In celebration of the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Bratislava and Kosice, here are 19 magical Slovak moments, listed in chronological order.
1) Trojak Gains Olympic Glory (1948)
Ladislav Trojak went from triumph to tragedy in 1947 and 1948. The first Slovak ever to play for the Czechoslovakian national team captured a gold medal at the 1947 IIHF World Championship in Prague. He earned an Olympic silver medal in St. Moritz, Switzerland the following year. However, this gifted skater died at age 34, along with five other members of the national team, in a plane crash over the English Channel on 8 November, 1948. Trojak was posthumously inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame in 2011.
2) Dzurilla Shines at First Canada Cup (1976)
The great Slovak goalie Vladimir Dzurilla left his mark on the IIHF World Championship record book with three gold medals, two silver medals, and three bronze medals – the fourth-best total in history among netminders. However, Dzurilla also shone in Game Two of the best-of-three 1976 Canada Cup final in Montreal. He replaced starter Jiri Holocek after the powerhouse host team, featuring Bobby Orr, Guy Lafleur, and other legends, grabbed an early 2-0 lead. Final shots favored Canada 39-25. Even though Darryl Sittler’s famous overtime goal gave the Canadians a 5-4 victory, Dzurilla’s heroics live on in international hockey lore.
3) Stastny Captures Calder Memorial Trophy (1981)
Even though Sweden’s Borje Salming had blazed a trail for European NHLers in the 1970’s, they still struggled to get respect. When Peter Stastny scored 39 goals and 109 points for the Quebec Nordiques in 1980-81 and won the Calder Memorial Trophy as the rookie of the year, it was another step in a positive direction. As hard-nosed as he was talented, the 24-year-old Slovak centre, who defected to escape Communism, set a rookie record with 70 assists that still stands (shared with Boston’s Joe Juneau, 1992-93). Demonstrating remarkable chemistry with his brother Anton, Stastny set another rookie record with four goals and eight points in an 11-7 win over the Washington Capitals.
4) Rusnak Scores Championship-Winner in Prague (1985)
Darius Rusnak was the first Slovak to captain the Czecholovakian national team, and the Ruzomberok-born forward proved his worth at the 1985 IIHF World Championship in Prague. In an era when the Soviet Union was expected to prevail every year, Czechoslovakia beat Canada 5-3 in the final medal round game and Rusnak got the gold-medal winner. The Slovan Bratislava stalwart also won silver at the 1982 and 1983 Worlds and the 1984 Olympics, but this was unquestionably his career highlight.
5) Stastny Hits 1,000 NHL Points (1989)
Scoring 1,000 points in the world’s best professional league is always an accomplishment, but the speed with which Peter Stastny got there boggles the imagination. The Bratislava native took just 682 games with the Nordiques to hit the mark, outpaced only by Wayne Gretzky of the Edmonton Oilers (424), Mario Lemieux of the Pittsburgh Penguins (513), and Mike Bossy of the New York Islanders (656). He was the first European-trained player to do it. Scant wonder that Stastny was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1998 and the IIHF Hall of Fame in 2000.
6) Slovaks Win First World Junior Medal (1999)
In their first three World Juniors, the Slovaks placed seventh (1996), sixth (1997), and ninth (1998). Nobody had huge expectations for the 1999 squad. But at this extraordinary tournament in Winnipeg, Manitoba, which attracted a then-record 173,453 spectators, the Slovaks came to play. Ladislav Nagy led the team with seven points and Marian Gaborik chipped in three goals. Sweden, headlined by the Sedin twins, was favored in the bronze medal game, but Slovakia prevailed 5-4 for its first World Junior medal ever.
7) Satan’s Goals Help Slovaks Get Silver (2000)
For political junkies, the year 2000 evokes the elections of George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin. Cinema buffs recall movies like Gladiator and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. But Slovak hockey fans will always associate it with winning a medal for the very first time at the IIHF World Championship in St. Petersburg, Russia. Miroslav Satan led the tournament with 10 goals – a number only topped in the 21st century by Canada’s Dany Heatley (12, 2008) and Russia’s Yevgeni Malkin (11, 2012). After defeating the U.S. 4-1 in the quarter-finals and Finland 3-1 in the semi-finals, Slovakia lost 5-3 to their powerful Czech brothers in the gold medal game, but it still felt like a win.
8) Glorious Gold in Gothenburg (2002)
This was the greatest moment in Slovak hockey history, bar none. Loaded with pure skill, the Slovaks showed courage with their playoff victories at the Worlds in Gothenburg, Sweden. They came back from a 2-0 deficit to edge Canada 3-2 in the quarter-finals. Then Satan scored the late equalizer and Zigmund Palffy and Richard Lintner added shootout goals to stun host Sweden 3-2 in the semi-finals. Coach Jan Filc whimsically described how he encouraged his team to fight to the end: “If someone tears your head off, pick it up and bring it back to the bench and the doctor will sew it back on for you.” In the gold medal game, Peter Bondra demonstrated his cool head when he scored the late 4-3 winner on the rush, beating Russian goalie Maxim Sokolov on the stick side. Slovakia confirmed its place among the “Big Seven” nations.
New head coach Frantisek Hossa had another hyper-talented squad at the Worlds in Finland. Palffy and Jozef Stumpel tied for the tournament lead with 15 points apiece. Unfortunately for Slovak fans, the Swedes took their revenge for 2002 with a 4-1 semi-final victory in Helsinki. Still, defeating the neighbouring Czechs 4-2 in the bronze medal game provided some pretty sweet solace.
10) Bicek Becomes First Slovak to Win Stanley Cup (2003)
Jiri Bicek might not be a household name like Martin Brodeur or Patrik Elias, but the hard-working forward will always hold a place in the hearts of fans in his native Kosice. This two-time World Championship participant spent eight years in the New Jersey Devils organization after being drafted in the fifth round (131st overall) in 1997, playing 62 NHL regular season games in that span. Bicek also appeared in five games during the Devils’ 2003 playoff run, and became the first Slovak to win the Stanley Cup. Now 40, the three-time Slovak Extraliga champion played domestically until 2017-18.
11) Chara Earns Norris Trophy (2009)
Zdeno Chara is unquestionably the biggest figure in the history of Slovak defenceman. (Pun fully intended.) When it came to Norris Trophy voting, Chara was overlooked in favor of St. Louis’s Chris Pronger, New Jersey’s Scott Niedermayer, and Detroit’s Nicklas Lidstrom during his first 10 years in the NHL. But the Boston Bruins captain finally got his due in 2009 when he scored a career-high 19 goals and was named the NHL’s best defenceman. As of 2019, he’s been a Norris finalist six times.
12) Demitra Stars at Vancouver Olympics (2010)
The late Pavol Demitra was one of the most artistic and creative forwards ever to emerge from the 2019 host nation. The 35-year-old centre was playing for the Vancouver Canucks in 2009-10, but saved his best performance at Canada Hockey Place (the temporary name for Rogers Arena) for the Olympics. Demitra famously scored the shootout winner in a 2-1 victory over favored Russia, flipping a shot past netminder Ilya Bryzgalov. Even though the Slovaks settled for fourth place, Demitra made the all-star team with his tournament-leading 10 points. Tragically, he would pass away in 2011 in the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl airplane disaster.
13) Tomcikova Makes Slovak Goaltending History (2011)
While the Slovak men’s national team has earned many successes over the years, the women’s national team isn’t quite as renowned. To date, the peak years were 2011 and 2012, when coach Miroslav Karafiat led his players to seventh- and eighth-place finishes respectively in Switzerland and the United States. As is often the case with underdog squads, goaltending was essential. Starter Zuzana Tomcikova was heroic. The 23-year-old Zvolen native stopped 237 of the 250 shots she faced for a 94.8 save percentage and 2.56 GAA. As a result, Tomcikova became the only Slovak player to ever crack a Women’s Worlds all-star team.
14) Slovakia Hosts First IIHF World Championship (2011)
Excitement was off the charts when Bratislava and Kosice hosted the IIHF World Championship for the first time. Total attendance was 406,804. Even though the Slovak fans were disappointed with the tenth-place finish under coach Glen Hanlon, it was still a memorable and compelling tournament, highlighted by Finland’s 6-1 win over Sweden in the gold medal game.
15) Chara Hoists Cup With Boston (2011)
Zdeno Chara wasn’t the first European-trained captain to win the Stanley Cup. That honor went to Nicklas Lidstrom with the 2008 Detroit Red Wings. However, no Cup-winning Slovak had ever worn the “C” until that fateful June night in Vancouver when the Bruins blanked the Canucks 4-0 in Game Seven. The fans booed as NHL commissioner Gary Bettman handed the silver chalice to Chara, and a riot erupted outside the arena. But the faithful from Beantown to Bratislava were loving the big guy’s feat.
16) Surprising Silver Run in Helsinki (2012)
By 2012, sceptics thought the era of the Slovaks winning Worlds medals was over. After all, they hadn’t placed higher than tenth at four straight tournaments from 2008 to 2011. They simply weren’t producing the high-end snipers of old, like Satan, Bondra, and Marian Hossa. But Chara’s decision to suit up for the national team at the 2012 Worlds in Finland after his Bruins lost to the Washington Capitals in the first round was beyond impactful. The big man with the world’s hardest shot captained Slovakia to a 4-3 quarter-final upset over Canada and a 3-1 semi-final stunner against the Czechs. Even though Chara’s two goals in the gold medal game weren’t enough to stop the Yevgeni Malkin-led Russians from triumphing 6-2, this was a great Cinderella story.
17) World Junior Bronze Bonanza (2015)
Goalie Denis Godla and forward Martin Reway were the heroes in Montreal in 2015 when Slovakia captured its first World Junior medal since 1999’s bronze. Godla set the tone with 37 saves in a 2-1 round-robin win over Finland, the 2014 champions. He was stellar again to blank the Czechs 3-0 in the quarter-final. Reway assisted on three goals in the 4-2 upset victory over Sweden in the bronze medal game and finished with nine points. Godla, an HC Slovan Bratislava product, was named the tournament MVP.
18) Hossa Captures Third Cup With Chicago (2015)
When the great two-way forward Marian Hossa failed in his bid to win the Stanley Cup first with Pittsburgh in 2008 and then with Detroit in 2009, he was the subject of much mockery. But Hossa – who would finish his IIHF career with three Olympics and eight Worlds under his belt – knew what he wanted when he signed a long-term deal with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010. It paid off. The powerful right winger was an integral piece of the puzzle as Chicago beat the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2010 Stanley Cup final and the Boston Bruins in the 2013 final. When Hossa earned his third and final Cup ring in 2015 versus the Tampa Bay Lightning, the conversation was now more about whether he merited induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
19) Bratislava and Kosice Welcome World Again (2019)
The 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship is in full swing, and fans in the two host cities are loving every minute of it. Hopes are high for a strong Slovak finish after coach Craig Ramsay’s boys upset the powerful Americans 4-1 in their opener. Will the Finns, powered by Kaapo Kakko’s scoring, repeat their golden glory of 2011? Could Sweden win a third straight title? Regardless of which team you support, Slovakia has added another highlight to its hockey history with this tournament.