Slovaks stay alive, for now
by Derek O'Brien|18 MAY 2019
Slovakia's Andrej Sekera #2 celebrates with David Buc #17 and Mario Lunter #47 after scoring on Great Britain.
photo: Matt Zambonin / HHOF-IIHF Images

They were heavily favoured, but that doesn’t dampen the thrill of victory for the Slovaks at all. They needed three points against Great Britain and they got them with a 7-1 win.

“We have great fans, and the crowd tonight was fantastic,” said Slovak defenceman Martin Fehervary. “It's amazing to play for our home fans.”

“Every game is like a stepping stone,” said British defenceman Evan Mosey. “I think the last game against France is pretty much what we came here for. We're basing the entire tournament on winning that one to stay up. We have to keep the pressure on and keep doing things to improve for that last game.”

In a balanced attack, forward Matej Sukel and defenceman Patrik Koch were the only Slovaks to register two-point games. 

Though Slovakia would go on to win convincingly, the first big chance went to GB. A minute after the opening faceoff, a turnover in the neutral zone gave Oliver Betteridge a clear-cut breakaway from the blueline in on Godla. However, just as he went to shoot, the puck rolled off his stick and he was unable to recover.

They regretted the missed opportunity almost immediately. A minute later, Andrej Sekera got the puck at the point and fired a wrist shot that hit the leg of Jonathan Phillips and caught Ben Bowns moving the wrong way.

Then, just 19 seconds later, Tomas Tatar drove hard to the net with the puck and tried to stuff it in the near side. Bowns stuck out his left pad to deny the initial attempt, but Libor Hudacek was right there to pop in the rebound.

The Slovaks kept coming, and on their first power play they made it 3-0 at 9:02. Martin Marincin one-timed a behind-the-back pass from Sukel that beat Bowns through a crowd.

“We handled the situation well,” said Tatar. “We had a good start, got up 3-0. We let things go after that for a while. That can happen in a game like this. We just played for our fans and enjoyed the moment.”

With Britain’s chances of gaining a point from this game now pretty much gone, Bowns was lifted in favour of backup Jackson Whistle with 3:28 to play in the period. There was some concern about the health of Bowns when he didn’t appear on the bench as a backup the rest of the game, but it’s assumed he will start on Monday against France if that game turns out to be as important as it’s shaping up to be.

Great Britain vs. Slovakia - 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship
GBR SVK 18 MAY 2019

A little more than a minute after Bowns’ departure, the Britons got a good bounce when a shot by Mark Richardson hit the skate of a Slovak defender. Godla stopped the shot but couldn’t control the rebound, and Mike Hammond put it between the goalie’s legs.

Whistle stopped two shots late in the first period, then faced his first real test right off the opening faceoff of the second when Hudacek skated right down main street, then tried to go between his legs with the shot but Whistle denied him.

The Slovaks added three more goals in the second period to take a commanding lead, much to the delight of the Kosice faithful.

First it was Marek Cajkovsky on a seeing-eye shot from the blueline that dipped on Whistle, then Marian Studenic on a solid individual effort to beat a defenceman wide and then Whistle through the five-hole, and finally Sukel, finishing off a shorthanded 2-on-1 break with Adam Liska.

“We have to just keep going, play like we did yesterday, playing like a team in the defensive zone and getting pucks into their end,” said Fehervary. “We did that tonight, and that's why we won.”

The only goal of the third period came with exactly two minutes left, when David Bondra deflected Koch's point shot out of mid-air. 

The outcome of this game was never in much doubt, but both of these teams have rather pressing concerns that will be decided, for better or for worse, over the next few days.

“It's a big game coming up,” said Tatar. “We want to win it, for ourselves and our fans. We kind of blew it ourselves here, losing that game to Canada at the end and also to Germany. We can't do anything about it now except win and hope.”

Both teams are idle tomorrow, but their tournaments could be ruined if certain results don’t go their way. As things stand now, the Slovaks can still reach the quarter-finals, but if the USA beats Germany, their chances will end. As for the Brits, they still have a chance to remain in the top group for next season, but if France beats Finland in regulation time tomorrow, their hopes will be dashed as well.

“The more the tournament goes on, the more comfortable the guys are playing with each other,” said Mosey. “We don't really get a national team break during the season, so we had only a couple of weeks here to practise with new guys. It's nice that the last game of the tournament will mean the most. It's do or die.”

When the two teams next hit the ice in Kosice – Britain against France on Monday and Slovakia against Denmark on Tuesday – they could be all-important or totally meaningless.

Great Britain vs. Slovakia - 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship