So far, the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship has been tough on the Slovak team, as they have battled both illness and tough breaks against them.
After six games, they have a mere seven points. Now, they are looking ahead to a must-win battle with Denmark, Monday evening in the Chizhovka Arena.
Anyone who has followed Group A of this tournament has probably felt the excitement from the upsets that has left four teams in contention for the last two quarter-final spots, with only two days left of the preliminary round.
“I think it's really close, everybody's got a chance,” said Slovakia’s veteran winger Ladislav Nagy following the convincing 4-1 win over Italy. ”There has been lots of surprising results in our group, but I think we have a good chance to through to the next round.”
For Slovakia, it’s been a tough road so far, losing to the Czechs in overtime after Jaromir Jagr tied it with only two minutes remaining and blowing a two-goal lead to France in the next game. But in the last three games, the offence has started coming alive, as Slovakia beat Norway 5-2 and got a 4-1 win against Italy after outshooting their opponents 53-20.
“We have to play like [we did against Italy] in the next game,” said Nagy. ”We’ll just keep pressuring them and have fun, and I'll think we'll be okay.”
Sandwiched between the two games was a 3-1 loss to Sweden.
”It was a strange game. Half the team was sick,” explained Nagy, who is Slovakia’s leading scorer with four goals in the tournament so far.” I had a temperature and a sore throat and so on. But after the game, we got some medication and started feeling better and [for the game against Italy] we got some of our legs back. Some of the guys are still sick, but are a lot healthier now and we still have some time before the game versus Denmark.”
Even though Slovakia has been struggling to get the results they want so far in the tournament, you could argue that it’s been some tough breaks along the way. In the overtime loss to the Czech Republic, they had the lead until Jaromir Jagr tied it with two minutes to go. In the next game versus France, they blew a 3-1 lead and surrendered Damien Fleury’s winning goal with less than four minutes to go.
But that’s hockey. And given the strong play by the French team, the Danish upset versus the Czech Republic and the peskiness of the Norwegians, it’s really anyone’s guess which two teams will follow Sweden and Canada into the quarter-finals.
Something we can be sure of, however, is that Slovakia is once again the underdog that no team wants to face.