Slovakia's version of the Extraliga has had a tightly-packed schedule this season compared with most of the other top pro leagues in Europe. Every club has played 36 or 37 regular-season games so far, with HC Kosice easily pacing the field so far. Following is a look at some of the key developments in the top Slovak league so far this season.
Satan sparks Slovan -- Earlier this season, longtime NHL star Miroslav Satan signed the first of a series of weekly contracts with HC Slovan Bratislava. The 36-year-old forward played two games in September, one in October and five so far in December. In his eight games, the high-scoring veteran has shown that his smooth touch around the net hasn't left him. He has 10 goals and 15 points, including a goal and an assist against Bystrica in his most recent game.
"I will see what happens," Satan told his team's website. "I had not played at home in Slovakia since the NHL lockout (2004-05), but I am comfortable here."
Juniors undergo trial by fire -- For the last several years, the Slovak Ice Hockey Federation has assembled a national Under-20 team (currently called HK Orange 20) to play a slate of games in the Extraliga in preparation for the World Junior Championship. With the exception of players added from Canadian junior teams just before the WJC or players who have made Extraliga senior rosters, this squad forms the crux of the roster that will represent Slovakia at the tournament. The 2011 WJC runs Dec. 26 through Jan. 5, 2011, in Buffalo.
So far, the program has yielded modest signs of progress. The objective never has been to win against the established pros of the Extraliga. Rather, the goal is to have a more cohesive and unified team at the WJC. With the slow-but-steady downturn of talent being produced in Slovakia (and the Czech Republic) during the past decade, the Slovak junior teams have not been in the WJC medal hunt. However, more recent entries generally have put in more competitive showings than their predecessors.
As usual, the kid squad has been man-handled by its Extraliga opponents. In 20 games, the team is winless, gaining its lone point after taking HKM Zvolen (the fourth-place team in the league) to a shootout Nov. 25. HK Orange 20 has scored 25 goals while allowing 95.
Left wing Michael Vandas, 19, has been the top performer for HK Orange 20, with 6 goals and 9 points in 17 games, including 4 points in five games in November. Vandas, a product of the HK Poprad system, previously played in North America, dressing last season for the NAHL's Topeka Roadrunners. His linemate, center Andrej Stastny, has 2 goals and 8 points in 14 games. At 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, Stastny has the physical maturity to be able to compete against grown men. Last season, Stastny had 15 points playing for HK Orange 20.
HC Kosice runs away from the pack -- Few clubs have had any answers when it comes to beating HC Kosice so far this season. With 89 points, the first-place club has opened a 16-point cushion on its closest pursuer, HC Poprad. Kosice not only has by far the most potent offense in the league (138 goals scored, 20 more than Poprad and Bystrica, who are tied for second), they also have allowed the fewest goals per game.
Opponents have scored just 67 goals this season, and the club has registered seven shutouts. Starting goalie Julius Hudacek has a stellar 1.85 goals-against average and .938 save percentage in 27 starts. Backup Tomas Halasz (10 starts) has posted a 1.59 GAA and .941 save percentage. Hudacek has been credited with four of the shutouts, while Halasz has posted three.