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World Juniors 2015: Slovakia team preview

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Does Slovakia have what it takes to hang with the bigger hockey nations?

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Slovakia is traditionally one of the lesser powers in the World Junior Hockey Championships. Their lone medal in the history of the tournament came in 1999.

In the last decade, they have played three times in a quarter-final match, winning just once to go on to play in the Bronze Medal Game in 2009, where they lost to Team Russia. Slovakia has always remained strong enough to avoid relegation out of the top IIHF junior level, but they are typically a nation competing to stay in the tournament over one that challenges the top-four nations in Canada, USA, Russia and Sweden.

Roster

Player Pos Draft Year League Current Team (NHL)
Daniel Gibl G OHL Barrie Colts
Denis Godla G Slovakia Extraliga HK Orange 20
David Okliancy G Slovakia Extraliga HK Orange 20
Patrick Bacik D Slovakia Extraliga HK Orange 20
Erik Cernak D 2015 Slovakia Extraliga HC Kosice
Marco Hochel D Slovakia Extraliga HK Orange 20
Matus Holenda D Slovakia Extraliga HK Orange 20
Christian Jaros D SHL Lulea HF
Dominik Jendrol D Slovakia Extraliga HK Orange 20
Patrik Maier D WHL Kamloops Blazers
Branislav Pavuk D Slovakia Extraliga HK Orange 20
Mislav Rosandic D Slovakia Extraliga HC '05 Banska Bystrica
Radovan Bondra F Slovakia-2 Team Slovakia U18
Peter Cehlarik F (90th) 2013 SHL Lulea HF (BOS)
Michal Kabac F Slovakia Extraliga HK Orange 20
Patrik Koys F Slovakia Extraliga HK Orange 20
Robert Lantosi F Allsvenskan VIK Vasteras HK
Matej Paulovic F (149th) 2013 USHL Muskegon Lumberjacks (DAL)
Samuel Petras F Slovakia Extraliga HK Orange 20
Dominik Rehak F Slovakia Extraliga HK Orange 20
Martin Reway F (116th) 2013 Czech Extraliga HC Sparta Praha (MTL)
Pavol Skalicky F Slovakia Extraliga HK Orange 20
Juraj Siska F QMJHL Saint John Sea Dogs
David Soltes F WHL Prince George Cougars
Matus Sukel F Slovakia Extraliga HK Orange 20

Strengths

The returning veterans Martin Reway, Peter Cehlarik and Robert Lantosi are likely going to provide most of the offensive muscle for Slovakia.

Martin Reway turned many heads among Canadiens fans in 2014 when he scored 4 goals and 6 assists in just 5 games, ranking 5th in scoring for the whole tournament. Reway is joining Team Slovakia hot from a solid campaign in the Czech Extraliga where he is second on his men's league team in scoring with 5 goals and 16 assists in 23 games.

Peter Ceharlik, a draft pick of the Boston Bruins, had only 3 points in 5 games in 2014 for Team Slovakia, but so far this season has scored 13 points in 29 games playing for Lulea HF in the Swedish Hockey League, suggesting he has evolved his game significantly since last year. when he only scored 4 points in 32 games in the league.

Robert Lantosi could make some noise as well. While he has bounced between the SuperElit, Division 1 and Allsvenskan in Sweden this season, he had 4 points in 6 games last year for Team Slovakia and is one of a few veterans available for Slovakia who had any notable scoring in the 2014 event.

Other fowards who could possibly be contributors include Matus Sokel, Patrik Koys and Dominik Briestensky, the top 3 leading scorers of HC Orange 20, a collection of top Under-20 talents playing in the Slovak Extraliga, the top professional league of their home nation.

Weaknesses

Team Slovakia is notably lacking in defensive talent. Their only veteran from last year is 2015 draft-eligible Erik Cernak, who is still just 17 and arguably doesn't compare well versus the veteran-laden rosters of the traditional top teams. The remainder of the defencemen on the roster have no experience in the under-20 tournament and outside of one of them hitting a hot streak, it is hard to imagine them being a strong contributor to Slovakia's efforts this year.

Forward depth is not something that Slovakia can count on, either. While Slovakia could at the least assemble a reputable first line, they are not going to be able to manage against the depth of the traditional top-four.

Goaltending depth is also a problem for Slovakia, as neither Daniel Gibl or David Okliancy are likely to be able to give much of a performance behind likely starter Denis Godla.

X-Factor

Slovakia's best chance to make any noise in the tournament likely involves a hot goaltending performance, which could from Denis Godla, who is probably their starter in this tournament as he is posting a notable .915 save percentage in the Slovak Extraliga. While that does rank him just seventh among starters with at least 20 games played, the Slovakian U20 team playing in the Extraliga has just one win in 20 games this season. Given that, it is notable he's posting a save percentage ahead of veteran goaltenders in the same league.

Slovakia's last medal in the World Junior Championship was a bronze in 1999 so their battle in this tourament is more to avoid relegation than to push for a medal, but as always, a stolen game or two from a goaltender along with opportune scoring can at least open up the idea of a berth in a quarter-final match.