Defense and goaltending are expected to be Slovakia's strengths at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, with offense expected to be a premium.
After an injury to one of the players expected to be a key component in that offense, however, Slovakia will have to hope its contingent of European professionals are able to pick up the scoring slack.
Here's a look at what Slovakia's roster for the Sochi Olympics could look like:
|PROJECTED FORWARDS |
|Tomas Tatar ||Michael Handzus ||Marian Hossa |
|Michel Miklik ||Marko Dano ||Branko Radivojevic |
|Milan Bartovic ||Jozef Stumpfel ||Richard Panik |
|Marcel Hossa ||Tomas Kopecky ||Martin Bartek |
|Tomas Jurco ||Roman Tomanek || |
WHAT'S CHANGED: Marian Gaborik returned to the Columbus Blue Jackets' lineup Dec. 21 against the Philadelphia Flyers after missing six weeks with a knee injury, but his comeback lasted two periods as Gaborik sustained a broken collarbone in the first period against the Flyers, ending his hopes of playing in the Olympics.
It's impossible for Slovakia to replace Gaborik, a three-time 40-goal scorer and two-time Olympian. Instead they'll have to depend on players who have been high scorers in European leagues.
Michel Miklik, who was third on the team in scoring at the 2013 IIHF World Championship, has carried that strong play into the 2013-14 season with HC Slovan Bratislava in the Kontinental Hockey League, totaling 10 goals and 26 points in 36 games. His teammate, Milan Bartovic, also has been a key performer and captain in Bratislava and earned a spot on the team. Also playing his way onto the team was 27-year-old Roman Tomanek, a 2004 Phoenix Coyotes draft pick. Playing with HC Nitra this season, he is tied for the Slovakian league scoring lead with 28 points in 26 games and is second with 13 goals.
|PROJECTED DEFENSEMEN |
|Zdeno Chara ||Andrej Sekera |
|Dominik Granak ||Peter Podhradsky |
|Andrej Meszaros ||Martin Strbak |
|Branislav Mezei ||Martin Marincin |
WHAT'S CHANGED: The biggest change is the removal of Lubomir Visnovsky. The 37-year-old hasn't played since Oct. 19 because of a concussion and isn't close to returning to the New York Islanders' lineup. With the roster deadline looming and little chance of him recovering in time, it's a safe bet he'll miss out on a chance to play in his fifth Olympics. In his place likely will step another veteran, 38-year-old Martin Strbak, who has five points and a plus-10 rating in 25 games with HC Kosice in the Slovakian league.
Also playing their way onto the team are three KHL regulars. Branislav Mezei is the only one of the trio with NHL experience, 240 games in seven seasons with the Islanders and Florida Panthers. He'll bring a physical element; he has five points and 75 penalty minutes in 34 games with Vityaz Podolsk.
Peter Podhradsky and Dominik Granak have been offensive-minded pieces of Donbass Donetsk and Dynamo Moscow, respectively. Podhradsky also is a plus-16 in 38 games.
|PROJECTED GOALTENDERS |
|Jaroslav Halak ||Peter Budaj ||Jaroslav Janus |
WHAT'S CHANGED: The only question is who gets named as the third goaltender, the 24-year-old Jaroslav Janus or 33-year-old veteran Rastislav Stana, who was the starting goalie for Slovakia at the World Championship. It may be better to give the younger Janus a chance to experience Olympic-level play to prepare him for a chance in 2018.
Another option at forward for Slovakia is Rudolf Huna, who has 17 goals in 33 games with HC Vitkovice. Another possibility on defense could be Milan Jurcina, who has 430 games of NHL experience and currently plays for TPS in Finland's top league. Stana has a 2.33 goals-against average and .911 save percentage for CSKA Moscow in the KHL; he was that league's top goaltender last season.