December 30, 2010
BUFFALO — Slovakia has seen its national junior fortunes take a turn for the worse after a promising performance two years ago in Ottawa.
Disappointment reigned in the post-game atmosphere after Slovakia’s 6-4 loss to Switzerland, which sent them to the relegation round for the second straight year.
Slovakia, 2009 edition, was the darling of the tournament in Ottawa, adopted by Canadian fans as a second home team. Tomas Tatar wowed with his offensive moves, and Jaroslav Janus achieved hero status in goal, earning a spot on the tournament all-star team despite finishing out of the medals. Fourth place was a strong finish the Slovakians could build on.
Yet last year in Saskatchewan the team narrowly missed relegation with an eighth-place finish, and this year’s edition will be forced to battle to avoid the same fate – or worse. Add to that a pair of suspensions for ugly hits, and a last-second scrum against Switzerland that had one fan screaming, "Go home Slovakia!” — it’s not exactly the country’s finest hockey hour.
Slovakian sniper Marek Hrivik, who scored a beautiful goal and had the winner in his team's opener against Germany, didn’t even see the final scrum.
“I don’t even know what happened. My head was down. I was just looking at the ground thinking about what we did wrong,” said a dejected Hrivik.
Hrivik, who was part of the Cinderella squad in 2009, said this team believed it could have a similar result.
“It’s disappointing. It was our goal to get to the playoffs from the main group, but I guess we’re not there,” Hrivik said. “We had a lot of chances but we didn’t execute for goals. That was our biggest mistake I guess.”
They certainly had their chances, including a Juraj Majdan missed penalty shot. Switzerland, meanwhile, got a fluke goal when Dominik Schlumpf’s shot eluded Dominik Riecicky from centre ice.
Draft-eligible forward Tomas Jurco was shaking his head after missing a glorious chance in the second period. He had a wide open net to goalie Benjamin Conz’s left, but a defender just managed to tip the puck away.
“I tried the rebound, the defenceman put his stick there and it was just bad luck, it missed (by) like a couple of centimetres,” Jurco said. “He put his stick on my stick, it was a hard rebound but still I should have scored.”
Losing defencemen Peter Hrasko (three games) and Martin Marincin (four games) to suspension was a big blow, as forward Miroslav Preisinger stepped back on D. But as Hrivik said, the team must make the most of the remainder of the tournament to make sure they are still here next year.
“We’ve got to forget it and move forward and get ready for our next game. The tournament is not over yet,” Hrivik said.