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World junior championship: Injury-depleted Slovakia a defensive underdog

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Rangers pick Peter Ceresnak anchors Slovakia's D (OHL Images)

GROUP B: SLOVAKIA

Last year’s finish: Sixth, lost 5-2 to Czech Republic in consolation game
Last year’s round-robin record: 2-2-0-0, 23 GF/5 GA

Having made it to the quarter-final in Calgary last season, Team Slovakia is eyeing to do so in Ufa as well.

Except that this time it looks like mission impossible.

Slovakia is in the same pool with Russia, Canada and the U.S., with only three teams making it to the play-offs. Ernest Bokros’ squad has to beat at least one of the teams to even hope to avoid the relegation round. That’s one hell of a task.

If that wasn’t enough, Slovaks lost their two key players in Marek Tvrdon (Vancouver Giants, WHL) and Martin Gernat (Oil Kings, WHL) to injuries. With them out, Slovakia’s main force appears to lie in the defence.

Goalies Patrik Romancik and Adam Nagy have spent this entire season with U20 Team Slovakia in the Extraliga playing against pro teams while Richard Sabol spent this year with the Green Bay Gamblers of the USHL. Neither of them have really been spectacular but keep in mind that same things were once said about Jaroslav Janus in 2009.

Even without Gernat, the Slovak defence looks solid. New York Rangers prospect Peter Ceresnak of the Peterborough Petes is on the team as well as Patrik Luza, who has some KHL experience with Slovan Bratislava, and Richard Buri — a big frame defenceman who knows how to play both responsibly and physical.

Another D-man to pay attention to is Emil Bagin. At 5-foot-9 he plays full-time for Dukla Trencin in Slovakian Extraliga. In 21 games this season he has scored five goals and 10 points. He is also plus-8 on his team. Pretty impressive for a rookie season in a pro league, wouldn’t you say?

Up front Slovakia isn’t nearly as stocked up as usually. In fact, there are really just 3 guys you want to keep an eye on — Martin Réway (Gatineau Olympiques, QMJHL), Marko Dano (Slovan, KHL) and Richard Mraz (formerly of the OHL's Ottawa 67's).

Mraz played just eight games in the OHL this season and scored one goal, although he was on Team Slovakia last year in Calgary where he got a goal and 5 points in 6 games, and he had 2 assists for Lev in the KHL, too. Notice that he is not related to Bruno Mraz, who’s also on this year’s edition of Team Slovakia.
Réway has lit the QMJHL this year scoring 11 goals and 25 points in 24 games for the Olympiques. He lacks size — the 17-year-old is 5-foot-10 — but that’s not really crucial for a centre when you think about it.
Dano is considered one of the hottest — if not the hottest — Slovakian prospects for this season’s NHL Entry draft. He is a son of a well-known Slovakian player Jozef Dano, who represented his country at two Olympic games and 6 world championships. Marko is 5-foot-11 and despite his young age already plays for Slovan in the KHL. In 26 games this season he scored 3 goals and got 5 points. He also once topped the KHL’s Hit Of The Week chart.

Here’s another amazing fact about Dano: last season he scored 10 goals and got three assists in just five games at the U18 World Championship. Granted, Slovakia played in Division 1 of the competition, but, hey, the guy scored 10 goals in five games!

Slovakia may seem like an underdog of pool B but wouldn’t you say they’ve got a shot to turn a few heads in Ufa?

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