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Chara, Gaborik, Hossa highlight Slovakian roster

by Dave Lozo
Marian Hossa of the Chicago Blackhawks, Marian Gaborik of the New York Rangers and Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins are the big names headlining Slovakia's entry into the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver after the country announced its roster Tuesday morning.

Slovakia GM Peter Bondra has selected 13 forwards, 7 defensemen and 3 goaltenders for coach Jan Filc's team. Of the 23, 12 are currently on NHL rosters.

Aside from the big three, other NHL players who were part of Slovakia's 2006 roster who are returning to the team for the 2010 Games include center Pavol Demitra of the Vancouver Canucks, defenseman Milan Jurcina of the Columbus Blue Jackets (acquired from the Washington Capitals on Monday), defenseman Andrej Meszaros of the Tampa Bay Lightning and goaltender Peter Budaj of the Colorado Avalanche.

Miroslav Satan, who was with the 2006 team, is currently without a professional team but has earned a roster spot on the 2010 entry.

A slightly surprising omission is Avalanche right wing Marek Svatos, who was part of Slovakia's 2006 team and has a 30-goal season to his credit. But the 27-year-old has seen his goal totals dip from 26 in 2007-08 to 14 in 2008-09. This year he has just 6 goals in 34 games.

Bondra can still tinker with the roster up until Feb. 15, leaving open the possibility that someone like Svatos could be added to the team. Final rosters must be submitted to the IIHF that day and no changes, for any reason, can be made afterward.

Bondra also opted for Michal Handzus of the Los Angeles Kings, right wing Tomas Kopecky of the Chicago Blackhawks, defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky of the Edmonton Oilers, defenseman Andrej Sekera of the Buffalo Sabres and goaltender Jaroslav Halak of the Montreal Canadiens from his NortH American options.

Rounding out the roster are forwards Lubos Bartecko of SC Bern in Switzerland, Branko Radivojevic of Spartak Moscow in Russia, Marcel Hossa of Dinamo Riga in Russia, Ziggy Palffy of HK 36 Skalica in Slovakia, Jozef Stumpel of Barys Astana in Russia and Richard Zednik of Lokomotiv Yaroslavl in Russia; defensemen Richard Lintner of Dinamo Minsk in Russia, Martin Strbak of HK MVD in Russia, and goaltender Rastislav Stana of Severstal Cerepovic in Russia.

Only Stana, who was drafted by the Washington Capitals in 1998, lacks some sort of NHL experience.

This team will be trying to improve on a surprising, yet somewhat disappointing, fifth-place finish at the Turin Games in 2006.

The Slovaks came into the Torino Games in 2006 as an underdog, with their sixth-place finish in 1994 representing their best Olympic showing since forming following the breakup of Czechoslavakia in 1992. But the Slovaks stormed through pool play undefeated, knocking off Russia, the United States and Sweden -- the eventual gold-medal winner -- before falling to the Czechs 3-1 in the quarterfinals and missing out on a medal that began to seem like a possibility following pool play.

The most interesting aspect of the 2010 team could be between the pipes. The battle for the No. 1 goaltender spot between Halak and Budaj could continue right up until Slovakia's first game against the Czechs on Feb. 17.

Budaj played very well for Slovakia in 2006, posting a 2-1-0 record and a 2.01 goals-against average. His career in the NHL has been middling, however, since that performance. The 27-year-old has appeared in just 10 games for the Avalanche this season while serving as a backup for Craig Anderson. In his limited time, Budaj has been effective, with a 4-3-1 mark to go along with a 2.22 GAA and .927 save percentage.

Halak, 24, is caught in a similar situation. He had a strong 2008-09 season, winning 18 games in 34 appearances and delivering a 2.86 GAA and .915 save percentage while Carey Price struggled during his sophomore season with the Canadiens.

This season has been a different story. Halak has played well (10-6-0, 2.56, .924), but Price has seen the bulk of the playing time despite putting up less-impressive numbers than Halak.

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