Rinkside Reflections (Slovakia-Finland)

By Lasse Johansson

The second live game for me in this years WJC was the encounter between Slovakia and
Finland. Once again my hopes were high; Finland had surprised me in their game against Canada, and Marian Gaborik
was going to be on the ice for Slovakia. The two teams met last week in a exhibition game in Piteå, and Slovakia won the game by four goals to two. The game was very similar to last nights game between Finland and Canada. The first period didn’t provide any amusement, but the game took off in the second when Slovakia scored the prettiest goal so far in the tournament on a three-on-one, Branislav Mezei put the puck in the net, assisted wonderfully by Marian Gaborik. As in the game against Canada, the finns were forced to score in the final period, and this time they got it right, Arto Tukio scored the gametying goal in power-play. The game ended dramatically when Finlands Riku Hahl (one of their best players of the game) took a wrist shot from the blueline in the very last second that hit the bar! The game finally ended 1-1 (0-0 1-0 0-1).

Prospect Report:

Team Slovakia:

#30 Rastislav Stana G – A big surprise for me, I was under the impression that Karol Krizan was the better of the two young slovakian netminders, but after seeing Stanas play tonight I’m probably going to have to change my mind. The Washington prospect currently playing for the Moose Jaw Warriors of the WHL played brilliantly throughout the game, and managed to keep Slovakia up by a goal until the middle of the third period. The only downside I spotted was that he seemed to allow to many rebounds, Finlands goal was scored on a rebound…

#7 Branislav Mezei D – Huge defender, displayed a solid defensive play and also managed to add the Slovakian goal. Impressive.

#3 Ladislav Harabin D – Plenty of ice time, but didn’t really impress me.

#8 Kristian Kudroc D – Even bigger than Mezei, reminds a bit of the Islanders Zdeno Chara, just a few inches shorter.

#26 Roman Kukumberg F – Surprisingly good skater. Good size.

#23 Marian Gaborik RW – OK, we’ve all heard about this guy. He scored a beautiful goal on a penalty against the Czech Republic and set up Branislav Mezei with a wonderful pass for the slovakian goal. Played together with fellow Dukla Trencin prospect Tomas Kopecky, and they seemed to have the full support of the Slovakian team management, who played them frequently, even in box play. Gaborik got more playing time in the third period, and showed that he isn’t just an offensive prospect. I can fully understand why he is rated as number one for the 2000 draft.

#14 Branko Radivojevic RW – Speedy winger with good size.

#22 Tomas Kopecky C – Plays with Gaborik in Dukla Trencin and on the same line in the WJCs. Strong on the face-offs and getting lots of ice-time (maybe because he is playing with Gaborik?). Good both in defense and offense, but seemed to rely to much on his famous linemate, always trying to give Gaborik the puck instead of doing something himself. With the play he showed up today he should go in the late first, early second round. Certainly a highly-valued prospect for the team that gets Gaborik.

#19 Marcel Hossa C – Good face-off man but lacking the extreme talent of his older brother Marian. Played very dirty and got sent to the penalty box three times for what seemed to be unnecessary high-sticking/interference. Didn’t impress with the puck.

Team Finland:

#1 Antero Nittymäki G – Played strongly in this game. Cannot be blamed for the Slovakian goal. His stickhandling seems to be his achilles-heal.

#4 Arto Tukio D – Scored the finnish goal. Has a good shot from the point. Tons of playing time in power-play.

#7 Mikko Jokela D – Better defensively in this game. Didn’t carry the puck as good as in the game against Canada.

#8 Tuuka Mäntylä D – Made a few bad passes that could have ended the game for the finns. Not as prominent as in the Canada game.

#15 Teemu Laine RW – Offensive threat with his great speed and mature play. For some reason he gets passed over in power play. Hurt his arm in the end of the second period and wasn’t playing with the same poise after that.

#20 Tomek Valtonen LW – Together with Riku Hahl and Antero Nittymäki the best finnish player. Had a one-on-one opportunity in the late second period, but Stana made a brilliant save. Used his size and speed well. Almost overly-offensive at some times.

#22 Jani Rita LW/C – Showed some good hands at times, but didn’t impress. Doesn’t like the easy play, tries to make harder passes, or flashy solo efforts.

#24 Riku Hahl C – Captain and best finnish player. Had a wrist shot in that hit the bar in the very last second of the game. Fine playmaker and ‘quarterback’ off the Laine-Hahl-Valtonen line. Not as offensive as his linemates.

#28 Topi Riutta C – Created loads of chances in the beginning of the game. Stepped in for Laine on the power play together with Hahl and Valtonen. Has a very good shot, but he seems to have difficulties finding the back of the net.