BUFFALO – Germany made an impressive comeback after the opening-day defeat to Switzerland but still lost in overtime to Slovakia. Richard Panik was the man behind the 2-1 OT win.
It was an excellent game by two teams, who prior to the event were ranked fourth and fifth in Group A. After a tentative first period the game just got better and better and this carried over into the four-on-four five-minute overtime after teams had traded goals in regulation time.
The game was decided after Germany’s Thomas Brandl was called for a tripping penalty after 1:58 of OT. Slovakia scored the game winner at 3:39 when Richard Panik found Marek Hrivik with a perfect cross pass and Hrivik had basically an empty net for the 2-1 goal.
“I don’t count individual points, but this was important for the team and I am very happy,” said Richard Panik, who not only assisted on the OT-winner but also scored his team’s only goal in regulation.
Panik explains about the winning goal which gave Slovakia two vital points in their championship opener:
“I was on the ice for almost two minutes and I was tired when I got the puck. But I saw that Marek Hrivik went hard to the net and I just tried to hit him with the pass.”
If there ever was a tape-to-tape pass, this was it. Hrivik really only had to keep his stick on the ice to score. That Panik and Hrivik could connect shouldn’t come as a surprise.
“We have played together on various national youth teams since we were sixteen,” said Panik.
Despite the brave effort and one point, Germany will need a minor miracle in order to avoid the relegation round. After losses to the Swiss and Slovaks they have USA and Finland left to play in the preliminaries.
Nevertheless, this German junior edition reflects in an encouraging way the continuously improving quality of German hockey. Coach Ernst Höfner’s squad is not only industrious, but it has players who have both good skating ability and skill.
Germany should have gone to the first intermission with a lead, especially when Tom Kühnhackl was awarded a penalty shot after having been hooked on a short-handed breakaway by Peter Trska, with only 56 seconds left of the opening period.
Kühnhackl should probably have done better than the rather uninspired shot which Dominik Riecicky had little difficulties blocking.
The Slovaks got a boost from that and they took the lead only eight seconds into the middle stanza when Richard Panik scored on a three-on-two break, shooting into the near side of Philip Grubauer.
If there was anyone to lead the way for Slovakia it was Panik, the Belleville Bull who had six goals and two assists in last year’s World U20 Championship in Saskatoon.
But despite some impressive end-to-end rushes by the Slovak forwards it was Germany, which produced most of the pressure in the second period and the team more than deserved the equalizer at 16:46, when Norman Hauner jumped on a rebound after Corey Mapes’ shot from the point.
The Germans held a 34-17 advantage in shots after two periods and 48-39 in total. When was the last time a German national team had almost 50 shots against a quality opponent? One couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened had the Germans showed up for the first period against Switzerland last Sunday.
Both teams elevated their game in the third period which displayed furious and creative end-to-end hockey, with the teams trading chances on virtually every shift. Norman Hauner for Germany and Dalibor Bortnak for the Slovaks had the best chances, but both netminders, Riecicky and Grubauer, were spectacular.
If both those teams end up in the relegation group, then it’s abundantly clear that the level of junior hockey has increased rapidly in Europe.
It’s too early to tell, but Dominik Riecicky seems to have the potential to become the next great goalie to come out of Slovakia. A little bit ironic as goaltending was always considered as the weak position of almost any Slovak national team. But that was before Jaroslav Halak and later Jaroslav Janus came along.
Slovakia plays the U.S. on Tuesday, while Germany takes on Finland on Wednesday.