Defenseman Andrej Sekera hasn’t let the disappointment of missing the playoffs in Buffalo hamper his play at the IIHF World Championship. The 25-year-old Sekera posted seven points (2+5) in seven preliminary round games for Slovakia, as they finished with a 5-2-0 record. They will now prepare for a quarterfinal matchup with the first-place Canadians on Thursday. [Game time is 6 a.m. ET at the Hartwall Areena in Finland, and it can be seen live on the NBC Sports Network (USA) and TSN (Canada).]
Sekera’s seven points are tied for the Slovakian team lead with Branko Radivojevic, while also placing him third overall in defenseman scoring in the tournament - four behind Canada’s Duncan Keith. Sekera had three assists in yesterday’s 5-4 win over France, and was chosen as Slovakia’s player of the game with two points (1+1) in their 5-1 victory over Belarus on Saturday. He has averaged almost 19 minutes of ice time per game on a blueline that also includes NHL superstar Zdeno Chara.
As he gets ready for Thursday’s playoff game, Sekera answered some questions via email from Kevin Snow of Sabres.com:
After playing a long NHL season, did you even to hesitate to play when asked?
No, never. If the season is over early or before the Worlds, it’s a disappointment. But it is what it is, and every time if I get a chance to play for my country I’ll go without any regrets
What can you learn by playing alongside someone like Zdeno Chara?
Playing with guys like Chara and Michal Handzus can teach you a lot. Especially how calm they are in every situation, and the patience they play with no matter what the score is.
Do you feel more pressure playing for your country, or is this a more relaxed setting compared to NHL?
It’s definitely more fun in Worlds than playing in the season. It’s a different style and also different group of guys. But the hockey is more fun here because it’s such a short time.
Was there an adjustment process going from the NHL rinks to the international-sized ice surface?
The rinks are bigger and wider, so there was an adjustment in first couple of games and practices. But after a week I was ok with it. It just takes some time but now its fine.
What teams have surprised you so far – if any?
The biggest surprise was France; they had a really good team. They had beaten Switzerland and Belarus, which was surprising. But after we played them, then I realized why they had won those games because they actually had a really good team.
This tournament doesn’t get much media attention in North America- how important is it in Slovakia?
The Worlds in Europe is like the Stanley Cup in the United States; it’s a huge event over here. All the countries leagues are done, and this is the final tournament for them. It’s very big here, especially for the people in Slovakia that are diehard fans for hockey – way different than in the US!