After a few years of bad results and being on the verge of relegation, Team Slovakia had a couple of good years at the WJC, culminating in a bronze medal last year. Unfortunately for them, however, the Slovaks had their best players from last year graduate. Both forward Martin Reway and goalie Denis Godla will be unavailable for this year’s WJC. That being said, Slovakia will bring to Finland a good team with the chance to be a surprise during the medal round, even if other countries, like Canada, the US or Russia, will feature more skilled and expert teams.
Players to watch:
Erik Cernak (D, Erie Otters, 43rd overall Los Angeles Kings)
There is much to like in Cernak, aside from his size (6’3″, 205 lbs.), and it’s not a surprise that he is under contract with the Kings already. Cernak will also bring the Slovak lineup some good hockey sense. Even if he is not the best skater, Cernak will definitely be a key player for his team and is expected to patrol the blue line against the opposition’s top lines.
Christian Jaros (D, Lulea, Asploven/Sweden, 139th overall Ottawa Senators)
The large-sized defenseman (6’3″, 205 lbs.) had a good tournament last year too and will most likely be one of the leaders of the team. In his third year in Sweden, Jaros gained some valuable experience playing against men both in the SEL and in the Allsvenskan. The Kosice native gained more experience skating in seven games for the senior national team, without making it to the IIHF WC level. The Slovaks will need his size to stand up against more physical teams like the US or Canada and the Senators will be very interested to check his progresses since last year.
Radovan Bondra (LW, Vancouver Canucks, 151st overall Chicago Blackhawks)
Even if he is younger than other players, Bondra already played at the WJC last year, though he was left off of the scoresheet. In spite of his size, he isn’t a very physical player, but he can compensate with his good puck skills. He doesn’t have very good numbers in the WHL, but he’s still young and he needs to gain some experience on the small ice surface and, in this sense, playing in Finland can be an advantage for him.
Kristian Pospisil (RW, Blainville-Boisbriand Armada, undrafted)
After a solid season in the MHL for the Red Bulls Salzburg, Pospisil decided to cross the Atlantic to play in the QMJHL, where he’s having similarly good results. The Zvolen native has a good touch around the net, but in a short tournament like the WJC needs to avoid the penalty box and not give powerplay chances to the opposition. Pospisil is most likely going to play on the team’s first line with Bondra and returnee from last year, center Matus Sukel or former Saint John Sea Dogs player Juraj Siska.
The missing piece:
One of the top junior talents in Slovakia, Milos Roman is considered to be too young to play in a high-demanding tournament like the WJC. Born late in 1999, Roman is a forward with a good frame for his age (5’11”, 195 lbs.) who can play either center or wing. He played in several tournaments for Slovakia already, including the Ivan Hlinka Memorial, where he was one of the top scorers of his team. Roman will be eligible for the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. Defenseman Martin Bodak is probably considered too young too, even if he was born in 1997.
The bottom line:
The Slovakians have a good team on paper, maybe not at the level of other top nations but they shouldn’t be underrated. The defense looks like the best part of this team, as they lack a clear-cut offensive leader like Martin Reway from last year. Not being able to advance to the quarterfinals would be a disappointment for the Slovaks, but considering their roster, anything more is to be regarded as a pleasant surprise. A lot will depend on goalies too. Last year Denis Godla was great. Will New York Rangers prospect Adam Huska be able to repeat Godla’s excellent play?
[RELATED: WJCH: Examining Switzerland and Denmark]