Slovakia had its highest finish ever at a Winter Olympics in ice hockey when they finished 4th in 2010. The team had a great run which included a shootout victory over Russia in the preliminary round and a quarterfinal upset over Sweden. The Slovaks then went on to play Canada very tough in a 3-2 semi-final loss at the tournament. Slovakia would lose to Finland in the bronze medal game.
Also a player that deserves recognition for Slovak Hockey is Pavol Demitra. Demitra was part of the tragic 2011 Yaroslavl Lokomotiv Team. Demitra is gone, but will never be forgotten by many in the game of hockey. Demitra played the majority of his NHL career with the St. Louis Blues and is 4th All-time points by an NHL player from Slovakia. His career 768 points only trailed Peter Bondra, Marian Hossa and the great Peter Stastny.
The 2014 Olympics were a step back for Slovakia as they did not win a game. The team still has some very good NHL talent. Although they will not have a team in the World Cup of Hockey, they will be represented well on Team Europe. This is the first post in the “Hockey Nations Series” where we will look at the top players for countries that will be represented at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.
Here are the top 5 Slovakian Ice Hockey Players in the NHL today.
5) Jaroslav Halak
Jaroslav Halak had one of his best seasons this past year for the New York Islanders. Halak was 5th in the NHL in wins this season with 38. Halak was fourth in the league with six shutouts for his new club. He posted a .914 save percentage and a 2.43 goals against average in 59 games played.
Halak was a key reason the Islanders returned to the playoffs in their final season at Nassau Coliseum. Prior to this season, Halak’s best year as a pro has to be the 2009-2010 season. He split time with young rising star Carey Price during the regular season, but it was Halak who led the Canadiens to a surprise run to the Eastern Conference Final.
That playoff run included upsets over the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals where Halak played spectacularly. Look for the 30-year-old to be in net for a deep playoff run by the young and talented New York Islanders in the near future.
4) Tomas Tatar
The youngest player on this list at age 24, Tomas Tatar took a huge step forward this season, only his second in the NHL . Tatar set career highs in goals (29), assists (27), and points (56).
Despite a dominant World Junior Championships in 2009, where Tatar scored 7 goals and 4 assists in 7 games, he was selected 60th overall in the 2nd round by the Red Wings. It will help his game that he was coached by Mike Babcock his first two years in the NHL. Tatar is also learning from the best in Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. Tatar has speed, nice hands, and has a lot of offensive potential. I expect Tomas Tatar to develop into a consistent 25-35 goal scorer in the National Hockey League.
3) Marian Gaborik
Arguably the best pure sniper in Slovakian history, Marian Gaborik is top 3 on the list of best Slovakian players in the NHL today. Gaborik is one of the fastest skaters in the game of hockey at the age of 33, and has one of the best quick releases of his shot in the game. Gaborik has scored 30 plus goals in his career seven times, and 40 plus three times.
If it was not for injuries slowing him down over the years, the numbers could be even higher. Gaborik was traded two times in the past 3 seasons before finding a home at the 2013-2014 trade deadline with the Los Angeles Kings. Gaborik went on to excel in Los Angeles last year playing with Anze Kopitar. Gaborik scored 14 goals, 8 assists, and 22 points in 26 playoff games. He was a vital part of the LA Kings championship run, and scored big-time clutch goals along the way.
2) Zdeno Chara
Chara is a 6’9″ defenseman that has been a shutdown and intimidating presence on the blue line for years. This guy will hit you hard and use his 255 pound frame to easily defend in his own zone with his long reach. Chara almost makes it impossible for opposing forwards to gain position on him in front of the net. Not to mention Zdeno Chara has a 108 MPH slap shot, as we found out at the 2012 NHL Skills Competition.
Chara’s best offensive numbers were put up in his 30’s as a Boston Bruin, with his best in 2011-2012 when he scored 12 goals, 40 assists, 52 points, and was a +33 from the blue line. Chara also has a Stanley Cup Championship on his resume, as he captained the B’s to the 2011 Stanley Cup in 7 games over the Vancouver Canucks. Chara is one of the first European players to captain a Stanley Cup Championship Team. He also won the Norris Trophy in the 2008-2009 season as the NHL’s best defenseman. One thing about Chara that is pretty cool is that he is actually a neighbor back in Slovakia to the top player on this list. The two battled against each other in the 2013 Stanley Cup Final, which turned out to be a very highly competitive 6 game series. The momentum swings made the 2013 Final one to remember.
1) Marian Hossa
The best two-way Slovakian player in hockey today has been dominant for years and years in the NHL. Hossa is a very strong skater, extremely valuable in the offensive and defensive zone, and is always skating 100% on the forecheck or the backcheck.
Hossa is a rare talent in this game and has scored 486 career goals, 570 assists, and 1056 points in 1172 career NHL games. He is also a career +228, which shows how good he is when he is on the ice. Hossa is an 8-time 30 goal scorer, and 3-time 40 goal scorer. His best season offensively was during the 2006-2007 season when he scored 43 goals and 57 assists for 100 points while appearing in all 82 games for the Atlanta Thrashers.
Hossa has an interesting story when it comes to his quest for the Stanley Cup. He was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins at the 2008 trade deadline before falling in his first Stanley Cup Final to the Detroit Red Wings. Hossa then signed with the Detroit Red Wings in the Summer of 2008 to a one-year-deal. The Red Wings then ironically lost to Hossa’s former Pittsburgh Penguins team in 7 games in the 2009 Stanley Cup Final. That offseason Hossa signed a multi-year deal with the young and talented Chicago Blackhawks, who had reached the Western Conference Final in 2009 against Hossa’s Red Wings team.
I’m sure Hossa saw the immense skill and talent that the young Chicago team had at the time and still has today. Hossa would go on to win the Stanley Cup the next year with the Chicago Blackhawks.
Hossa is extremely valuable to the Chicago Blackhawks and can go under the radar at times because of all the star power the team has at every position. He added another Stanley Cup in 2013 with the Hawks. At age 36 the two-time Stanley Cup Champion does not appear to be slowing down anytime soon after a 61 point season this year during the regular season.
I am a 2015 graduate of Montclair State University in New Jersey. I have coached ice hockey at the high school level for two seasons here in NJ. I will be covering the Toronto Maple Leafs moving forward for The Hockey Writers.