It is official: The NHL, NHL Players' Association and International Ice Hockey Federation have announced there will be NHL players at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Prior to the agreement between the NHL, NHLPA and IIHF, NHL.com had three writers select the team they would take to Sochi for each of the "big seven" hockey-playing nations. Note: This is not the team the writers project each country's hockey federation will select, but the team they would select at this point.
Slovakia has yet to medal in hockey at the Olympics since becoming an independent nation in 1993, but the country's fourth-place finish in 2010 was a triumph. The Slovakians, an aging team with a core expected to be on its last Olympic run together, defeated Russia in the preliminary round, upset Sweden in the quarterfinals, and nearly stunned Canada in the semifinals.
A few key players from the 2010 team no are longer in the NHL but could represent Slovakia in Sochi. The 2014 squad likely will be anchored by its established NHL stars: defenseman Zdeno Chara, forwards Marian Hossa and Marian Gaborik, and goaltender Jaroslav Halak.
The goaltending looks set; all three NHL.com writers have the same three netminders (Halak, Peter Budaj and Jaroslav Janus). There are some safe bets to fill in around Hossa and Gaborik at forward: Michal Handzus, Tomas Kopecky, Richard Panik and former NHL stars Ziggy Palffy and Miroslav Satan.
Where it gets interesting for Slovakia is with its younger players. Will the country's federation select exciting young players Marko Dano, Tomas Jurco and Tomas Tatar to help get a new generation of talent some Olympic experience? Or will the roster be filled out with veterans playing in Europe?
There are a couple of other quality NHL defensemen to supplement Chara, notably Andrej Meszaros and Andrej Sekera. But this team likely will go as far as Chara and Halak can carry it -- and it went further than most people expected in 2010.
Here are the projected rosters for Slovakia:
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