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2016 World Hockey Championship: Team Slovakia preview

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The Slovak side features a number of skilled young players, but they definitely enter the tournament as an underdog.

Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

When Slovakia became an independent country on the first of January 1993, they had to start over in division C of the World Hockey Championships. Just two years later, they were right back in the top division after winning first the C division before sweeping everyone else aside in the B division.

In their return to the A division, they finished 10th, but in just their fifth year there, they returned home to Bratislava with a silver medal from the 2000 World Championships in St. Petersburg. A mere two years after that came Slovakia's biggest achievement in hockey, when they fittingly beat the Russian team in the final to take the tournament.

Slovan Bratislava joined the KHL in 2012, and has since become a breeding ground for talent within the borders of Slovakia. The backbone of this year's team has ties to Slovan, with six different products of the KHL club lining up for Slovakia in the pre-tournament friendlies.

With that, they are able to boast a roster on which many players are already familiar with each other. In recent years, Slovakia has begun to establish themselves as a legitimate threat on the international stage, and they'll be looking to make some noise again this year.

Roster

Player Position League Current team
Julius Hudacek G SHL Örebro
Branislav Konrad G Extraliga Olomouc
Michal Sersen D KHL Slovan Bratislava
Andrej Meszaros D KHL Sibir
Andrej Sekera D NHL Edmonton Oilers
Martin Marincin D NHL Toronto Maple Leafs
Juraj Mikus D Extraliga Sparta Prague
Dominik Granak D SHL Rögle
Ivan Svarny D KHL Slovan Bratislava
Christian Jaros D SHL Luleå



Marko Dano F NHL Winnipeg Jets
Tomas Jurco F NHL Detroit Red Wings
Martin Reway F Swiss Fribourg-Gottéron
Martin Bakos F Extraliga Liberec
Anrej Stastny F KHL Slovan Bratislava
Marek Viedensky F KHL Slovan Bratislava
Peter Cehlarik F SHL Luleå
Marek Bartanus F Tipsport liga Kosice
Tomas Marcinko F Extraliga Pardubice
Vladimir Dravecky F Extraliga Trinec
Pavol Skalicky F KHL Slovan Bratislava
Patrik Lusnak F KHL Slovan Bratislava
Tomas Hrnka F Tipsport liga Kosice

This roster is still subject to change.

Strengths

Coach Zdeno Ciger seems to be going back to the country's old strengths by the looks of the games I've seen so far. Their game is largely based on speed, individual efforts in the offensive zone, and some quality goaltending to back them up.

Since Martin Réway performed well at the German Cup in October, a lot of the play seems to be running through him in the offensive zone. Not unlike the system that the team employed with him leading the charge at the 2015 World Juniors.

Weaknesses

A big question mark for them is whether they can maintain their focus. During a pre-tournament friendly against Denmark, they were up 3-0 with seven minutes remaining, but the Danes were able to tie it up. Slovakia would ice the game early in the overtime frame, but it illustrates their tendency to blow games against teams they should easily beat.

In an interview after the game, Coach Ciger touched on the subject as well, saying; "It is in the Slovak nature, it is clear that we don't believe enough in ourselves at certain times. What we need to do is to enjoy it and get cool, to play smart and not make it so difficult [for ourselves]."

As mentioned, they also have a tendency to rely a little heavily on their goaltenders. Their likely starter in Julius Hudacek is not as strong as the traditional Slovakian goaltenders. He is good, but to really excel the team needs him to have a tournament for the ages.

X-Factor

Even putting aside the Canadiens bias, Martin Reway must be mentioned at this point. He will lead the power play, and has been the first line centre for quite a few games. The Slovak first line right now looks like it could be Martin Bakos, Reway, and Marko Dano heading into the tournament.

Barkos and Réway are a dangerous duo for sure, and adding Dano to that mix creates a rather lethal top line. Bakos played in Liberec this past season, and he might be a surprise for the North American public. He is a speedy sniper who has a special shorter blade of his stick, enabling him to shoot quicker. He has great stick handling skills, likes to dangle, and is very creative with the puck.

Tomas Jurco as a late edition after the Red Wings were eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs is also a major boost for the squad. It deepens their forward group, increasing their scoring power outside of that top line.

Expectations

To reach the Quarterfinals would be a realistic target, but in an open World Championship, a medal is still a possibility for them. They definitely come in as an underdog, but they have the tools to make things interesting from that position this year.