Sunday, May 01, 2005


World Championships: Slovakians Slay, Canadians Creak

Canada and Slovakia both got their rocks off on Day 1 at the World Championships of Hockey with squeaker wins over Latvia and Belarus, respectively.

Canada dominated Latvia for the first two periods (5-2) and took advantage of wander Czech-League goalie Edgars Masalskis before the Canucks, like I imagined, seemed to run out of gas and Latvia almost tie it up in the 3rd period. Fortunately, Canada held on for the 6-4 victory

Canada absolutely dominated Latvia in the physical department. Even Karlis Skrastins, the lone 'meat' on the Latvian blueline, couldn't handle Rick Nash on his spectacular one-handed goal in the second period. Any time the puck was down low in the Latvian zone, the Canadians pwned the Latvians like the bank pwns my mortage :(

Given that Canada has so many out-of-game-shape players and haven't been playing together as long as the Latvians (8 of whom play for Riga in the Latvian league), it wasn't a surprise to see Canada play such a disjointed game most of the time. I don't think I've seen that many blown breakouts in a non-prison environment. This will change as the tournament rolls along, but Canada obviously has a lot more rust to shake off.

Slovakia, on the other hand, was cohesive and was gellin' like a felon.

The 2-1 score doesn't really do the Slovaks justice. If it was for Andrej Mezin's 50-save heroics, this would have been the blowout many Slovakian fans were expecting.

The Trencin-Line of Gaborik-Demitra-Hossa provided all of the offense, but all 3 offensive lines were peppering Mezin with shots.

Let's have a better look at Slovakia's final roster and current lines:

Jan Lasak
Rastislav Stana
Karol Krizan



Goaltending - It's really a question of which Jan Lasak will show up for the Slovaks. Will we witness the 'Worst SV% in the World' performance at last summer's World Cup or the 'Best GAA in the World' and spectacular MVP-Like playoff performance from Lasak? With his emotions clearly on a roller coaster, it's a matter of catching Lasak on the right part of the track. Rastislav Stana is a solid back-up, but hardly a goalie who will steal games at a tournament of this calibre. Krazy Karol Krizan earned the third spot, and will be seated on the bench in such a position as to scare fans and terrorists away.

Defense - As deep as the forward corps are, the defense looks rather weak compared to the other tournament powers. The name that really sticks out is the anorexic (6'0' 174lbs) Dominik Granak. Although he's a favourite prospect of mine, I'm shocked that he earned a spot over someone like Andrej Meszaros. Not only that, Granak is playing on the 2nd unit with Zdenko Chara. Imagine Shaquille O'Neal marrying one of the pixie-ish Olsen Twins...
The Slovak backmen, apart from Chara, could get pushed around a bit by the bigger teams like Canada. Richard Lintner is the Power Play specialist with the Andy Delmore-like defensive ability. I pray Lintner doesn't see more than 8 minutes of ice time in any one game.

Forwards - Slovakia has never had a problem producing offensive forwards, and the Slovaks now had their biggest and best stars available. Look at those top three lines!! Any one of those could be a good NHL's team first line. The Slovaks have a lot of skilled and exciting players up front, and should be one of the more sought after tickets of those who love offensive hockey. If the Slovaks had these players available back in the 2002 Salt Lake City debacle, they would have never been subjected to the humiliating defeats that they were.

Notable Players Missing:

Ladislav Nagy - Nagy will miss the tournament with a shoulder injury. Given his lacklustre play and the plethora of skilled forwards Slovakia already has, they won't really miss Lado this time around.

Andrej Meszaros - Coach Frantisek Hossa fell in love with Granak, so a lot of Slovakian fans are not sure why Meszaros, who played damn well at least year's tourney, isn't on the roster.

Branko Radivojevic - The last player cut! (ouch).

Jiri Bicek - A hard worker who had an amazing season with HC Kosice, he would have been perfect for the 4th line

Other hard working types left off of the roster include Radovan Somik, Roman Kukumberg (Leafs draft pick who played well for Slovakia last year), and Martin Cibak (Who hard a poor season, so his exclusive isn't surprising).

My friend Daniel and I both agree that Slovakia should and could have taken a couple of more 'heart-and-soul' types up front. I do not understand the including of a one-dimensional offensive forward like Peter Pucher (as much as I like him, he shouldn't be there) and a decent-but-not-that-great Czech league forward like Juraj Stefanka. Slovakia could really use some quality defensive forwards like Michal Handzus and Vladimir Orszagh, since these are the forwards that would truly qualify. There is a bit of nervousness knowing that the Slovaks have many great talents, but perhaps not the dirty workers.

Coach Frantisek Hossa is also probably not the right coach for this squad. After last summer's World Cup, it should be obvious that the Slovaks aren't a defensive squad. Rather than pressure the opponent with waves of offense, coach Hossa had the Slovaks play a passive defensive style. While critics and pundits were railing against the Slovakian players for playing like 'heartless wimps', it was really the coaches instructions that the Slovaks play that style of hockey.

A better coach would allow for the Slovakian forwards to do what they do best: Produce offensive!

Still, I expect the Slovaks to do well and lay out my predicted standings:

1. Slovakia :)
2. Czechia
3. USA
4. Canada
5. Russia
6. Finland
7. Sweden
8. Germany
9. Switzerland
10. Belarus
11. Latvia
12. Austria
13. Slovenia
14. Belarus
15. Kazakhstan
16. Ukraine

I cant agree with you that Pucher is "one-dimensional" - in last two seasons he plays very solid two-way play and he is probably much better choice than Radivojevic or Bicek.

Did Pucher learn to play defense the past two seasons? I certainly hope you are right, because he's usually always been an offensive center...He did a decent job for Slovakia at past WC's, so I'll give him credit for that. (He would be 100 times better with Marek Uram, his soulmate)
Hossa not right for this squad? Who do they have left? Jan Filc did a bang up job, didn't he? *sarcasm*

I think they should expand their pool of teams to make it bigger and get more overall exposure for the sport. Where is Team England? They have a great jersey! And Japanese tourism should always land a hefty sum in the Austrian bank account! They should bring in Team Japan too! Team Italy wasn't invited because they kept giving their plays away with all their hand gestures! ;)

Please tell me they got Arnold "the Governator" Schwarzenegger to drop the first puck!
Team England? That'd be Team GB, we we're too busy throwing away leads against Japan, losing out 2-0 to Poland thanks to a PP goal and an EN goal, destroying home team Hungary and Szuper Levente 3-0 and, er, getting hammered by Norway.
The GB jersey is munting by the way.
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