Slovakia is a dangerous team at the Olympics, in my opinion. They have good goaltending, the best defenseman in the world and some game breakers up front. They are not getting a lot of gold medal consideration here in North America. But one thing is for sure - I would not want to face them in a playoff round match.
I wanted to get a better feeling of the expectations Slovakia faces back home. So I asked my friend Valerian Lukacko, a Slovakian blogger at Sportovy Blog (in English even). As Lukacko suggests, hopes are golden in Slovakia, too:
As the Winter Olympics are fast approaching, I ´d like to provide you with some inside scoop on the Slovak hockey representation since I come from this little country (49 000 square km) located in the heart of Europe.
There are many of Slovak hockey players skating on NHL’s rinks, being admired and cheered on, even by you. Our main strength lays in our offense. We've got scoring leaders in hockey’s top hockey leagues – Marian Gaborik (NHL) and Marcel Hossa (KHL). If you add Miroslav Satan, Zigmund Palffy (one of all-time hockey greats), Pavol Demitra, Marian Hossa and Richard Zednik, every defensman must shudder at the thought of how unstoppable they are, when put together.
But let´s bring the subject around to our defense. We've got Zdeno Chara, probably one of the best blueliners ever, awarded the Norris Trophy last season. With Lubomir Visnovsky, Milan Jurcina, Andrej Sekera and Martin Strbak, the chance that anyone getting past these guys with the puck is unlikely, but if someone does (everybody makes mistakes), they have a brick wall of goaltenders waiting for them – Jaroslav Halak and Peter Budaj. The question of third masked man in our team is highly controversial. Coach Jan Filc has picked up Rastislav Stana to do the job but fans aren´t thinking along the same lines, arguing that there should be Jaroslav Janus (who just signed with Tampa Bay recently) to get some first-hand experience which is much needed for his future career. There was also a Facebook group established to support the hero of last year´s U20 World Championship in Canada, few days after nomination announcement. (Link: Support Jaroslav Janus) .
To put it simply, Slovakia is, considered by many, to have the best team in its 17-year long history, even better than the one winning the World Championship in 2002, defeating Canada in the quarter-final, Sweden in the semifinal and Russia in the final match. Fans here aren't as confident of much success in the 2010 Olympics, as they should be, taking into account the failure of our hockey players over past few years. It´s mainly due to fact we´re running out of young talent, not investing much money into the juniors' training. So the Olympic success could be the only bright spot on a horizon that never looked darker.
Our team, our fans and other people involved know that this starring hockey generation has been leading up to, and will finish with, the Vancouver 2010 Olympics. Some of them are planning to retire straight after the event and careers of many are going to be put an end to considering their age.
So how good are our chances of achievement? Basically, Slovak team is surely better than Latvia, Norway, Belarus, Germany and Switzerland. Accordingly to new illogical playing system, we´re almost guaranteed the place in quarter-final. If we make it any further, it´ll be considered unbelievable success. But it´s still possible as we have nothing to loose and everything to gain. In my opinion, Slovakia is even match for USA, Russia, Canadia and Sweden. We just need to do our very best and hope the opponent plays his B game. But I can also see one fairly big weakness, that holds true almost for every Slovak athlete. It´s our short skill of concentrating on the whole 60 minutes of a match. Especially if we are two or three goals up, our defence weakens and we have a tough time, trying not to lose our head start.
All in all, the Olympics is going to be a feast for every hockey fan on the planet. For Slovak ones, winning a medal would mean a great satisfaction for the last years' failures and the dark times we're starting to face.
Visit Valerian Lukacko's blog at Sportovy Blog