Slovaks settle on Ciger
Slovaks settle on Ciger
Can new coach restore Slovak hockey pride?
Despite losing to the Czech Republic in the gold medal final here in St. Petersburg, Slovakia would come back to win their first gold medal in 2002 and then add a bronze in 2003. Since that time, Slovakia has won only a silver at the 2012 World Championships in Helsinki, Finland.
Slovakia faces a bit of a dilemma in goal. Peter Budaj, current AHL goaltender of the year, is the starting for the Ontario Reign. Ontario is now battling the San Diego Gulls in the Calder Cup Pacific Division finals. There is the chance Budaj will not be able to join Slovakia if the Reign keep winning. Of the three possible goaltenders for Slovakia, only one has seen World Championships time on ice. Julius Hudacek started for Orebro HK in 2015-16, playing in 42 games, winning 23 of them. He played in two games last spring for the Slovaks. Branislav Konrad enjoyed a fine season with Olomouc, posting a 1.81 goals against average and six shutouts. Twenty-two year old Samuel Baros handled the bulk of goaltending duties for HKm Zvolen.
NHLers Andrej Sekera and Martin Marincin join Team Slovakia. Marincin, a former Edmonton Oilers prospect, found a home with the Toronto Maple Leafs this season. Sekera has established himself as a top four quality defenseman. He led all Edmonton defensemen in scoring with 30 points. Andrej Meszaros has represented Slovakia three times prior at the World Championships. In the Czech Republic last year, he enjoyed his best tournament production with three goals. After dealing with injuries, including a severe back problem, Dominik Granak returned to the fold in 2015. Not only was Granak a steady, though understated, member of the blueline corps, he led the team in plus minus. Longtime Slovan Bratislava defenseman Michal Sersen marks his fifth appearance for the national team.
Almost a third of the forward roster is comprised of Slovan Bratislava players. Patrik Lusnak, Pavol Skalicky, Andrej Stastny and Marek Viedensky all suit up for the Slovakian team that plays in the Kontinental Hockey League. Libor Hudacek, the brother of goaltender Julius, has been a consistent performer over the last three tournaments. Vladimir Dravecky was the second leading scorer behind Marian Gaborik in Ostrava. If Dravecky could replicate that performance it would be a big boost for the Slovakian offense. Only two NHL players are on the team. Marko Dano and Tomas Jurco are here. Despite the Chicago Blackhawks being eliminated from the playoffs Marian Hossa and Richard Panik are not playing for this team. Their services could have made a big difference but you have to work with what you've got.
Former NHLer Zdeno Ciger takes over for Vladimir Vujtek, who coached the team since 2012. Ciger played nine years in the NHL that included stops in New Jersey, Edmonton, New York and Tampa Bay. Ciger enjoyed his best season as a player in 1995-96 when he scored 31 goals and 70 points for the Oilers. Ciger has been an assistant coach at international tournaments, now the job of running the bench is his and his alone. He was an assistant coach at the 2005 and 2007 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championships and the 2006 Winter Olympics. He also was the Slovak team leader for the U20 national team won a bronze-medal at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship. Ciger is also the first Slovakian head coach since Jan Filc held the job in 2010.
In 2000, Slovakia revealed itself as an international hockey elite and won a silver, gold and bronze in three of the first four tournaments of the new century. Always a dangerous team to take on, Slovakia is missing some of the luster that made them a team to watch at the start of the 21st century and, in some cases, fear. But still a dangerous out. If they qualify for the playoff round, Slovakia is not a team to take lightly.
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