Slovaks end on winning note

Demitra says farewell, Danes finish eleventh

09-05-11
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Ondrej Nepela Arena Bratislava  Slovakia
Slovak captain Pavol Demitra salutes the crowd after playing his last national team game. Photo: Matthew Manor / HHOF-IIHF Images

BRATISLAVA – Playing only for placement and pride, host Slovakia beat Denmark 4-1 Monday afternoon at Orange Arena to end the tournament for both teams. Neither side was in contention for the quarter-finals.

Slovakia – Denmark 4-1 (2-1, 0-0, 2-0) Game Sheet Photos

Slovakia finishes either ninth or tenth, depending on the result between Switzerland and the United States. It’s a slight improvement over last year’s inaugural outing under coach Glen Hanlon, when they came 12th.

It was just Slovakia’s second win of the tournament after opening with a 3-1 decision against Slovenia. Nonetheless, the capacity crowd gave the team repeated, extended ovations after the game was over.

"It was tough to get ready," said Slovakia's Michal Handzus. "You’re not playing for a medal. You’re done with the tournament. But our fans were great. They’re the best fans in the world, and they showed it today."

Captain Pavol Demitra confirmed after the game that this would be his last national team game with Slovakia. The 36-year-old star will continue to play at least one more season with the KHL's Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, however.

"For me and everybody, it was very emotional," said Demitra of the post-game cheers. "You’re going to remember it the rest of your life."

“I don’t want to close the door to any of these players,” head coach Glen Hanlon said when asked about retiring veterans. “Pavol Demitra, Miro Satan and these players are always invited back to our team. They (Demitra, Satan) are the greatest players ever in Slovak hockey and I wished they could be forever young. Today was a great example of the character of these players and the passion they have for the country and for the team.”

“There will be changes and that’s the cycle of life. It’s a really exciting time for Slovak hockey. There are new players who will be the future for Slovak hockey.”

Miroslav Satan had a goal and an assist for Slovakia, and Jozef Stümpel, Marian Hossa and Richard Zednik also scored. Mads Christensen replied for Denmark.

Slovakia outshot the Danes by a wide margin, 43-18, and Slovak starting goalie Jaroslav Halak got the win versus Denmark’s Patrick Galbraith.

“I’m happy with our team and the way we played. We felt freer, we skated well, our goaltender played well and we could have even scored another four goals in the second period,” coach Hanlon said. “The fans supported our team in tough times. The arena was full and very loud today and this will be my best memory of the tournament. But it’s hard to see the enthusiasm of the fans and that we’re not involved anymore.”

Win or lose this day, nothing could mask the Slovaks’ disappointment. They didn’t break the fabled “home ice curse”, meaning no host team has won the Worlds since the 1986 Soviets. They didn’t capture a medal of any colour, extending a drought that goes back to 2003’s bronze. And without showing much heart or hustle, they fell short against all the top teams (Russia, Czech Republic, and Finland) they faced, not to mention Germany.

Looking at the host nation's future, the legacy forged by legendary Slovak stars like Vladimir Dzurilla, Peter Stastny, and Peter Bondra is in jeopardy, with a lack of young emerging talent.

The Danes finish eleventh. It’s a step back after coming eighth last year. But they were considered a longshot to crack the quarter-finals for the second time ever this year without key NHLers like Jannik Hansen (Vancouver), Frans Nielsen (New York Islanders), Lars Eller (Montreal), and Peter Regin (Ottawa).

"We’ve got to put everything in perspective, looking at the team we had here," said Christensen. "I think it’s all right what we did. It’s always a little disappointing, because once you’ve been there, you want to get there again. But we're still a small hockey country, and we’ve still got a lot to learn. Overall, it’s OK."

Denmark drew first blood at 4:09 when Mads Christensen got the puck from Mikkel Bodker in the neutral zone, danced past Slovakia’s Stefan Ruzicka, and rushed in solo to loft a nice backhand past Halak. That goal, his fourth, tied him for the team lead along with Nichlas Hardt.

Slovakia gave its long-suffering but faithful fans something to cheer about when it scored midway through the first period just after a Danish penalty expired. Milan Jurcina took a pass from Miroslav Satan, and Jurcina’s shot from the center point deflected in off Stümpel.

Satan gave the Slovaks a 2-1 lead with 4:08 left in the first, circling Galbraith’s cage and warding off a Danish defender as he tucked in a wraparound.

Galbraith was shaken up after taking a rising Martin Strbak slapper off his mask halfway through the second period, but he'd stay in the game. The Slovaks had some scoring chances, but their overall frustration was best symbolized by Satan’s getting into a wrestling match with Danish defenceman Jesper B. Jensen.

Marian Hossa made it 3-1 Slovakia just 32 seconds into the third period, rushing down left wing and squeezing a bad-angle shot through Galbraith’s pads.

The Danes had a chance to get back into it during a two-minute two-man advantage with Branko Radivojevic serving a double-minor for high-sticking and Jurcina off for interference, but they didn’t manage to click.

Zednik got the fourth Slovak goal at 10:05 on the rush, taking a Michal Handzus pass, firing from the right faceoff circle, and bouncing the puck in off a Danish defender.

The Slovaks haven’t cracked the quarter-finals at this tournament since Moscow 2007, where they placed sixth.

"I don’t think it’s about the coach," said Demitra about what might have gone wrong this year. "Nobody in our team can say we played well. Everybody tried so hard in front of our fans. Maybe sometimes the fans push you and make a few mistakes, like we did against Germany. The tournament is over and we can do nothing about it."

Meanwhile, Denmark is bidding against Ukraine and Russia to host the 2016 IIHF World Championship. The decision will be announced in Bratislava during the IIHF Annual Congress.

The next chance for both Slovakia and Denmark to climb back up the IIHF World Ranking will come at the 2012 IIHF World Championship, co-hosted by Finland and Sweden.

LUCAS AYKROYD

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