BRATISLAVA – The happiest way for Slovak fans to look at their current situation is this: their national team has a chance to make some never-to-be-repeated history on home ice.
Since the current tournament format was instituted in 2000, no team has ever gone on to win the gold medal after losing two games in the Preliminary Round. This format will be replaced in 2012 with two round-robin groups of eight teams that play seven games apiece to decide qualification for the elimination games.
In Bratislava thus far, the Slovaks have dropped 4-3 decisions to Germany and Russia respectively. Can they defy the odds, make it through the Qualifying Round and the quarter-finals, and take the gold?
Even if the answer is no, Pavol Demitra, Marian Hossa, and Jaroslav Halak could still play for medals on May 15, the final day of competition. But precedents for this are exceedingly rare.
The Canadians beat Japan but suffered losses to the Czech Republic and Norway in the Preliminary Round in 2000. Nonetheless, they made it to the bronze medal game, but lost 2-1 to Finland. This is the only case where a team has made it that far while carrying over zero Preliminary Round points.
The United States didn’t lose twice in the 2004 Preliminary Round, but did finish third in their group, registering a win over Ukraine, a tie with Slovakia, and a loss to Finland under the old points system. The Americans only carried over one point from the Slovakia game. That didn’t stop them from ultimately snaring bronze with a 1-0 shootout win over Slovakia, courtesy of shifty defenceman Andy Roach.
There is another interesting case to consider.
In 2008, the Norwegians made the quarter-finals with a paltry four points. (Unsurprisingly, they fell 8-2 to the host Canadians in that game.)
Four points, say, isn’t out of reach for Slovakia. But in order for a low total to be sufficient, they’ll need help from other teams.
For instance, it would be good for Slovakia if Latvia sent Denmark to the Relegation Round and the Czechs beat Finland in regulation time. The Latvians would then only enter the Qualifying Round with one point (from their 3-2 shootout loss to Finland), and the Finns would only carry over two points (from that win over Latvia).
The opening Qualifying Round standings for Slovakia’s group would then look like this. Which would create a little hope of advancing for the host team.
Czech Republic 6
But right now, the Slovaks are better-advised to focus on winning every game they play in regulation, rather than doing math.