Team Slovakia is hard to gauge but they shouldn’t cause any of the top three teams (Sweden, Finland, and Switzerland) in Group A any problems. But they know better than anyone that the best way to survive at the World Juniors is to beat one team. For the second straight year, that team appears to be Kazakhstan and the winner of that game will likely go to the quarterfinals, while the loser will likely go to the relegation round.
Since winning bronze at the 2015 World Juniors, Slovakia has won four games total. All of those were against the team that finished right behind them in the group stage saving them from the relegation round and putting them into the quarterfinals.
The team is built around bigger defenders and smaller forwards. It is a team built to withstand pressure and counter attack with fast forwards and get to a finish within a pass or two. Robert Petrovicky has his first head coaching job, and the NHL veteran has built a team that relies on equal part grit (defence) and speed (offence).
As with all of the lower ranked teams a lot will hinge on the goalkeeper to be able to take the team as far as it can and maybe throw in an upset along the way.
With the tournament being held close to Slovakia, the team will most likely get a boost in the important games and could benefit from a rapturous home crowd. It may come very handy when they open the tournament against Kazakhstan, who they beat 11-2 a year ago.
Team Slovakia final roster
|#||Player||Position||League||Current team (NHL)|
|#||Player||Position||League||Current team (NHL)|
|2||Samuel Hlavaj||G||QMJHL||Sherbrooke Phoenix|
|30||Jakub Lackovic||G||Slovakia 2||MsHK Zilina|
|1||Samuel Vyletelka||G||NAHL||Minnesota Magicians|
|10||Martin Bucko||D||Slovakia U20||MsHKM Zilina U20|
|6||Boris Cesanek||D||Tipsport Liga||HK Poprad|
|3||Marcel Dlugos||D||Tipsport Liga||HK 32 Liptovsky Mikulas|
|20||Samuel Knazko||D||Jr. A SM-liiga||TPS U20 (2020 Draft)|
|4||David Mudrak||D||Jr. A SM-liiga||TPS U20|
|5||Marko Stacha||D||Tipsport Liga||HK Dukla Trencin|
|22||Oliver Turan||D||Tipsport Liga||HC Detva|
|27||Maxim Cajkovic||F||QMJHL||Saint John Sea Dogs (TBL)|
|18||Viktor Durina||F||Tipsport Liga||HK Dukla Trencin|
|19||Robert Dzugan||F||Slovakia U20||HK Dukla Trencin U20|
|7||Martin Fasko-Rudas||F||WHL||Everett Silvertips|
|14||Dominik Jendek||F||Tipsport Liga||Slovan Bratislava|
|12||Kristian Kovacik||F||Tipsport Liga||HK Dukla Trencin|
|15||Jakub Minarik||F||Tipsport Liga||HK Nitra|
|26||Marek Minarik||F||Slovakia 2||MsHK Zilina|
|8||Oliver Okuliar||F||WHL||Lethbridge Hurricanes|
|13||Adam Pauliny||F||Slovakia 2||HK Martin|
|28||Daniel V. Tkac||F||BCHL||Merritt Centennials|
Draft eligible Samuel Knazko plays in the Finnish Junior league and does well against bigger competition in what is arguably one of the best talent factories in Europe, TPS Åbo. He has performed well in international competitions and has earned Petrovicky’s trust and can eat up a lot of minutes.
The only drafted player in the Slovak team is Maxim Cajkovic who was drafted by Tampa Bay Lightning 89th overall in the 2019 draft. He has a great shot and is very fast on his skates and will create havoc if he gets in on the counter attack.
There are quite a few players from Dukla Trencin and having a core group from the same team will benefit the team in the long run. It is also beneficial that quite a few of the players play in the Tipsport Liga against men that are both bigger and more experienced, this will come in handy in the deciding games.
That has been the recipe for Slovakia’s success for a while, hoping that the extra chemistry brings them an edge.
The team is built on big defenders to clear out lanes, keep the puck along the boards, and help the goalkeeper see the puck as much as possible. It’s a good strategy but the question becomes whether it can be implemented against more talented and deeper teams that specialize in movement, especially considering the width of the ice in Europe.
Only two players who participated in last year’s World Juniors are back: goaltender Samuel Hlavaj, and defender Marcel Dlugos.
Goaltender Samuel Hlavaj will have to shut the goal closed to keep the team in the tournament. He has had a great start to his QMJHL career, being one of the top goalies in the league so far. The 6’4” goalie leads his team in all the three important categories: save percentage (.925), goals against average (2.05) and has a 17-2-3 record to his credit.
It will be a tough job as the top teams will most likely get quite a few chances against Slovakia. Hlavaj needs to be a strong and confident goalie right from the get go and really stand tall in the opening games to give the Slovaks the start they crave and have them relax when they get to play the better teams later in the tournament.
Slovakia can’t afford a slow start as they get their tournament started on December 27 with their most important game against Kazakhstan. A loss for either team in that game will require them to upset a top team in order for them to even hope to avoid the relegation round.