At the start of the 2016 IIHF World Championship in Russia, Andrej Sekera was more concerned with how to help his Slovakian team avoid demotion to the B Pool, but as the preliminary round comes to a close, they are a regulation win over the United States away from advancing to the quarter finals.
After two wins against Hungary and France to secure a spot in next year's tournament, Slovakia lost to Germany, Belarus, Canada and Finland. With many of their players in the NHL injured and some of the more experienced national team players retiring, the Slovaks have an uncharacteristically young and inexperienced team with eight players under 25, but Sekera is relishing the opportunity to help this team prepare for future success as captain of this year's team.
"I always want to play for my country. It's an opportunity to represent yourself, your family and where you come from, so you always want to put your best effort into every game and try to win as many as you can," said the veteran defenceman. "Plus, you get the chance to experience some pretty nice cities."
Slovakian Head Coach Zdeno Ciger is grateful to have his leadership in the locker room.
"It must be really hard for him as the captain to lead a young team like this, but he's doing a good job," he explained. "We have young guys that are not experienced and he does a lot to help them and talk to them and show them how to get motivated and be a professional so they can learn how you should play, but the best is when he shows it on the ice."
With three goals in six games, Sekera leads the team in goals and is second in points with four.
"He scores big goals for us and he's definitely our best player," said longtime national teammate Andrej Meszaros. "He's really positive in the locker room and teaching the young guys what to do. He's doing a good job communicating with the group, which really helps. He's not just a silent leader who does things on the ice."
As Slovakia aims for a spot in the quarter finals, their focus on this year's tournament has been all about gaining experience for their younger players and Sekera plays a big part in that.
|Photo by IIHF Images |
"Our team is pretty good, but we're not a favourite and we know where we stand," he explained. "Especially with no NHL players in a competition like this, it's pretty tough. All the players with international experience are either hurt or retiring and we just have a lot of young guys that have to come up and get their experience now. It's growing pains and transition, but I think it will be better in a couple of years because they had this experience."
Said Ciger of his captain: "We need guys like Andrej. We knew we needed to make a change and bring the young guys, but we knew we couldn't have only young guys. So we were happy he was able and wanting to play. He is a big help on the ice and in the locker room, a great leader for our team."
Slovakia plays USA on the final day of preliminary competition at 3:15 a.m. MDT. Slovakia needs a regulation win to advance to the quarter finals on Thursday.