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World Cup Preview: Team Slovakia

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs
A veteran with Leafs TV, you can watch Paul Johnson on various shows on the network including his work on Leafs Today, Rivals and much more.
July 15, 2004

For Team Slovakia, the inaugural World Cup of Hockey, wasn't very fun.

The Slovaks went winless, losing all three of their games, and in the process scored only nine goals compared to the 19 they gave up.

They opened the tournament with a 7-4 loss to Russia, followed that up with a hard fought 3-2 loss to Team Canada and got blasted in their final game 9-2 by the eventual champions from the US. While the '96 roster had a number of very good players like Peter Bondra, Pavol Demitra and Ziggy Palffy, the rest of the team was made up of club players out of Europe and none of their goalies had NHL experience.

For this year's tournament however, that won't be the case - sort of. While the Slovak goalies still have very little "NHL" experience, two of them, Peter Budaj, and Rastislav Stana, do have experience on the smaller ice surface. But the biggest difference this time around is the fact that most of Slovakia's forwards and defencemen are not only NHLers, but some of them are among the league's elite.

Chara will be the anchor of the Slovak's blueline.
(Getty Images/NHLI)
When looking at the Team Slovakia roster, you might as well start at the top of the mountain ... or in this case - the mountain itself.

At 6-foot-9 and 260 pounds, Zdeno Chara is not only the biggest player on the team, hes the biggest player in the NHL and as you might expect, he's an imposing figure for opposing forwards. In case you need proof, just look at the stats ... a +33 rating, 16 goals, 25 assists and 147 penalty minutes in 79 regular season games with the Senators this past season. On top of that, he was a finalist for the Norris Trophy as the league's top defenceman.

Up front, the Slovaks can lay claim to some of the most exciting and gifted goal scorers in the NHL and topping that list is Marian Hossa.

Ottawa's 1st pick in the 1997 draft has been a model of consistency over the past four seasons, playing in at least 80 games and scoring 30 or more goals each of those years. Add to that at least 80 points and double-digits in power-play goals in each of his last two seasons and Hossa has earned his reputation as one of the league's elite.

Joining him in that class is one Zigmund Palffy. Palffy though has been doing it for a few more years and is showing no signs of slowing down. Palffy is an eight-time 20-goal scorer, a six-time 30-goal man, and three times has netted more than 40 in a season.

Adding to Palffy's overall package is his tremendous defensive awareness. Considering how much ice time he gets in so many different situations, his +85 rating over the last five seasons is remarkable. But, on this team he will have one purpose - and that's putting the puck in the net.

Add to that group the likes of Miroslav Satan and Pavel Demitra who have each scored at least 20 goals in seven-straight seasons, Richard Zednik who has 79 goals over his last three NHL seasons, and Michal Hadzus who has posted double-digits in goals in five of his seven years in the league, and you have the makings of a formidable offence.

And then there's Marian Gaborik. Gaborik could very well be the wild card on this Slovak squad mostly because he's eager to prove that this past season was not a 'Gaborik-type' year.

After posting consecutive 30-goal seasons, Gaborik held out for a better contract and missed training camp along with the first month of the season before finally agreeing to terms. He played in 65 games but only scored 18 goals, and was not the electrifying talent fans had seen in the two previous years. If he's got something to prove, he could be a very dangerous weapon for the Slovakian squad.

While a potent offence will carry you far, the holes that Slovakia has on defence and in net will likely be their demise. It won't matter how many goals they score if they can't keep the puck out of their own net. There is far too much OVERALL talent on the Big-4 teams in this tournament ... and that will likely spell another early exit for the Slovaks.
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