Slovakia pulled off a stunning upset at last year's World Junior Championship, defeating Sweden to capture the bronze medal. Buoyed by strong performances from goaltender Denis Godla (one which earned him MVP honours) and team captain Martin Reway, the Slovaks equaled their best ever showing at the tournament and broke a 15-year medal drought in the process.
Despite their surprise finish last year, Slovakia has not been a traditional powerhouse at this tournament (having placed above fifth place only three times in the 20 years that they have participated). This year's Slovak squad will have to make do without the services of Godla and Reway, both no longer eligible to take part in the tournament.
Not all hope is lost for Slovakia, as the country will be competing in the weaker Group B (which includes Russia, Belarus, Finland and the Czech Republic). Though the Slovaks will still face an uphill battle in this group, their chances look a bit brighter than they would in Group A (which includes perennial WJC medal contenders Canada, Sweden and the United States).
|David Hrenak||G||Slovakia||Team Slovakia U20|
|Adam Huska||G||USHL||Green Bay Gamblers|
|Stanislav Skorvanek||G||Slovakia||Team Slovakia U20|
|Erik Cernak||D||OHL||Erie Otters|
|Samuel Ivanic||D||Slovakia||Team Slovakia U20|
|Patrik Koch||D||Slovakia||Team Slovakia U20|
|Patrik Maier||D||WHL||Kamloops Blazers|
|Matej Moravcik||D||Slovakia||Team Slovakia U20|
|Ladislav Romancik||D||SuperElit (SWE)||Sodertalje SK J20|
|Adrian Sloboda||D||Slovakia||Team Slovakia U20|
|Radovan Bondra||F||WHL||Vancouver Giants|
|Dominik Briestensky||F||Slovakia||Team Slovakia U20|
|Lukas Hrusik||F||Slovakia||Team Slovakia U20|
|Jozef Huna||F||Czech2||HC Benatky nad Jizerou|
|Filip Lestan||F||SuperElit (SWE)||HV71 J20|
|Juraj Mily||F||Slovakia||Team Slovakia U20|
|Matej Palocko||F||Czech2||HC Benatky nad Jizerou|
|Kristian Pospisil||F||QMJHL||Blainville-Boisbriand Armada|
|Boris Sadecky||F||Slovakia||Team Slovakia U20|
|Juraj Siska||F||Slovakia||Team Slovakia U20|
|Matus Sukel||F||Slovakia||Team Slovakia U20|
|Maros Surovy||F||Slovakia||Team Slovakia U20|
Up front, the Slovaks will be depending on budding forward Kristian Pospisil. The 19-year-old has scored 24 points in 29 games with the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada of the QMJHL and leads the Slovaks in goals scored this season with 15. No other Slovakian forward has scored more than seven goals this season.
Pospisil is also no stranger to representing Team Slovakia on the international stage, having suited up for the U18 World Championship (scoring two points in five games).
This Slovakian squad will be lacking experience. Only Erik Cernak, Christian Jaros, Radovan Bondra and Matus Sukel will be returning from the 2015 Slovakian team, and the four combined to produce one goal and three assists during the last tournament. The Slovaks have neither offensive nor defensive depth, icing only four players who have scored points in the double digits in any professional hockey league.
The team also faces a precarious situation in net. Outside of Adam Huska's stellar play this season, both backup goaltenders — Stanislav Skorvanek and David Hrenak — are coming into this tournament with a sub-.900 save percentage and a goals-against average above 4.00.
Slovakia's power play is another area of concern. Under head coach Ernest Bokros's tenure, the team's power play has ranked no higher than seventh at any particular tournament over the last four years. Last year's team only managed to score two goals on 18 power-play opportunities (a conversion rate of 11.1%). For a team that is going to have difficulty scoring goals at even strength, having an ineffective power play will only serve to further hinder the team.
As it was the case last year, Slovakia's success in this tournament hinges on receiving a strong performance in net. This year, the Slovaks will be depending on New York Rangers seventh-round pick Adam Huska to hold down the fort. The young goaltender is off to a strong start with the Green Bay Gamblers of the USHL this season, boasting a league-leading .942 SV% and 1.65 GAA over 17 games. Notably, he is the only goaltender in the league to post a GAA under 2.00.
Slovakia will benefit from placing in the weaker of the two groups, avoiding early matchups against Canada, Sweden and the United States. A relatively weak group, combined with opportune goal-scoring and hot goaltending may just be enough to sneak the Slovaks out of the group stage and into the medal rounds.