Photo courtesy of IIHF

OSTRAVA, Czechia -- Samuel Hlavaj didn't need a crash course as to who was standing behind the other bench Monday.

He's a quick study. He knew.

So when Slovakia upset Team USA in preliminary action at the 2024 IIHF World Championship in Czechia, it felt that much sweeter to know he just turned in an audition of a lifetime to the chagrin of, potentially, his future coach with the Minnesota Wild in John Hynes.

"I feel amazing. I'm not going to lie," Hlavaj said, flashing a smile from ear to ear.

"I know exactly who was the coach on the other side.

"It feels pretty f*ing good. It's pretty good.

"I feel like, not satisfied, but I feel pretty good about it."

At least one side did. 

Hynes, coaching the American entry at Worlds, probably didn't appreciate watching Hlavaj make nine saves in the first period, an additional 20 stops in the middle stanza, and eight in the third before closing the door on two Team USA chances in overtime, holding the fort down en route to a 5-4 overtime win for Slovakia on Monday.

"He was great," Slovak defenseman and New Jersey Devils blueliner Simon Nemec said. "I mean, their coach is from Minnesota, I think, and they signed him. He showed how good he is. He was really good. He was a really big part of our team today. It's always easier when your goalie's playing like that.

"He played one of the best games in his career, I think.

"He's still young. I hope he'll be in the NHL in two, three years."

In sum, the 22-year-old from Martin, SVK kicked aside 39 shots en route to an unlikely, perhaps, win with one of only four blemishes coming against Wild forward Matt Boldy.

A solid day at the office, for sure.

"He was so great to start, too, where every puck that he got, almost to a fault, he was firing up the ice and moving the puck quick," said coach Craig Ramsay, at the helm of Slovakia's men's national team program for the past seven seasons. "When he had to make the save he ate the pucks up. He wasn't leaving a lot of rebounds around. I thought his control around the next was excellent."

Not bad for a tender who has only been in the organization about a month.

Hlavaj just inked a two-year, entry-level contract starting with the 2024-25 season with the Wild on April 5 after another strong season playing in Europe.

The deal came after the 6-foot-4, 193-pound puck-stopper registered a 3.10 goals-against average and a .902 save percentage in 28 games with HC Škoda Plzeň of the Czech Extraliga this season, following up two seasons in Slovakia that saw him net a combined 2.47 goals-against mark, a .912 save percentage, and one shutout in 27 games.

"They came up with the contract," said Hlavaj, who as a 21-year-old logged a 2.22 goals-against average and .932 save percentage in three starts at the 2023 Worlds tournament.

"I was excited and happy that someone wanted to give me the opportunity so I went for it."

It was a well-earned pact signed in April.

A very well-earned 'w' delivered in May.

And one that has at least one coach behind the bench on Monday singing Hlavaj's praises.

"Yeah... (he's got) size, of course," said Ramsay, a veteran behind an NHL bench in 28 different seasons, and a Stanley Cup winner with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004. "But you saw him handle the puck tonight, good composure around the net, he doesn't get rattled. He's solid in the net. He gives everybody the feeling that it's going to be okay.

"That's important.

"He's got the willingness, the ability to be a top player."

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