With the 2022 Winter Olympic Games on the horizon, Team Slovakia has named their roster for the men’s ice hockey competition. While Craig Ramsay, a Buffalo Sabres stalwart of the 1970s and ‘80s, will stand behind the bench, an interesting blend of top prospects and grizzled veterans will be charged with making an impact on the ice.
Although just one player based in North America is listed on Slovakia’s roster, many names in Ramsay’s squad will be familiar to fans of the NHL. That said, if the ninth seeds are to go deep at Beijing 2022, they will need their veterans of the European game to lead the way.
Like the rest of the field, Team Slovakia will travel to China without their biggest stars. The NHL and NHLPA withdrew from the Olympic consideration last month amid a rise in COVID cases across the league, meaning the likes of Zdeno Chara and Tomas Tatar will not represent their country next month. With the NHL out of the picture, the Slovakian Hockey Federation turned to six leagues to fill their roster.
Six players from the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) will suit up for Slovakia, with eight from the Czech Extraliga joining them. In addition to five stars from the Slovakian Extraliga, players from the Swiss National League (NL), Finish Liiga, and Canadian Hockey League will also be at Ramsay’s disposal during Beijing 2022.
Team Slovakia Goaltenders:
Branislav Konrad (HC Olomouc), Patrik Rybar (Dinamo Minsk), Matej Tomek (Kometa Brno)
Branislav Konrad is primed to take ownership of the Slovakian crease in China. He played every minute of his nation’s qualification campaign for the Games and made two appearances at PyeongChang 2018. In his sixth season with Czech side Olomouc, the 34-year-old has upheld a .946 save percentage and 1.31 goals-against average.
After starting the season strongly with Dinamo Minsk in the KHL, Patrik Rybar will back Konrad up in Beijing. The 28-year-old, aside from a season with the American Hockey League’s Grand Rapids Griffins, has spent his career bouncing around Europe, racking up minutes in Finland, Czechia, and Belarus – for the nation’s sole KHL representative.
Matej Tomek, an unsigned Philadelphia Flyers prospect, is third in line to stop pucks for Slovakia but will still gain valuable knowledge through his first Olympic experience, aged 24.
Team Slovakia Defenceman:
Michal Cajkovsky (Sibir Novosibirsk), Peter Ceresnak (HC Plzen), Marek Daloga (Kometa Brno), Martin Gernat (Lausanne HC), Mario Grman (HPK Hammenlina), Samuel Knazko (Seattle Thunderbirds), Martin Marincin (Ocelari Trinec), Simon Nemec (HK Nitra)
Simon Nemec is the most exciting name on Slovakia’s roster by a considerable margin. The 17-year-old is forecast to be selected very early in the first round of the 2022 NHL Entry Draft, with THW’s prospect team ranking him second (Peter Baracchini) and sixth (Andrew Forbes) overall.
The consensus on Nemec is that he projects as a top-pair NHL defenceman, largely due to his elite play-driving abilities from the blueline. He has 18 assists in 27 Slovakian Extraliga appearances this term and has taken difficult assignments in his stride. He has the footspeed to hurt opponents on the transition and is exceptionally composed in the defensive zone, frequently using his stick to win possession for his club.
In 2002-born blueliner Samuel Knazko, Team Slovakia has another player who could yet make the NHL. A third-round draftee by the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2020, the left-shooter is a refined passer who has made a considerable impact in his debut season with the Seattle Thunderbirds. Before landing in the Western Hockey League, he spent four years with TPS’ development programme in Finland.
There is also plenty of experience in Team Slovakia’s defence, with 29-year-old Michal Cajkovksy returning to the roster after enjoying a solid start to the season in the KHL. Marek Daloga and Peter Ceresnak are Ramsay’s other Olympic returnees on the blue line.
Martin Marincin, Martin Gernat, and Cajkovsky bring the experience of senior North American hockey to Ramsay’s squad, although none experienced glittering NHL careers.
Team Slovakia Forwards:
Peter Cehlarik (Avangard Omsk), Marko Dano (Ocelari Trinec), Adrian Holesinky (HK Nitra), Libor Hudacek (Dynamo Misnk), Tomas Jurco (Barys Nur-Sultan), Milos Kelemen (BK Mlada Boleslav), Michal Kristof (Komena Brno), Kristian Pospisil (HC Davos), Pavol Regenda (Dulka Michalovce), Milos Roman (Ocelari Trinec), Juraj Slafkovsky (TPS Turku), Samuel Takac (Slovak Bratislava), Peter Zuzin (HKM Svolen)
Juraj Slafkovsky is Team Slovakia’s premier offensive prospect. The 17-year-old is also slated to be selected in the first round of this year’s draft, with his 6-foot-4 frame a key factor in his appeal to NHL scouts.
Slafkovsky has undergone an interesting career thus far. He played in Slovakia’s junior leagues until 2018-19, at which point he switched to the Red Bull Hockey Academy before moving to TPS via a stint with Hradec Kralove in Czechia. He’s made 20 top-flight appearances in Finland this term, registering four points in his first year as a professional professional. He has tidy hands around the net, has notched more assists than goals throughout his career, and is regarded as a highly intelligent player both on and off the puck.
Peter Cehlarik is another player on Slovakia’s roster to keep an eye on. The 26-year-old was drafted by the Boston Bruins in round three back in 2013 and enjoyed a successful career in the American Hockey League in Providence. He’s currently on Avangard Omsk’s books and has registered 25 points (14 goals, 11 assists) in his first 39 KHL appearances.
After his final-minute heroics for Team Slovakia in last year’s Olympic Qualifiers, Libor Hudacek remains on Ramsay’s roster. The 31-year-old has endured a peculiar 2021-22 season, jumping between Russia and Switzerland before returning to the KHL with Dynamo Minsk in December. He has since picked up three points (two goals, one assist) under Craig Woodcroft’s stewardship.
Team Slovakia’s forward group also features Tomas Jurco, who left the NHL after seven seasons with the Detroit Red Wings, Chicago Blackhawks, Edmonton Oilers, and Vegas Golden Knights last summer. The 29-year-old has since joined Barys Nur-Sultan of the KHL, where he’s amassed 11 points (three goals, eight assists) in 17 appearances. He’s a serial winner, with two Calder Cups, one Memorial Cup, and two Quebec Major Junior Hockey League titles on his resume.
Will Team Slovakia Improve on their 2018 Performance?
Slovakia finished bottom of Group B four years ago, forcing them to run the gauntlet in last autumn’s Olympic Qualifiers. They should have a better time of it this time, with the all-European Group C providing them with a realistic path to the quarter-finals. If Nemec and Slafkovsky put on a show in Beijing, Team Slovakia could go far – and what fun that would be ahead of this year’s draft.