Slovakia has medaled three times during the last eight years at the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championship -- including a gold medal in 2002.
On top of that, you might recall that during the 2006 Winter Olympics, Slovakia posted a 5-1 mark, defeating Russia, the United States and eventual gold-medalist Sweden in pool play before losing to the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals. The country has produced a multitude of big, physical NHL defensemen over the years, and this season was no exception.
Here's a look at NHL.com's choices of the top 10 Slovaks in the game today. As a side note, forward Miroslav Satan
does not appear on the list since he remains an unrestricted free agent.
1. Zdeno Chara, D, Boston
-- Chara, the two-time winner of the NHL's Hardest Shot competition, was sixth in the League in average ice time (26:04), second on the Bruins in hits (169) and finished with a career-high 19 goals, 31 assists and a plus-23 rating in 2008-09. He became the third Bruin to capture the Norris Trophy -- joining Hall of Famers Ray Bourque
and Bobby Orr
2. Marian Hossa, F, Chicago
-- Recent surgery to repair a small tear in his right rotator cuff certainly won't keep him off the Slovak Olympic roster. Hossa led his countrymen in goals (40), points (71), shots (307) and plus/minus rating (plus-27) with Detroit last season. He has 719 points in 775 career games during his 11 NHL seasons.
3. Marian Gaborik, F, New York Rangers
-- The two-time NHL All-Star has reached 30 goals in five of his eight seasons, including a 42-goal performance in 2007-08. He skated in 502 regular-season games in Minnesota, registering 219 goals and 437 points, before signing with the Rangers this summer. Gaborik made his Olympic debut in 2006, scoring 3 goals and 7 points in six games.
4. Pavol Demitra, F, Vancouver
-- In his first season with the Canucks, in 2008-09, he had 20 goals and 53 points -- his seventh straight season of at least 50 points. It also marked the 10th time in the last 11 seasons Demitra scored at least 20 goals.
5. Michal Handzus, F, Los Angeles
-- The 6-foot-4, 218-pound center not only finished fourth among Slovakian scorers with 18 goals and 42 points last season, but he was first in faceoff winning percentage, (54.5, on 1,320 attempts), tied for second in takeaways (28), fifth in hits (75), and sixth in blocked shots (69).
6. Lubomir Visnovsky, D, Edmonton
-- A dislocated shoulder limited him to 50 games in 2008-09, but he still produced at least 30 points for the fourth straight season. Visnovsky, who was voted the best player in Slovakia during the NHL work stoppage in 2004-05, is a key contributor to the Oilers' power play and a veteran of three Olympics.
7. Andrej Meszaros, D, Tampa Bay
-- He was second among Slovakian players in average ice time per game (24:10) and amassed 68 hits and 98 blocked shots. Prior to last season, his first season with the Lightning, Meszaros hadn't missed a game in his first three NHL seasons. He had 16 points in 52 games in 2008-09.
8. Milan Jurcina, D, Washington
-- Jurcina appeared in a career-high 79 games last season and set personal highs in assists (11) and points (14). He was first on the Caps and among Slovaks with 131 blocked shots and second with 157 hits.
9. Marek Svatos, F, Colorado
-- The 27-year-old, a top-six forward with the Avalanche, has registered at least 30 points in his four NHL seasons. He had a career-high 32 goals and 50 points as a rookie in 2005-06; he had 14 goals and 34 points last season. Svatos also played in the '06 Olympics.
10. Jaroslav Halak, G, Montreal
-- The 271st pick in the 2003 Entry Draft took over as the backup to Carey Price
following the trade of Cristobal Huet
. He went 18-14-1 with a 2.86 goals-against average and .915 save percentage in 34 games last season, and played for Slovakia at the 2007 World Championships.
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com