International Ice Hockey Federation

Asterix: The Hockey Way

Asterix: The Hockey Way

Slovakia’s wild chase for 2002 gold

Published 02.05.2017 22:27 GMT+2 | Author Lucas Aykroyd
Asterix: The Hockey Way
Like Asterix's quest to retrieve a stolen cauldron full of money, Slovakia's bid to win its first Worlds gold in 2002 seemed like a long shot at first! Photos: Editions Albert René, City-Press
In 2002, Slovakia won its first and only World Championship gold medal. It was a wild ride reminiscent of Asterix’s search for a cauldron full of money!

Leading up to the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship, we’re dedicating one article to each day of the tournament, making a tongue-in-cheek comparison between an Asterix comic book and famous aspects of international hockey history.

When the 2002 tournament kicked off in Sweden, it seemed improbable that the Slovaks would come out on top. Yes, they had made big strides since debuting in the C Pool in 1994. Their previous peak had been a silver medal in St. Petersburg 2000 with a 5-3 loss to the Czech Republic. But this year, the Czechs were gunning for a fourth straight world title with Jaromir Jagr and Pavel Patera in the lineup, and the Canadians, Finns, and host Swedes also had powerful rosters. And at the 2002 Olympics, Slovakia had fallen flat on its face like a Roman legionary knocked unconscious, finishing 13th!

The attempts of Asterix and Obelix to regain the stolen cauldron full of money that a local Gaulish chieftain asks them to safeguard seem equally improbable! They attack pirates, try to raise funds by selling wild boars, and bet on chariot racing, along with other silliness. Meanwhile, in 2002, Slovakia barely edged underdog Ukraine 5-4 and lost 3-1 to Finland in the Preliminary Round, by Belenos!

But their Qualification Round play was more successful than Asterix and Obelix’s ventures into prize-fighting and acting! The Slovaks staged a 2-1 upset of Sweden and finished up group play with a 6-4 win over Russia. Suddenly, this Jan Filc-coached team starring Miroslav Satan, Zigmund Palffy, and Peter Bondra was starting to smell a whole lot better than the onion-scented coins Asterix is trying to track down! (Onion-scented because they were in the cauldron, that is. This is not a comment on Slovak cuisine.)

The playoffs were as wild as the final cliffside sword fight between Asterix and the villain! The Slovaks beat Canada 3-2 in the quarter-finals and Sweden 3-2 in the semi-finals, the latter victory coming on Palffy’s shootout goal. The gold medal game in Gothenburg went down to the wire against a defensive-minded, Boris Mikhailov-coached Russian team. With 1:40 left, Bondra took a pass from Palffy and blasted a shot past netminder Maxim Sokolov to make it 4-3. The Slovaks hung on for the win and celebrated wildly. General manager Peter Stastny was in tears on the bench, while goalie Jan Lasak and others kissed the ice. Satan finished as the tournament leader with 13 points! (So much for 13 being an unlucky number!)

When asked how this would compare to winning a Stanley Cup, Bondra replied: “The Cup is celebrated by one city. This belongs to an entire nation.”

Asterix and Obelix celebrate with their traditional banquet, but the Slovaks had a double party! First, the Swedish organizers arranged for them to ride through the streets of Gothenburg in an open bus, and in the admirable spirit of Swedish sportsmanship, the local crowds cheered for Slovakia’s victory. Then, of course, they flew home for a rapturous reception in Bratislava. No longer was it just the “Big Six” hockey nations: Slovakia had made it the “Big Seven”!

This is a 17-part series prior to the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship, of which Asterix and Obelix are the official mascots. Click on News to find the stories.


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