World Junior hockey 2013: Slovakia will struggle to reach quarterfinals

Richard Wolowicz

Slovakia enters the 2013 World Juniors without arguably its two best players due to injury. Can the rest of the team make up for the big losses?

Things are never easy for a country like Slovakia, a small European country that has struggled to rebuild their national hockey program for over a decade now. But when a couple of players that do manage to break through in your country both suffer major injuries and can't participate with the national team, it really hurts.

Canada can survive without Ryan Murray, Sweden can potentially make do without Oscar Klefbom and Jonas Brodin, but Slovakia without Marek Tvrdon and Martin Gernat is quite another story.

The good news for Slovakia are changes that have been made in recent years seem to be giving more options to homegrown talent. The KHL has come to the country along with its junior affiliate, the MHL. The national U20 team continues to operate, providing playing time against quality competition for players that might otherwise be languishing on practice squads or in the lower minor leagues in Slovakia.

There are some good things happening in the country, who may not be ready to secede their spot in the elite of hockey to the likes of Switzerland, Norway or Germany just yet.

Depth Chart - Forwards
Left Wing Centee Right Wing
Richard Mraz* Marko Dano* Tomas Mikus
Martin Remway Bruno Mraz Matus Matis
Brainslav Rapac Andrej Bires Michal Uhrik
Denis Hudek Dominik Fujerik Milan Kolena

This is very much a collection of unknowns at this point in time. Richard Mraz and Marko Dano are the only returning players from last year's sixth-place team, and Mraz has had a bit of a bizarre year where he failed to make an impact in the OHL and has now ended up back in Slovakia. Whether it was simply a matter of not adjusting to the new life and ice surface or if it was a lack of talent (probably the former), I don't know.

Dano and Tomas Mikus are both playing in the KHL this year, so they should be looked at as the most advanced of the group. Martin Remway is producing at nearly a point-per-game pace with Gatineau of the QMJHL, and is the lone 17-year-old to make the cut for the team this year. Beyond him, the team doesn't possess much for offensive threats.

Key Player: Marko Dano is one of two first time draft eligible forwards on this team (Remway is the other), and will be looked at as the team's offensive leader. He hasn't attained much of a profile so far from NHL scouts, but a good tournament here could do wonders for him in that sense.

Depth Chart - Defense
Left Defense Right Defense
Karol Korim Peter Ceresnak**
Richard Buri Emil Bagin
Tomas Nechala Patrik Luza
Tomas Rusina David Bajanik

Slovakia's defense contains their only NHL drafted prospect, Peter Ceresnak (New York Rangers), who will be in his third WJC. Beyond him, there is very little to choose from. Korim has done well for Slovakia in international friendlies this year, and could be the team's top option on the power play, while Emil Bagin is a small defenseman with some puck skills. Patrik Luza has seen some KHL action this year, as he is a Slovan Bratislava prospect.

The one thing this group will have is familiarity, as many of the players have spent time with the national U20 team that plays games against professional Slovak clubs this season.

Key Player: Obviously Peter Ceresnak is going to log a lot of icetime, and judging by the talent around him he might end up with a significant minus figure this tournament from facing Canada, USA, and Russia in the preliminary round.Ceresnak is a defensive blueliner who has similarly had to log a lot of minutes on a poor Peterborough Petes team in the OHL.

Goaltenders
Adam Nagy
Richard Sabol*
Patrik Romancik

It's tough to say who the goaltender will be. Sabol made last year's team but has struggled big time in the USHL this season. Nagy and Romancik have both had their moments in Slovakia and in international games, but I think Nagy will get the nod here.

He's played a couple of games in Slovakia's top league for Dukla Trencin, not just with the U20 program, and had a good year in the Slovak junior league last year as well. Plus, he's the only one of the goaltenders that is 19.

Tournament Outlook

There doesn't seem to be much hope for Slovakia to reach the quarterfinals this year like they did last year. Their placement in the "Group of Death" means they'd need a heck of a goaltending and special teams performance to knock out one of the top opponents, and that doesn't seem to be in the cards with this group.

In fact, the team will have to concentrate on beating Germany on December 30 more than anything else. Germany is much closer to Slovakia's level of competition than Russia, Canada, or USA are. If they can't beat Germany, they'll be in danger of being relegated, a fate their U18 team has had to endure in recent years.

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