If Slovakia plays well, they can win a men’s ice hockey medal at the 2022 Beijing Olympics. NHL players not present, the central European nation’s various talents could shock their rivals next month – and if they do, it will be historic, as they have never been on the podium before.
Although Slovakia have not been as successful on the international stage as their Czech counterparts, they will enter this year’s Winter Olympics with youthful energy and seasoned intelligence. They came close to a men’s hockey medal for the first time at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, losing 5-3 to Finland in the bronze medal match. Will 2022 be the year of Slovakia?
Slovakia’s rich hockey history:
If you count players born before independence, Slovakia has produced 89 NHL players, including Hall of Famers Peter Sistani, Marianne Hossa and Stan Mikita.Among America’s current major league talents, standout defenders Zdno Chara is best known, with Andrej Sekera, thomas tatar, followed by Yaroslav Kharak.
Slovakia Extraliga was established in 1993 after the country’s independence from Czechoslovakia Extraliga. In its modern form, the Slovakian top flight has 12 teams participating in 50 regular-season games. The top six clubs in the league will automatically qualify for the playoffs, and teams ranked 7-10 will play a best-of-five playoff. After the play-off series ended, Slovakia’s top-seven playoffs began.
Meanwhile, the league’s lowest-ranked team will play a best-of-seven series against the regular-season champions from Division B. The winning club will secure its place in the Extraliga in the upcoming matches.
HC Kosice is the most respected club in Slovakia, having won eight national titles, two Czechoslovak titles and one IIHF Continental Cup to their name. Founded in 1921, Peter Bondra and Erik Černák are one of Oceliari’s notable alumni. Their last title was in the 2014-15 season.
HC Slovan Bratislava, nicknamed “Sky Blue”, is also an eight-time Slovakian champion and was founded 101 years ago. However, they did spend seven seasons in the KHL, losing in the divisional quarterfinals twice.
Slovakia entered this year’s Olympics ranked ninth in the world, securing their place in the competition by winning the qualifying round in 2021. They have played at every Olympics since Czechoslovakia split, beating Russia in the group stage four years ago.
In addition to finishing fourth in Vancouver, Slovakia also achieved top results at the Men’s World Championship. They won the title in 2002, beating Russia in the gold medal match and finishing third a year later. The Slovaks finished second in the world twice in 2000 and 2012.
Interesting facts about the Slovakia team and its players
- Slovakia has twice won bronze medals at the World Youth Championships (1995, 2015).
- Miroslav Shatan is the most capped player for Slovakia’s senior team, with 183 caps for his country during his 23-year career.
- Šatan is also Slovakia’s top scorer with 86 goals to his name.
- Slovakia head coach Craig Ramsey has a 13-13-3 record since taking office in 2017.
- Slovakia is unbeaten against ten countries including England, Japan and Ukraine.
- The biggest victory in Slovakia’s history came at the world championships held for the first time in the country since the breakup of Czechoslovakia. They beat Bulgaria 20-0 to advance from the third division.
Where do Slovakian players come from?
There is no doubt that Slovakia is a country with a reputation for producing impressive hockey players – a reputation it absolutely deserves. However, like the rest of the team in Beijing, the Slovaks hope to overcome the challenge with the help of players mainly from Europe.
As such, players from the Continental Hockey League (KHL) will be the cornerstone of the Slovakian Olympic roster, in addition to talent from the Swedish Hockey League (SHL), Finish Liiga, Czech Extraliga, Germany’s DEL and the Swiss National League may play an important role. Slovakia’s Extraliga is another valuable pool of ability that head coach Craig Ramsey will tap into, with players elsewhere considered outside wagers to make the final roster.
However, Slovakia’s biggest asset going into the Beijing Olympics is the elite prospect that Ramsay has. Right-handed defenseman Simon Nemek is widely considered a top-10 prospect ahead of the 2022 NHL draft, and left-wingers Juraj Slafkovský and Filip Mešár are also expected to be selected early in the first round.
Of Slovakia’s touted three draft-eligible rookies, Nemek is the most prominent. The 17-year-old was an excellent blue-line driver and impressed during the cut-down 2022 World Junior Championship. He is already a key player for HK Nitra in the Slovakian league, contributing 16 assists in the first 25 games of the 2021-22 season.
Meshal also impressed at the World Youth Championship. He’s a problem-solving forward, moves the puck neatly, and has a high hockey IQ. The 18-year-old has made 20 appearances in Slovakia’s top flight this year, scoring five goals and providing four assists. He played for his boyhood club HK Poprad.
Slafkovský is a completely different proposition. The 17-year-old is 6-foot-4 with silky hands and a power forward who can play on either wing. He shoots with his left hand, and if named on Slovakia’s Olympic roster, he will be looking to boost his draft pick after a poor start to the 2021-22 season.
Prospects aside, Slovakia will have a team Veteran Who NHL fans will be familiar with. Blue star Martin Marinčin, 29, returned to Europe last summer to make a name for himself in the Czech Republic after a stellar performance at HC Ocelari Trinec. Former Boston Bruins Peter Cehlárik will also play a key role; he has 25 points in 39 KHL appearances for Avangard Omsk this season and is putting up similarly impressive numbers in the 2020-21 SHL .
Ramsey, on the other hand, could opt for first-team center Libor Hudáček, who has spent his entire career in Europe. Although he has not been a prolific scorer since leaving the Czech Super League, the 31-year-old is well aware of his way on the international tour, with six World Championship appearances on his CV .
Will 2022 be the year of Slovakia?
Germany made a surprise entry into the gold medal race at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, surpassing Canada and the United States, presenting eventual champions Russia with a serious title challenge. The German entered the game with no interest, leaning on a core of DEL players, but continued to shock the hockey world.
While Slovakia is unlikely to repeat the mistakes of Germany this time around, Ramsey’s side have a chance to make new history. Slovakia are just a period away from winning bronze at the 2012 Vancouver Olympics, and reaching the quarterfinals this time around should be the least they are looking forward to.
Luke is an award-winning British sports journalist who has covered the Washington Capitals THWHe is a recent graduate of the University of Warwick and is currently pursuing a postgraduate degree in journalism at City College London. To keep up with Luke’s work, you can find his tweets at @LukeJames_32.