Martin Reway was a standout for the Slovak national U18 and U20 teams, scoring at well over a point per game at World Championships in both of those age groups. Now he is playing in his second IIHF World Championship at the senior level and, at just 21 years of age, is already wearing an “A” on his sweater.
Slovakia started the tournament with wins over underdogs Hungary and France, but after losses against Germany and Belarus, their quarterfinal chances are now in serious jeopardy. They will have to win at least one of their remaining games against Canada, Finland and the United States to advance – no easy task.
“We’ve got stronger teams coming up and we’ve got to play for 60 minutes against those teams or we have no chance of winning. We can’t just play 40 minutes like we did the last two games,” Reway said of what his team has to do to turn things around.
“We still have a real chance to go to the quarterfinals so we’re not down. Of course we know we’ve gotta play better and cut the mistakes out of our game. The goals that beat us weren’t from great plays – they were from our mistakes. Against the Canadians, the Finns, the Americans if we make those mistakes, we can’t win.”
Against the Germans, the Slovaks led 1–0 after one period, then gave up five straight goals over the final 36 minutes. Against Belarus, Reway assisted on Andrej Sekera’s game-opening goal in the first minute of the second period on a 5-on-3 power play and it was 2–0 after two, but then the Slovaks gave up four straight goals in the third.
On the team’s composition, Reway said, “It’s good. We’ve got a good mix of younger and some older players, so we have good chemistry. We might not have a lot of experience but that’s what we’re gaining right now in these games, and we’ve gotta learn that we can’t just play good for two periods and then sit back and wait for them to come to us. At this level that will kill you.”
Of the 25 players on Slovakia’s roster, 12 are 25 years old or younger. Reway is one of four players who were members of the bronze medal-winning team from the 2015 World Junior Championship – the others are defenseman Christian Jaros and forwards Peter Cehlarik and Pavol Skalicky.
“That was a good experience for us, of course,” he said of last year’s WJC. “It was a good tournament but this is something else. We’re not playing against juniors anymore. We’re playing against professionals now and they know how to play this game, so we’ve gotta be prepared. As I said, we don’t have a lot of experience at this level, but that’s what we’re gaining right now.”
Reway already has two professional seasons under his belt. After two years of playing in the QMJHL with the Gatineau Olympiques, he decided to turn pro at age 18 in 2014 with Sparta Prague of the Czech Extraliga. This past season he moved to Fribourg-Gotteron of the Swiss National League A and he’s shown he can handle himself in two of Europe’s stronger national leagues – in 75 total games he recorded 80 points.
“They’re quite different,” he said when asked to compare the two leagues. “The Swiss league is very fast and you don’t have much time. It was tough to switch but after the first five or six games I got used to it. The Czech league is very tactical and it’s a pretty good league but the playoffs are pretty much the same as the regular season. The Swiss playoffs are really tough and physical.”
Born in Prague, the Czech language poses no problem for Reway, a dual citizen. Years of playing abroad has made his English quite good. The move to Fribourg was the second time in his career that Reway played in a city where French is the dominant language. This posed a bit of a challenge for him, although he does know a bit.
“I understand some but I’m too shy to speak,” he said of his French. “I’m not sure if I’m making mistakes and my vocabulary isn’t so good.”
A fourth round draft pick of the Montreal Canadiens in 2013, he may soon get a chance to improve in that area. “It’s funny, because of course I didn’t choose who drafted me. But that could be the third place in my career where they speak French, so it’s pretty funny.”
How soon could he be going to Montreal? Reway doesn’t know yet. He doesn’t have a contract yet for the 2016-17 season and refused to indicate which way he is leaning. If he stays in Europe, it will mean another year before he attends his first NHL training camp.
“In Europe, the season starts much earlier than in North America, so if I end up signing with a European team I couldn’t go to the NHL camp, even if I wanted to.”
The possibility of going to the Habs’ camp and getting assigned to the minors does not apparently dissuade Reway, however. He’s fully aware that NHL teams like their prospects to prove themselves in the American Hockey League.
“That’s the way it is. You don’t know for sure if you’re going to make the big club. You just try and, you know, if you end up going to the AHL that’s not the end of things. This year in Montreal several players went back and forth between the Canadiens and St. John’s. I think six or seven forwards started the season in the AHL and ended up on the big club.”
One criticism that Reway seems tired of hearing is that, while he’s been successful in Europe, his 5’8”, 170-pound frame is too small to be effective in the NHL.
“If people say that, I can’t change that. It’s not my problem, it’s their problem. I don’t care if people think that.”
Follow Derek O’Brien on Twitter via @Derek_J_OBrien