BRATISLAVA – Ever since the “Velvet Divorce” of 1993, in which the Czech Republic and Slovakia became separate countries, international hockey has witnessed a vibrant rivalry.
Czech Republic vs. Slovakia doesn’t boast the longstanding historical enmity of Canada against the Russians/Soviets, nor is it as all-out physical and nasty as Canada-USA can get. It’s also a tad friendlier and less tinged with bitterness than Sweden-Finland.
But nonetheless, it produces some great, heartfelt, skillful, and tactical hockey.
What differentiates the hockey styles of these two linguistically and culturally similar neighbours? The Czechs traditionally bring better goaltending (see Dominik Hasek and Tomas Vokoun) and defensive structure. While Czech depth at forward is also usually superior, the Slovaks have made up for this in the past with some very passionate and skillful attackers (see Peter Stastny, Peter Bondra, and Miroslav Satan).
Both countries have suffered from diminished resources for sports culture in the post-Iron Curtain era, as well as losing young players to the North American junior ranks. So Friday's Qualification Round confrontation is a chance to spotlight what they've still got.
The teams have faced each other a grand total of 11 times so far at the IIHF World Championship, and the Czechs have dominated, winning eight games, tying once, and losing twice.
The most important single meeting was the 2000 gold medal game in St. Petersburg, Russia, where the Czechs won 5-3 on Jan Tomajko’s 4-1 goal. Slovakia fared better against its rival in Helsinki, Finland in 2003, when it prevailed 4-2 in the bronze medal game.
In the Olympics, the Czechs have never lost in three meetings. Their most important win came in 2006 in the quarter-finals, where Slovakia’s perfect 5-0 record in Preliminary Round play went to waste after a 3-1 Czech victory.
At the last World Championship meeting between these sides, there was a result the Slovaks would rather forget: an 8-0 Czech win.
As the defending world champion, the Czech Republic may well still come out on top on Friday, but with Slovakia’s stacked roster, the gap won’t be nearly that big regardless of who wins.