BRATISLAVA – The ghost of the home ice curse didn’t show up for the 2011 World Championship opening night. Slovakia beat Slovenia 3-1 on a night that began with a silent moment for Japan and ended in a loud roar of the Slovak fans.
Miroslav Satan scored one, Peter Podhradsky got the game winner, and Jaroslav Halak made 15 saves for Slovakia.
"It’s special to have the tournament in Slovakia. We knew it was going to be a tight, nervous game, and that’s what happened," said Halak.
"The first half of the game, we didn’t manage to score a goal. Their goalie played really well. We needed get someone in front of the net to screen him and get some rebounds," he added.
Robert Kristan made 42 saves in the Slovenian goal.
"From the beginning, it was a tough start. They have a lot of stars on their team. We came out pretty strong. We had some good puck control the whole 60 minutes, and I was comfortable in the net, seeing all the pucks. The difference was pretty small. I’m pretty satisfied about today’s game," he said.
It was wild, it was crazy, and the pace was breath-taking. And that was just the fans. The sold out arena was all red and blue and white, and maybe that helped Slovenia, too. There’s was nothing slow in the game between Slovakia and Slovenia.
It’s not often Slovakia hits the ice as a formidable hockey superpower, compared to the opponent, but when they faced Slovenia, a country with just 155 active male senior players, it was more than a favorite to win.
Slovenia had scored 62 World Championship goals, in total, in its history. Just Slovakia’s top line with Josef Stumpel, Pavol Demitra, and Marian Gaborik, plus Miroslav Satan, had scored 57 goals in World Championships before tonight’s game.
But as often is the case, the underdog seemed to enjoy the situation.
Slovenia didn’t come to Bratislava to lose, even if the home team controlled the game and outshot Slovenia 31-13 in the first two periods. Gaborik had several chances, including a breakaway, but he couldn’t beat Robert Kristan in the Slovenian goal. Slovakia, cheered on by the home crowd, pushed hard to get the go-ahead goal, while Slovenia stayed patient and waited for their chances.
They got one in the second period when Ales Kranjc skated through the neutral zone, and kept on going into the Slovak zone, and then just as easily went around two Slovak defencemen ,then cut to the front of the net and sent the puck to the net through Halak’s five-hole.
"We didn’t give too much respect to their players. We saw the German game and how they beat the Russians. You can play against anybody: as soon as the puck drops. I have to congratulate our guys. They played tough. We have young guys in their first World Championship. They played pretty well," Kristan said.
Miroslav Satan, who only played six games with Dynamo Moscow in the KHL season, stepped up in the second period. He worked his way to the slot, and fired one of his famous wrist shots, beating Kristan high on the stick side.
With 12:57 remaining in the third period, Peter Podhradsky sent the crowd into a frenzy when his slapshot from the blueline beat Kristan, and gave Slovakia a 2-1 lead in the game.
"You just have to play a patient game against an opponent like that and wait for their mistakes. Now everybody can play hockey. They can skate, they can pass. I think we had a lot of opportunities on our power play, but their goalie played very well," said Slovak defenceman Milan Jurcina.
Slovenia pushed Slovakia to their heels in the last minute, when they played with skaters, but with less than 15 seconds remaining in the game, Lubos Bartecko blocked a shot, and followed the puck the neutral zone and sent it in the empty Slovenian net for 3-1.
"A game like this gets you thinking. It’ll get us prepared for our game against Germany. That’s not going to be easy," Jurcina said.