HELSINKI – Miroslav Satan has tasted success everywhere from the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship to the Stanley Cup final. Based on his opening game against France, the 38-year-old Slovak legend is hungry for more.
Satan scored his team’s fifth goal in a 6-2 romp over Les Bleus, launching a vintage blast from the right faceoff circle that flew past Cristobal Huet’s blocker.
“All in all, we got the result,” said Satan afterwards. “There are some things that we need to improve for tomorrow, because obviously we’re going to play a much better team [in Finland].”
Satan was relatively pleased with the way his line clicked with fellow veteran Jozef Stümpel and second-year Worlds participant Libor Hudacek.
“I think we created a lot of things,” said Satan. “Myself, I probably could have had two more goals. I had a lot of chances today. But our team scored enough goals today. Hopefully we saved something for other games.”
The crafty, Topolcany-born winger is now up to 36 career World Championship goals. He debuted in 1996, but didn’t light the red lamp until 2000, when his 10 markers led the tournament and lifted Slovakia to its first World Championship medal (silver).
He wore the “C” at that tournament in St. Petersburg, Russia, and he’s captaining Slovakia again at his 11th IIHF World Championship. Even at 38, he still looks precise and relentless out there, the kind of guy you want to have on a breakaway or penalty shot.
“Veteran guys like Satan and Jozef Stümpel are leaders off the ice too,” said Slovak defenceman Milan Jurcina. “They know what to say in the dressing room. We’re happy to have them on the team.”
Satan is also the captain of Slovan Bratislava, which entered the KHL this season. Even though the club was swept out of the playoffs by Dynamo Moscow, the eventual Gagarin Cup champion, it was a positive debut overall.
Eight members of Slovan Bratislava are representing Slovakia at these Worlds, including players as diverse as Roman Kukumberg, Mario Bliznak, and Vladimir Mihalik.
“When guys have played together the whole year, they know one another and they feel comfortable when they’re on the same line,” Satan said. “The national team benefits from that.”
Expectations for the Slovaks are higher than last year after their Cinderella run to the finals, where they fell 6-2 to powerhouse Russia. Interestingly, that run almost didn’t happen because they squeaked into the quarter-finals. Branko Radivojevic scored with 10 minutes to go to lift Slovakia to a 5-4 victory over – guess who? – France.
“Last year we had a very nervous game against France,” admitted Satan. “This year, we wanted to play well throughout the game, and not let things happen. After controlling the game 3-0, we were feeling pretty safe that we could handle the end of the game.”
That’s the voice of experience, the voice of a man who finally got to taste Stanley Cup champagne with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009. Satan might be a long shot to join the Triple Gold Club – that would require the Slovaks to win the 2014 Olympics – but you know he’ll be there in Sochi.
After all, he’s bounced back from a devastating Zdeno Chara hit that injured his neck in a Slovan Bratislava vs. Lev Prague clash during the NHL lockout.
In the meantime, Satan has business to take care of here in Helsinki.
His last big win culminated in him eating slivkove gule, a traditional Slovak dumpling with fruit, out of the Stanley Cup. Slovak fans hope he’ll get a chance to sip something intoxicating out of the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship trophy in Stockholm on May 19, as he did in Gothenburg in 2002 when Slovakia captured its lone world title.
“We’ve started with the win everybody was expecting,” said Satan. “So we’ll see how we manage to play against better teams.”