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Surprising Slovakia next hurdle for Canada

Wednesday, 08.06.2014 / 4:50 AM

Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

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Surprising Slovakia next hurdle for Canada
Slovakia vs. Canada
SLOVAKIA (3-1-0-1) vs. CANADA (3-1-0-1)

What to watch -- Canada was expected to be in this game; Slovakia was not.

The Slovaks entered this tournament as underdogs in their pool, which also included Russia and the Czech Republic. Marian Gaborik, Marian Hossa and Miroslav Satan came to Vancouver with nagging injuries. Yet here are the Slovaks, in the medal round for the first time and just one win away from the gold medal game. They've already penned an incredible story are these Olympics. If they beat Canada, it would be like a bad fiction writer went far too deep into dreamland.

On the other hand, the Slovaks represent just another hurdle for the Canadian machine, which steamrolled Russia in what supposed to be the tournament's dream matchup. Canada has been getting better with each game -- and after a 7-3 shellacking of the Russians it found an identity, too.

It's the Canadian identity of working hard and working smart. Mike Babcock severely outcoached Russia coach Slava Bykov and the Canadian players took away all of the time and space the Russian players love to operate with. They'll have to do it again.

"I would say it's more of a North American brand now, because I think us and the United States play a very similar brand of hockey," Canada Executive Director Steve Yzerman told NHL.com. "I think we're showing, Canada and the U.S., that the players have skill. They can skate, pass the puck and shoot the puck. They are creative and they can get it in there to play a strong game. I think it's the North American game and we showed that it's a good skill level, it's not just dump it in, chase it and outwork them."

Team Reports:

Slovakia -- The Slovaks were so happy with their win over Sweden on Wednesday night that they decided to burn that celebration oil well into Thursday. Like the Canadians, they did not hold a practice. Unlike the Canadians, they were not ready to move on to the next game when morning dawned.

"We are still living what we accomplished last night," Slovak GM Peter Bondra said.

Slovakia has a lot to celebrate, but the Slovaks now have a lot to deal with, too. The Canadians pose an even bigger threat than the Swedes because of their overall size, skill and speed. Sweden also never got untracked offensively in the tournament, which is another reason it bowed out early.

What the Slovaks have going for them is the best special teams in the tournament. They are No. 1 on the penalty kill (18-for-19) and No. 1 on the power play (7-for-19). They scored a pair of power-play goals and were perfect on all three penalty kills against Sweden. They also killed off all five penalties when they played the Russians.

Canada -- It will be interesting to see how Babcock plays this one. Canada will get the advantage of having the last change as a result of a better goal differential in the preliminary round (7-5), and Babcock is hot on matchups.

He formed a five-man unit of Jonathan Toews, Mike Richards, Rick Nash, Shea Weber and Scott Niedermayer to shut down Russia's top line of Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and Alexander Semin. Slovakia smartly skates Hossa and Gaborik on separate lines, and both are right wings.

If Babcock keeps his same lines, he could use the Toews' line and Ryan Getzlaf's line to matchup with Slovakia's top two units. Richards and Brenden Morrow would be the left wings, but Babcock might have Nash and Richards swap sides, too, if he wants a bigger body guarding either Gaborik or Hossa.

The technicalities aside, Canada smells gold now and you have to think the Canadians won't let an upstart team like Slovakia stand in their way. It's not as if the Canadians need any more motivation, but they'll know what's at stake if Team USA beats Finland earlier in the day.

"I don't think I'm going to talk about that. It's still a long ways away," Roberto Luongo said of the potential for a U.S.-Canada gold medal game. "Like (Wednesday), a lot of people were talking about us playing Sweden, but we said you never know what can happen. There's no point in jumping ahead of ourselves."

Total NHL players on rosters
-- Slovakia 13; Canada 23

Puck drop -- "I think the whole experience has been as good as everybody has talked about and it's really something to play in front of a crowd with that energy," Jarome Iginla told NHL.com. "To see Canadians get into it and be apart of it, on the streets and everywhere, it's great. It's been an awesome experience and as a group we have been enjoying it. As the tournament has gone on we have gotten more comfortable in that area and we're not looking at it as pressure. We are going to go out there as a team, be aggressive, physical and assertive and the rest will take care of itself."

NHL.com predicts -- Slovakia puts a scare into Canada, but only early in the game. The Canadians get rolling in the second period and put the game away early in the third. A nation starts looking ahead to what could be on Sunday in the gold medal game.
Slovakia
# Forwards Club HT WT DOB Birthplace
61 M. Bartovic 6'0" 194 4/9/1981 Trencin, SVK
26 M. Handzus CHI 6'5" 215 3/11/1977 Banska Bystrika, SVK
88 Marcel Hossa 6'2" 218 10/12/1981 Ilava, SVK
81 Marian Hossa CHI 6'1" 210 1/12/1979 Stará Lubovna, SVK
13 T. Jurco DET 6'2" 193 12/28/1992 Kosice, SVK
82 T. Kopecky FLA 6'3" 203 2/5/1982 Ilava, SVK
65 T. Marcinko 6'4" 207 4/11/1988 Poprad, SVK
91 M. Miklik 6'0" 198 7/31/1982 Piestany, SVK
85 P. Ölvecky 6'2" 214 10/11/1985 Nove Zamky, SVK
28 R. Panik TBL 6'1" 208 2/7/1991 Martin, SVK
92 B. Radivojevic 6'0" 207 11/24/1980 Piešťany, SVK
43 T. Surovy 6'1" 216 9/24/1981 Banska Bystrica, SVK
90 T. Tatar DET 5'10" 186 12/1/1990 Ilava, SVK
67 T. Zaborsky 5'11" 201 11/14/1987 Trencin, SVK
# Defense Club HT WT DOB Birthplace
7 I. Baranka 6'2" 203 5/19/1985 Ilava, SVK
33 Z. Chara BOS 6'9" 255 3/18/1977 Trencin, SVK
68 M. Jurcina 6'4" 251 6/7/1983 Liptovský Mikuláš, SVK
52 M. Marincin EDM 6'4" 188 2/18/1992 Kosice, SVK
14 A. Meszaros PHI 6'2" 223 10/13/1985 Považská Bystrica, SVK
44 A. Sekera CAR 6'0" 201 6/8/1986 Bojnice, SVK
19 T. Starosta 6'0" 196 5/20/1981 Trencin, SVK
23 R. Vydareny 6'1" 203 5/6/1981 Bratislava, SVK
# Goalies Club HT WT DOB Birthplace
31 P. Budaj MTL 6'1" 192 9/18/1982 Banska Bystrika, SVK
41 J. Halak STL 5'10" 186 5/13/1985 Bratislava, SVK
250 J. Laco 5'11" 183 12/1/1981 Liptovsky Mikulas, SVK
Canada
# Forwards Club HT WT DOB Birthplace
22 J. Benn DAL 6'2" 210 7/18/1989 Victoria, BC
37 P. Bergeron BOS 6'2" 194 7/24/1985 Ancienne-Lorette, QC
77 J. Carter LAK 6'4" 212 1/1/1985 London, ON
87 S. Crosby PIT 5'11" 200 8/7/1987 Cole Harbour, NS
9 M. Duchene COL 5'11" 200 1/16/1991 Haliburton, ON
15 R. Getzlaf ANA 6'4" 221 5/1/1985 Regina, SK
14 C. Kunitz PIT 6'0" 195 9/16/1979 Regina, SK
12 P. Marleau SJS 6'2" 220 9/15/1979 Aneroid, SK
61 R. Nash NYR 6'4" 213 6/16/1984 Brampton, ON
24 C. Perry ANA 6'3" 212 5/16/1985 Peterborough, ON
10 P. Sharp CHI 6'1" 199 12/27/1981 Winnipeg, MB
26 M. St. Louis TBL 5'8" 180 6/18/1975 Laval, QC
20 J. Tavares NYI 6'1" 205 9/20/1990 Mississauga, ON
16 J. Toews CHI 6'2" 208 4/29/1988 Winnipeg, MB
# Defense Club HT WT DOB Birthplace
19 J. Bouwmeester STL 6'4" 212 9/27/1983 Edmonton, AB
8 D. Doughty LAK 6'1" 213 12/8/1989 London, ON
5 D. Hamhuis VAN 6'1" 209 12/13/1982 Smithers, BC
2 D. Keith CHI 6'1" 200 7/16/1983 Winnpeg, MB
27 A. Pietrangelo STL 6'3" 201 1/18/1990 King City, ON
76 P. Subban MTL 6'0" 217 5/13/1989 Toronto, ON
44 M. Vlasic SJS 6'1" 205 5/30/1987 Montreal, QC
6 S. Weber NSH 6'4" 233 8/14/1985 Sicamous, BC
# Goalies Club HT WT DOB Birthplace
1 R. Luongo VAN 6'3" 217 4/4/1979 Montreal, QC
31 C. Price MTL 6'3" 212 8/16/1987 Anahim Lake, BC
41 M. Smith PHX 6'4" 215 3/22/1982 Kingston, ON