovak – (drafted 2/42 2000 by Nashville)
Slovak is a true all-round defenseman who has played big minutes in every role with the Kelowna Rockets this season. He will be expected to carry a heavy load for the Slovaks at both ends of the ice. Will likely play in the AHL next year, and looks to be a very solid NHL prospect.
Karol Sloboda –
Passed through both the 2001 and 2002 Entry draft before getting a tryout with the Boston Bruins. Sloboda is a very slick and small offensive defenseman who has been lighting it up with the Ottawa 67s this season. Sloboda will most certainly be the offensive leader of this group, and will run the Power Play.
Richard Stehlik –
Due to his ex-agent misfiling some application forms, Stehlik was made ineligible for the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, where he was a sure 3rd rounder pick at worst. Stehlik is a giant of a young man (6’5” 235lbs), who possesses good puck-moving ability, and plays for the QMJHL’s Sherbrooke Castors. Look for him to be drafted in the first 3 rounds of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft.
Milan Jurcina – (drafted 8/241 2001 by Boston)
Jurcina is perhaps the brightest Slovak prospect on the roster, as well as a player for the host city’s Halifax Mooseheads QMJHL squad. Jurcina is a big 6’4” defenseman who could finish this season as the goal-scoring leader among defensemen in the QMJHL. After a great training camp with the Boston Bruins, the future looks bright for Jurcina.
Unfortunately for Jurcina, the present doesn’t look so bright. An injury has forced Jurcina to be removed from the active roster, and he may miss the balance of the tournament. Jurcina was also to be named captain of the Slovak squad, but lost that honour thanks to his injury. This is a big loss for Slovakia if he cannot make it back in time for the playoff round.
Dominik Granak – Oliver Maron
Peter Macek – Tomas Slovak
Richard Stehlik – Karol Sloboda
In the past few years, the Slovaks have always had a star or two to lead the way. Marian Gaborik, Ladislav Nagy, Marian Hossa, and Tomas Kopecky have all led the charge for the Slovaks in past years, putting up big numbers and adding star power to the roster.
A much different story this year, as a lack of star power and a lack of top prospects will mean the Slovaks will need to do some overachieving and scoring-by-committee in order to keep up with the more stacked teams like Canada and Russia.
The Slovak forward corps is short on CHL experience, with only 3 CHL players on the roster. Rastislav Lipka (Prince Albert), Michal Lukac (Chicoutimi), and Igor Pohanka (Prince Albert) will be counted on to provide most of the offense for the Slovaks. Captain Ivan Kolozvary and Rastislav Spirko are the European-based players expected to produce the most.
Players to watch:
Ivan Kolozvary – (drafted 7/198 2001 by Toronto)
The new captain of Slovakia’s WJC squad, Kolozvary has had a very solid season with a strong veteran-laden Dukla Trencin team in the Slovak Extraleague. Normally a winger, Kolozvary has been moved to center recently due to his good face-off ability. Small, but fast and hard working, Kolozvary is a longshot NHL prospect, but will be counted on to play well in every situation for the Slovaks. Could boost his NHL stock with a strong tournament.
Igor Pohanka – (drafted 2/44 2001 by New Jersey)
A strong playmaking center with good skating ability, Pohanka is a solid NHL prospect who also produced 5 assists in 7 games during last year’s WJC tournament. The best forward prospect among the Slovaks, Pohanka will need to be at his creative best, and has started the tournament with Lukac and Lipka on basically a CHL line.
Tomas Troliga – (drafted 3/89 2002 by St. Louis)
Troliga is a giant 6’5”+ centerman who may turn out to be a poor man’s Michal Handzus, if he develops well. Struggling for ice-time on a strong Kosice team, Troliga has a lot of raw talent, and will need about 2 seasons in Slovakia before he comes over to the AHL for further development. Will be asked to play a more defensive role in this tournament. Troliga will likely be a leader for the Slovaks in 2003. An intriguing prospect that needs a lot or work, but has a lot of upside.
Rastislav Spirko –
The tiny 5’9” forward has not gotten any serious consideration from NHL scouts this year, or last year, so this tournament is the perfect stage for Spirko to show off his talent. He may be tiny, but he is a talented offensive forward with great skating and puckhandling ability. Spirko will be counted on to be a secret weapon for the Slovaks, and could put up big numbers playing with Kolozvary. Can Spirko produce and earn himself a selection in the upcoming draft?
Michal Vazan – Ivan Kolozvary – Rastislav Spirko
Rastislav Lipka – Michal Lukac – Igor Pohanka
Michal Kokavec – Tomas Zagora – Juraj Sykora
Stanislav Valach – Tomas Troliga – Samir Saliji
Round Robin Schedule
12-27-02 vs. Belarus (11-1 WIN)
12-28-02 vs. Russia (the BIG test, and the true measuring stick)
12-30-02 vs. Switzerland
12-31-02 vs. USA
1 Ján Chovan Sioux City Muskeeters (UHL) 7. 9. 1983
30 Imrich Petrík HK Farmakol Pre¹ov 2. 7. 1983
25 Peter ©evela HKm Zvolen 16. 10. 1983
8 Dominik Granák HC Slavia Praha (ÈR) 11.6. 1983
5 Peter Macek Montreal Rocket (QMJHL) 13. 5. 1983
6 Milan Jurcina Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL) 7. 6. 1983
17 Oliver Maron Belleville Bulls (OHL) 30. 9. 1983
22 Karol Sloboda Ottawa 67´s (OHL) 16. 5. 1983
27 Tomá¹ Slovák Kelowna Rockets (QMJHL) 5. 4. 1983
7 Richard Stehlík Sherbrooke Castors (QMJHL) 22. 6. 1984
3 Milan Varga HC Kosice 1. 8. 1983
29 Michal Kokavec HC Ocelári Trinec (CR) 1. 3. 1983
14 Ivan Kolozváry Dukla Trencín 16. 2. 1983
24 Rastislav Lipka Prince Albert Raiders (WHL) 9. 5. 1983
21 Michal Lukác Chicoutimi Sagueneens (QMJHL) 26. 8. 1984
23 Igor Pohanka Prince Albert Raiders (WHL) 5. 7. 1983
16 Anton Zágora HC Ocelári Trinec (CR) 18. 7. 1983
18 Stanislav Valach HC Slavia Praha (CR) 19. 5. 1983
19 Samir Saliji HKM Nitra 3. 3. 1984
20 Rastislav Spirko MHC Martin 21. 6. 1984
10 Juraj Sýkora Slovan Bratislava 19. 9. 1983
28 Tomá¹ Troliga HC Ko¹ice 24. 4. 1984
15 Michal Vazan MHC Martin 9. 8. 1983
Coaches: Róbert ©pièák a Jozef Frühauf.