After winning World Championships gold in 2002 and bronze in 2003, Slovakia’s national team has slid farther down in the standings over the past five years. At the 2008 World Championships, Slovakia finished 13th overall – their worst finish in top division play. The past is the present as Jan Filc, who presided over the golden years of Slovakian world championship hockey, returns as head coach. Still, Slovakia will be missing key elite players, including Marian Gaborik, owing to injury.
While Colorado Avalanche goaltender Peter Budaj declined an invitation, Jaroslav Halak, fresh off playoff disappointment with the Montreal Canadiens, is in. Jan Lasak has been a member of Slovakia since 2000 through its best days- including a 2002 World Championship gold medal- throughout some lean times. Lasak has only missed one World Championship tournament since 2000; and that was 2007 in Moscow. Lasak’s best efforts on behalf of Slovakia came at the 2002 World Championships in Sweden where his 2.28 goals against average and .921 save percentage were good enough to lead Slovakia to gold.
Former New York Rangers prospect Ivan Baranka makes his debut with the national team as does Boris Valabik. Valabik, an Atlanta Thrashers prospect, is a big man who plays it tough and will be likely used as a shut down defender against skill players in the tournament. Andrej Sekera, who was +3 in his debut last spring, returns. Dominik Granak has been on the national tam since 2004. In 35 total games, he has three assists. Peter Smrek, who was last on the gold medal winning team, will be part of the defense. HC Ceske Budejovice stalwart Rene Vydareny, HC Litvinov’s Ivan Svarny, and Lulea’s Jaroslav Obsut round out the roster. Obsut, an impressive offensive contributor with Lulea, has yet to register a point with the national team in his previous participation at the World Championship, World Cup, and Olympics.
Stefan Ruzicka will make his IIHF World Championship debut. Ruzicka enjoyed a productive season with Spartak Moscow where he scored 18 goals and 36 points in 55 games. Ruzicka was a third round draft choice of the Philadelphia Flyers in 2003. After a four-year absence, Michal Handzus returns. He was a pivotal member of the gold medal winning team in 2002 and again in 2005. Slovakia has experience upfront as well with Ladislav Nagy and Lubos Bartecko. Nagy has 15 points in 22 World Championship games. He scored four goals and eight points in the 2003 tournament. Marcel Hossa will suit up for Slovakia. After leaving the NHL, Hossa settled into the KHL with Dinamo Riga. He put up 22 goals and 45 points with the team. Milan Bartovic, who played well at the 2006 tournament in Riga, Latvia, is back. These players will be among those to watch when Slovakia needs timely scoring.
In an effort to rebuild and create a fresh start with the national team, Slovakia officials have turned to the past. Jan Filc, the man who led Slovakia to its extraordinary top division success, has been brought back as head coach. Filc led Slovakia from 1999-2002, including leading his side to the gold in his last turn behind the bench. During his first tenure, Filc has been able to get a lot from his squads, even if they were lacking high skilled players in certain areas.
Reaching back to the past does not ensure future success. However, Filc will work within the strengths as well as the limitations of his team to steer them into the round of eight. But there are no guarantees whether this team can carry that task out.