AC Olympic Preview: Team Slovakia

Martin Rose

Team Slovakia has top-end talent like Marian Hossa and Zdeno Chara, but do they have the depth to contend for a medal?

Team Slovakia Olympic Roster:

GOALIES

Jaroslav Halak (St. Louis Blues, NHL)

Peter Budaj (Montreal Canadiens, NHL)

Jan Laco (Donbass Donetsk, KHL)

DEFENSEMEN

Ivan Baranka (Avangard Omsk, KHL)

Zdeno Chara (Boston Bruins, NHL)

Dominik Granak (Dynamo Moscow, KHL)

Martin Marincin (Edmonton Oilers, NHL)

Andrej Meszaros (Philadelphia Flyers, NHL)

Andrej Sekera (Carolina Hurricanes, NHL)

Michal Sersen (Slovan Bratislava, KHL)

Lubomir Visnovsky (New York Islanders, NHL)

FORWARDS

Milan Bartovic (Slovan Bratislava, KHL)

Michal Handzus (Chicago Blackhawks, NHL)

Marcel Hossa (Dinamo Riga, KHL)

Marian Hossa (Chicago Blackhawks, NHL)

Tomas Jurco (Detroit Red Wings, NHL)

Tomas Kopecky (Florida Panthers, NHL)

Tomas Marcinco (HC Kosice, Slovak Extraliga)

Michel Miklik (Slovan Bratislava, KHL)

Peter Olvecky (Slovan Bratislava, KHL)

Richard Panik (Syracuse Crunch, AHL)

Tomas Surovy (Dinamo Minsk, KHL)

Tomas Tatar (Detroit Red Wings, NHL)

Tomas Zaborsky (Salavat Yulaev Ufa, KHL)

Team Slovakia's Outlook for Sochi 2014

Offense Preview:

Slovakia's offense is highlighted by the presence of elite NHL sniper Marian Hossa. Hossa is regarded as one of the Chicago Blackhawks' "core" players, and was a major part of their 2010 and 2013 Stanley Cup victories. Though Hossa has struggled with injuries at various points in his career, he is currently playing some of the best hockey of his life at the age of 35. In January, he posted nine goals, three assists, and a plus four rating. He also had assists in the Hawks' first two games in February. Hossa also leads the NHL in takeaways (61). He will need to have a few more in Sochi in order to defeat more talented squads like USA and Russia in group play. Chicago coach Joel Quenneville has also allowed Hossa various opportunities to rest leading up to the Sochi Games, which should be very helpful down the line. [Ed. Note: He will be playing alongside his brother Marcel Hossa, who has NHL experience but now plays in the KHL. - Kyle]

However, Team Slovakia was dealt a huge blow today when it was revealed that the Columbus Blue Jackets' Marian Gaborik had not been cleared to play in the Olympics. Gaborik was named to Team Slovakia even after suffering a broken collarbone, which has sidelined him since December 21. And even though Gaborik has largely been a disappointment for Blue Jackets fans, his presence would have been a boon to his national team.

Slovakia finished a remarkable 4th place in the 2010 Olympics (they lost the Bronze Medal Game 5-3 to Team Finland). Marian Hossa was also the 2010 Olympic tournament's second leading scorer, with 3 goals and 6 assists. The tournament's leading scorer was the late Pavol Demitra, who passed away in the 2011 Lokomotiv Yaroslavl plane crash. Demitra had 3 goals and 7 assists in 2010, and was voted to the all-tournament team (the only player not from the US or Canada named to the team). Slovakia's forwards will have big skates to fill.

Defense Preview:

Defense is Slovakia's weakest link. Zdeno Chara is Team Slovakia's premier defenseman, and will likely emerge as the squad's emotional leader (he will serve as Slovakia's flag bearer during the Opening Ceremonies). Chara currently leads the Boston Bruins in ice time (24:58), and has 13 goals and 25 points in 53 games. However, the drop-off in talent after Chara is steep. Former Duck Lubomir Visnovsky is/was expected to round out Slovakia's top defensive pairing, but it is unsure whether he will even play. Visnovsky has struggled on and off with injury since tallying 68 points during the 2010-2011 season. New York Islanders' GM Garth Snow has strongly suggested that Visnovsky bow out of the Olympics, but it seems as though Visnovsky is still interested in going. If Lubo doesn't make it to Sochi, Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Andrej Meszaros will have to continue his red-hot scoring streak in Sochi.

Goaltending Preview:

Team Slovakia's goaltending is its X-Factor. Slovakia will head to Sochi with two NHL goalies in Jaroslav Halak and Peter Budaj. Despite his 5-4 shootout loss to the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday, Halak is the St. Louis Blues #1 goalie with a solid 23-8-4 record. He also has a save percentage of .914, and a GAA of 2.27. He posted a shutout in the 2010 tournament, and has the ability to steal games from teams with more offensive firepower (ask Bruce Boudreau about that). Budaj has been a very effective backup for Carey Price in Montreal. A week ago, Budaj stopped 34 shots in a game against the Bruins, ending Boston's 4 game winning streak.

X-Factor:

Goaltending, obviously (see above). Zdeno Chara and Marian Hossa will also need to go into "Superman" mode, filling the leadership vacuum left by the death of Demitra, and showing the other skaters on Team Slovakia how it's done. Even if Team Slovakia does not have a great tournament, I would not be surprised if Chara and Hossa were honored for their individual play. I also expect to see timely contributions from young Detroit Red Wings forwards Tomas Jurco and Tomas Tatar, who will look to prove that they belong on the big stage.

Predicted Finish:

Depth and defense win championships, and unfortunately, Slovakia does not have enough of either. That being said, if Team USA and Team Russia overlook Slovakia, an upset is possible. Expect Slovakia's NHL players to pad their stats against Team Slovenia. I predict a 6th place finish.

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