Lantosi lifts Slovaks past GB
by Andy Potts|23 MAY 2021
photo: Chris Tanouye / HHOF-IIHF Images
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Despite dominating the game from start to finish, Slovakia ran into a roadblock in the shape of British goalie Ben Bowns. He made 41 saves to keep this game alive before Craig Ramsay's team took a 2-1 verdict.

Slovakia made the perfect start, scoring with its first chance after just 25 seconds. Marek Hrivik potted his second of the tournament after Martin Gernat’s shot was blocked and Robert Lantosi retrieved the puck to set up the chance.

That ushered in a first period dominated by the Slovaks. The shot count finished 17-2 at the intermission and that Slovakia top line of Hrivik, Lantosi and Peter Cehlarik was a constant threat as Britain struggled to get its game going.

However, Lantosi admitted that things were far from easy for his team. "It was really challenging for us," he said. "They were just waiting for our mistakes and we had to keep pushing hard.

"They had a great goalie at the other end and it was really hard to score on them. They were blocking everything and we were really happy that we could win it."

Britain was limited to a couple of half chances but one of them, when Luke Ferrara chased down a long pass, took an unexpected toll on Slovakia. The GB forward was unable to get a shot away but as goalie Branislav Konrad moved around his crease he suffered a leg injury and was replaced by Julius Hudacek at the intermission.

"Konrad has a problem," said Slovak head coach Ramsay. "He hurt himself, it's a bit hard for him to move and push right now. If a goalie cannot push 100% with his legs, it's very difficult. We'll get him his treatment and see how long it takes."

Hudacek, who spent last season with Spartak Moscow, came into the game cold and allowed a goal on his second shot of the afternoon. Liam Kirk started the play, Mark Richardson set up Brett Perlini for a shot that the goalie could only pad away, and Kirk jumped out of the corner to snaffle his second goal in two games. The game was tied and, despite Slovakia’s dominance, Ramsay’s team would have to start over.

For Britain, that was a reward for the character displayed on the team despite that nightmare start. "It's about confidence and belief," said defenceman Ben O'Connor. "Now we know we can play against these teams. Last year we had our ups and downs but that built our character and togetherness. This year we all know what the level is like here, what the speed is like, how we have to play."
Great Britain vs Slovakia - 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship
Despite dominating the game from start to finish, Slovakia ran into a roadblock in the shape of British goalie Ben Bowns. He made 41 saves to keep this game alive before Craig Ramsay's team took a 2-1 verdict.
GBR SVK 23 MAY 2021
Parity was short-lived. That menacing Slovak top line quickly restored the lead. Robert Lantosi, who gobbled up a loose puck to set up the opening goal, added a tally of his own following a pile-up in front of the benches that sucked in Britain’s defence and opened space in the danger zone for the impressive Providence Bruins forward to score.

That blow seemed to deflate the Brits. A power play chance came and went but Slovakia found an extra gear as GB’s energy levels dropped. Ben Bowns, back between the piping after missing the British opener, performed heroically to prevent Slovakia from extending its lead. A triple block typified the long-serving goalie’s contribution, steering a Matus Sukel effort around the corner, throwing a poke check to cut out a pass back to the slot then spinning back into position to stop top-rated teenager Juraj Slafkovsky’s shot. “Get this goalie a contract now!” demanded one of the game officials, mic-ed up for the action in this championship.

As for the man himself, he was just happy to back in action after a difficult season that saw his time with Graz 99ers limited by injury. "It's been a tough year for me personally so it's good to be back and enjoying it. Goalies can't win games, but we have to give our teams a chance when we can. It felt nice, it's good to be back playing at this level, playing at this speed again."

It all added up to a headache for Ramsay. When these teams met in Kosice two years ago, Slovakia powered to a 7-1 victory. That kind of scoreline would have enabled the coach to share the game time and keep his key players fresh for tomorrow’s more challenging engagement against the Russians. But, with Bowns refusing to let the game out of reach, Britain was doing enough to keep things anxious. Kirk showed a bit of flair early in the third to carve out a chance that reminded everyone this game was not yet won.

"We did so many of the things we needed to do as a team, but even with 41 shots we passed up many opportunities to shoot the puck," Ramsay said. "We were trying to be perfect, trying to make a better play. When the puck does not go in you get frustrated and then it's one more pass, one more pass and nobody wants to be the shooter.

"We have to play fast, play hard and be looking for opportunities to score on the rebounds."

Even the first Slovak power play of the game, midway through the third period, could not make it safe. Lantosi flashed a shot narrowly wide after Hrivik unpicked the British PK, but subsequently the defence clamped down and saw out the penalty without falling further behind.

And in the final moments Bowns left the ice as Britain went 6-on-5 in a bid to snatch a tying goal. The goalie's short rest was a tribute to his courageous performance but Slovakia held firm in those last few seconds to seal its second win in two games.

Slovakia now looks ahead to Monday's game against Russia, which also began with two victories in Group A. It's a step up in class after starting against newly-promoted Belarus and 19th-ranked Britain. "Our goal is to make the quarter-final so we knew that we had to win these first two games," Lantosi added. "We're playing a better team tomorrow so we have to play better in our end and score more goals."

For Britain, the next assignment is against Denmark, with O'Connor hinting at unfinished business after a 0-9 loss in Kosice two years ago. "We didn't show up against Denmark last time," he said. "We were targetting that game and we just didn't perform. In this tournament, if you don't show up you're going to get punished, and it feels like we owe them for that game."
Great Britain vs Slovakia - 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship