Tuesday, January 16, 2007


The State of Slovak Hockey - Part II

Continuing the previous discussion on the state of Slovak hockey, it seems the Slovak Extraleague and Slovak Hockey Federation have taken the giant step of creating an exclusive Under-20 team to play in the Extraliga.

The league currently has 8 teams, so this U-20 team and a promoted Division 1 team will be added next year to create a new 10-team league. This is a very unique experiment geared to improve Slovakia's ability to produce good hockey players.

There are still many details to sort out, such as scheduling, who runs the team, etc etc etc..and where will they get the players for this team? Most of the best Slovak juniors play either in the CHL or Czechia.
1. The CHL will reduce their import limit to 1 per team, so more kids will be available.
2. The other Extraliga teams will be forced to contribute their U-20 kids if they are selected.
3. Having a team in the Extraliga will entice many would-be travelers to stay home and earn a regular paycheque in the Extraliga, rather than almost nothing in the junior leagues.

Is this team likely to get slaughtered against older Extraliga vets? Yes, probably. Teams filled with junior aged players in previous seasons tended to get their asses kicked hard. Still, the juniors display a lot of hustle that the grumpy vets and lazy stars sometimes don't. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.


It is true that the Slovaks have done a much better job producing goaltenders (their biggest weakness) and defensemen. Long gone are the days of throwing out Roman Mega, Jaromir Dragan, or Pavol Rybar and praying that the opposition didn't score 14 times a period. Youngsters like Peter Budaj, Jaroslav Halak, and Michal Valent are very talented goaltenders who have taken the reigns alongside Jan Lasak, the best Slovak goalie produced since old Vladimir Dzurilla.

The big problem is that the Slovaks just aren't producing many very talented forwards these days and it will catch up to them in a few years. Demitra, Satan, Bondra, Handzus, Zednik, Stumpel, and Palffy (retired, for now) are all 30+. A small core of Hossa, Nagy, and Gaborik are in their primes with just Svatos and Meszaros coming up behind them. There are a few other prospects like Marek Zagrapan and Stefan Ruzicka, but the cupboard will grow bare up front.

Another problem that I see is that TOO many kids are going to the CHL, and it ends up hurting them. Instead of further developing their skills, they spend 1-3 years trying to learn an almost completely different game, and no longer work as much on their skills as supposed to trying to survive physical punishment and learn a new language.

Many of these kids do not do well in the CHL, and end up returning home. Since their skills growth has been stunted, and they've been playing a different game, they often struggle to catch up and adapt back to the European game.

Take Vladimir Kutny, a 6'4" giant from Trencin (and CHL teams love the tall ones) who came to the QMJHL and put up just 69 points in 187 games over 3 seasons.

Kutny went back with Dukla Trencin last season and put up a whopping 6 points in 42 Extraliga games. He has just 2 points in 23 games this season. If he had stayed home the entire time, he likely would have developed his skills further and been a much better player for Trencin in a bigger role. There are many other examples of talented, but not great, Slovak players who end up being worse off for their CHL tenure.


My Slovak pal, Daniel, had some further comments on why Slovak hockey is struggling to produce talented players up front and sucking so bad at the WJC these days.
Here are some thoughts about the ”success” of Slovak national team on WJC. I can see four following main reasons:

1. System of Play - As most of Slovak teams the players do not know what to play. There does not seem to be any team-work and/or system, which is a very important factor of European teams. Except for Slovakia and Czechia, all other teams were comprised of mostly Europe-skating players. All these players have played about 10 games on one team in last 3 months. The Europeans are not like Canadian or US players who are collected from plenty of different teams and leagues. The other teams need just couple of games to play well as a team. Slovak team showed chaotic play without any thought or system.

2. Inability to score - Though plenty of kids were expected to be good scorers, a lot of them struggled to score, especially those who skate in the CHL. Except for Juraj Mikus, Sinkovic (both QMJHLers) and Mikula, the others are not any elite scorers on their teams this season. Slovaks created many good opportunities to score but they did not convert. For your information Slovaks outshoot all teams (GER, SWE, USA, SUI, BLR) except Canada but they lost all of their games except to Belarus.

3. Coach - I mentioned the Jasko’s ”amazing” year. Well, he was fired by the hockey federation from the national team today.

4. Suspect Nominations - It is up to the coach and his ”advisors” to do the best selection of players. There are always questionable players on the team every year. Ones who skate in NA are often preferred, although coaches cannot see them in action and have very poor information about their fitness levels.

One example from last season: Juro Mikus was the best junior on Extraliga but coach sent him to 4th line to play 5-8 minutes per game while preferred Petruska or Lemesani (who played in NAHL). Best scoring junior duo in Extraliga Richard Lelkes (6+2) and Marcal Hascak (4+4) were ignored by Jasko. The player’s agents have very long fingers and push their kids to national teams all the time. Many kids who play in Slovakia feel they are omitted and have no real chance to play in the championships. In the last seasons the coaches always tested 25-30 Europe skating kids on two 4-nations tournaments (in August and November) however 3-4 ones were the favorites (and they have to play on WJC) while the rest of them have to fight for other 3-4 spots because the others spots were reserved for players from CHL.

Just more food for thought.

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As someone who follows Slovak hockey very closely, I can say that you have written a great entry here Jes. I agree with you 100 percent.
David Skokan is an interesting player. He was part of the best line at the CHL prospects game, and has showed flashes of brilliance in the QMJHL. He is born in December so he is a very young 18 year old. He will be an important player on the Slovak WJC team next year.

Ondrej Mikula is another forward I really like on Slovakia. I think he will be the first impact player on the newly formed Slovak National U20 team.
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