Head coach Craig Ramsay continues his rebuilding job with Slovakia. After a tough time at the Olympics, the Slovaks are looking to the future and preparing a team to impress on home ice in 2019. In Copenhagen, it’s a relatively young roster – especially on defence – and an untried goaltending group, plus another David Bondra joining the forwards.
Of the three goalies who went to the Olympics, only Patrik Rybar returns for the Worlds. The 24-year-old did not see a second of ice time in PyeongChang but could be first choice here at his first World Championship. Long-serving Kometa Brno shotstopper Marek Ciliak, 28, is also coming to his first Worlds after helping his club win back-to-back Czech titles. Denis Godla, 23, completes the goaltending stable. He has spent the last three seasons playing in Finland, most recently with KalPa.
After going to last year’s tournament in Germany with no North American-based players, Slovakia calls up Andrej Sekera (Edmonton) and Christian Jaros (Belleville Senators, AHL) this time around. The experienced Sekera had a tough season, limited to just 36 appearances for the Oilers after suffering an ACL injury in the 2017 play-offs and undergoing surgery over the summer. On his return to action in December, he made a slow start but showed signs of regaining his form in the latter stages of the season. Jaros, 22, spent much of his first season in North America playing AHL hockey within the Senators organization. There are several familiar names: Dominik Granak is a Slovak stalwart on the blue line, fellow Olympians Michal Cajkovsky and Marek Daloga return in Copenhagen and Adam Jarosik is back after missing out in PyeongChang. Two youngsters get their first World Championship call: draft-eligible prospect Martin Fehervary, 18, gets a chance to impress; Pirati Chomutov’s 21-year-old Mario Grman is another World Championship rookie.
Peter Bondra was a bona fide Slovak hockey great – and this month sees his son David follow in his footsteps and play at his first IIHF World Championship. The HK Poprad player has spent the last two seasons playing in the Slovak league after four seasons of NCAA hockey with Michigan State. He’s one of three World Championship debutants from the Poprad club, with David Buc (31) and Patrik Svitana (29) also getting call-ups. There are plenty of returnees from the Olympics: Martin Bakos, Lukas Cingel, Tomas Marcinko, Marcel Hascak, Andrej Kudrna, Marek Hovorna and the veteran Ladislav Nagy are all back. The sole Trans-Atlantic arrival up front is Tomas Jurco, back with the national team for the first time since 2016 after a season divided between Chicago Blackhawks and Rockford Ice Dogs.
Craig Ramsay, veteran of 1,000 NHL games for Buffalo, was hired to take charge of Slovakia for this season’s Olympic and World Championship campaigns. He arrived promising a new approach for the team and began with a sensational 3-2 comeback victory over the Olympics Athletes from Russia in PyeongChang. However, that has proved to be a rare highlight: Slovakia made little further impact in Korea and its results in last month’s warm-up games were solid rather than spectacular. Changing the fortunes of Slovak hockey is taking time, but Ramsay is determined to introduce new belief and courage into his team at this championship.
Recent tournaments have not been kind to Slovakia. In Cologne last year the team was embroiled in a relegation battle and this year’s Olympics brought that memorable victory over the Russians but nothing else to cheer. This time, though, things could be a little better. As the 2019 host nation, there’s no danger of relegation – something that should relieve some of the pressure on the team. Moreover, with Belarus in transition and both France and Austria likely to be focussing on avoiding the bottom spot, this group could easily turn into a two-way battle between Slovakia and Switzerland for the fourth QF spot behind Sweden, Russia and the Czechs. While the opening match-up with the Czech neighbours will be a matter of huge local pride, the Switzerland-Slovakia game on May 6 could be the pivotal event of the tournament for Ramsay and his team.