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MONTREAL — Last sure, Martin Réway made sure to remind his Slovakia teammates of why they all aspired to wear their country's crest.
Most of Team Slovakia were agog adolescents in 2009, when the eastern European nation last crashed the final four at the world junior championship. (Remember Jaroslav Janus, of Erie Otters, flummoxing a Team USA that included James van Riemsdyk and Ryan McDonagh in the quarters in Ottawa?) Now Slovakia, following a hat-trick effort from Réway during the 5-2 Group A win against Germany that locked up a quarter-final date on Friday vs. the second-place team from Group B.
"I told them, everybody was looking at those games and everybody was like 'oh my god, I want to play world junior,' " recalled Réway, the Montreal Canadiens prospect who is now a first-year pro in the Czech Republic after developing for two seaons with the Quebec League's Gatineau Olympiqes. "To be in the top four is a big victory and if you look at that players from that team, a lot of them were drafted after that so it's a good chance for our [current] players.
"It's a good feeling for us, we can believe we can do this," said Réway, who had the second salvo when Slovakia broke out with three goals in a 5:05 span in the first period, before his unassisted tally and empty-netted in the third. "It's good for us and good for next year's ranking, so it's good for the future of Slovakia. We have to take care to play the same way in the quarter-finals. We can do much, much better than we did in the games we lost [against the U.S. and Canada]."
The contrast between Réway, as he was sometimes regarded during his two seasons in Gatineau, and the transformative effect he's had on Slovakia are rather stark. He was oftentimes the man of the hour during his second season with the 'Piques, seemingly able to raise his game whenever one of the other marquee players in the Q such as Jonathan Drouin came through town. He was a leading scorer at the 2014 WJC. As a third-time U20 player, though, he's demanding much more of himself, so getting a hat trick in his NHL team's home barn was something to enjoy for a moment and then set aside.
"It's my third year and the guys are looking to me," said Réway, who turned pro this season in part to help support his family back home in eastern Europe.. "They have big respect for me and I'm trying to be a good leader for them. We didn't score a lot of goals before so that's probably my job. It's not only my job [on his team], but everybody in Slovakia and my guys expect it from me, so that makes it my job."
Réway's first goal came off a give-and-go, as he backed up the German defenders with his speed and then dropped the puck to defenceman David Soltes. After Soltes' shot was stopped, Réway batted the puck out of the air for an electrifying goal. His second was also a bit of a hideout play, as he snuck in undetected to steal the puck from goalie Ilja Sharipov and tuck it into the vacated cage. Meantime, the man who mostly played wing in the Q had a 16-of-25 night in the facoff circle that included winning 12 of his last 17.
"I think he's the best playmaker I ever saw in my life," Germany captain Dominik Kahun, a grad of the Sudbury Wolves said. "I told the guys we have to watch out for him, like in the power play and everything, but he scored three goals anyway."
Germany, whose two goals came from 19-year-old wing Frederik Tiffels, who plays for the Western Michigan University Broncos, once again had a game effort but fell to 0-0-0-3. Its main shortcoming was fairly obvious: no Réway-like catalyst.
"He's a good player," German coach Pat Cortina says. "I think he makes the guys around him that much better and tough to defend."
Having two days to ramp up for the quarter-final is especially beneficial to Slovakia, since Réway noted a few players are fighting illness. The Czech Republic, Russia and Switzerland each have a mathematical possiblity of finishing second in Group B and being Slovakia's foe on Friday.
Suffice to say, Réway's New Year's Eve will be as businesslike as the game he's trying to uncover.
"I don't think we can," the 5-foot-10 pivot said when asked about ringing in 2015. "I think we're going to have a special dinner with the coaches. Some guys are sick so we have take care of them so they can be healthy for the next game."
After some coaxing, Réway allowed himself to savour the night.
"I want my next hat trick at the Bell Centre to be in a Canadiens jersey," he said.
The late Finland-Germany game on Wednesday determines fourth in Group A and the quarter-final opponent for Sweden. Finland has scored a singleton in each of its three games and if there's any spillover from those offensive woes, Germany might be able to make an afterthought game interesting.
"[Wednesday's] going to be a difficult challenge with both of us in must-win situations," Cortina said. "We have to learn fast from this one. Finland's defending champion, they've come along well as they've progressed in the tournament."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.