International Ice Hockey Federation

Slovaks still hopeful

Slovaks still hopeful

Young prospects look to the future

Published 14.05.2017 12:22 GMT+2 | Author Andy Potts
Slovaks still hopeful
Slovakia's captain Vladimir Dravecky is optimistic about his country's future. Photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images
With a roster in transition, Slovakia is still buoyant despite some rough results in Cologne. Vladimir Dravecky and Martin Gernat explain why.

It’s been a tough tournament for Slovakia. Seeded fourth in Cologne, and expected to push for at least a quarter-final place, the team has come out on the wrong side of several tight verdicts.

Now, chances of progress to the knock-out stage are dependant on back-to-back wins over Sweden and the USA, plus a favourable series of results elsewhere. It’s a long shot, but the mood in the Slovak camp is still buoyant.

This year’s roster has a very new look to it. Unlike previous seasons, Slovakia has gone without any of its NHL stars and called up nine players who never previously played in a World Championship. It’s a time of transition for the national team, and results in Cologne need to be viewed through that prism.

Certainly, team captain Vladimir Dravecky is in no doubt that the future is going to be brighter – and soon.

“Even though we’ve lost games here, we’ve not been playing all that badly,” he said. “The problem is just that we’re not scoring goals. We’ve had good opportunities in every game, even when we lost 6-0 to Russia, but we need to be stronger around their net. We need more plays to the net, more shots from our D-men, and I think we will have better results.

“We can’t overlook that we have nine players at their first World Championship. It’s really good experience for them. Because we have a lot of young guys, I think it’s looking pretty good for the next couple of years. A tournament like this is a big school for a few of our emerging players.”

The 31-year-old, who plays his hockey in Trinec, Czech Republic, made his own World Championship debut here in Cologne back in 2010. This year, on his return to the LANXESS Arena, he’s been given a leadership role – and that’s something he’s relishing as he helps to develop his country’s new talent.

“I’m really happy that they gave me the ‘C’,” he said. “I feel like I have a real responsibility for the team, for the guys. We’re all trying to do our best, we still have two games to play and of course we want to show what we can do in those.”

Martin Gernat, a 24-year-old defenceman who helped Sparta Prague to the final of this year’s Champions Hockey League, is one of the World Championship rookies. A 2011 draft pick for the Oilers, he returned to Europe last summer after five seasons in North America that brought a WHL title and 138 AHL appearances. Now he’s closer to home, Gernat is back on the national team’s radar after earlier appearances at u18 and u20 championships.

“I kind of knew what it would be like here after playing World Juniors, but even though our team is not doing really well, this is still a good new experience for me,” he said. “Hopefully we can break this run and start winning those tough games.”

Three of Slovakia’s five games have gone to overtime – a victory over Italy and losses to Germany and Denmark. That reinforces the feeling that the team isn’t far away from chalking up wins. Gernat feels that the key thing is gaining experience and overcoming nerves, especially in the opposition zone.

“You could see in the game against Russia, we had so many chances in that second period but we’re not taking our time,” he said. “Our players aren’t ready to wait that extra second, take a deep breath and create a good chance for a goal. We’re always trying to score right away and that’s been our biggest problem.”


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