Slovakia looks to teen trio
by Andy Potts|18 JAN 2022
The Slovak players celebrate on the bench in their deciding game against Belarus to qualify for the 2022 Olympics.
photo: Andrej Galica
Three teenagers formed the big talking point as Slovakia named its roster for the 2022 Olympic Winter Games in Beijing. Leading draft prospects Simon Nemec and Juraj Slafkovsky, both 17, are poised to announce themselves on the biggest world stage, while Columbus prospect Samuel Knazko, 19, also features.

Head coach Craig Ramsay has big expectations from the trio, who all featured at the curtailed World Juniors last month. “In those two games that I was able to watch, and knowing the players, they bring a lot to the table. Their young attitudes are something that we want to build on in the future. Every team that we pick still has to be about the future and about the building of what we’re doing. It’s absolutely vital that we don’t have that same pick every time, that we continue to expand our group so more people are involved and we continue to grow our team game.”

Round two for Ramsay

That team game is evolving into something promising, Ramsay believes.

“I think one of the things that has been exciting over the last few years is the speed that we can play at, the pressure we can put on other people. We need to keep building on that and keep trying to work on our style of play. I think it’s really starting to pay off and I hope it will continue to do so.”

Ramsay is back for his second Olympics behind the bench with a team that blends youth and experience. The roster drawn up with GM Miroslav Satan and his selection committee includes six returnees from PyeongChang while Tomas Jurco features at his second Games after playing in Sochi eight years ago.

“I hope it’s a little bit more simple for me this time,” he added. “There’s no question at the last Olympics I put a lot of pressure on myself. I wanted to cover every little detal that I possibly could and I don’t thnk I enjoyed it as much as I should have because I was thinking to much. I tell the players when the game starts stop thinking and just play. Sometimes that goes for me too. 

“I’m hoping that even though these are realy strange times we’ll go and have fun together. When you have fun together, you do your best and that’s what we’re going to look for.”

NHL absentees

Like most countries, Slovakia faces several enforced absentees from the NHL. Back in August, the team that secured qualification on home ice could call on Devils defenseman Christian Jaros, Flames centre Adam Ruzicka and another Devil, winger Marian Studenic. In addition, 24-year-old goalie Adam Huska will remain with the Rangers organisation after joining the team in qualifying.

But the roster announced today features many of the players who booked Slovakia’s ticket to Beijing. The anxious decider against Belarus saw captain Marek Hrivik set up Peter Cehlarik’s opener before Libor Hudacek grabbed a late game-winner into an empty net as Belarus desperately looked for the regulation-time victory it needed in Bratislava. All three are heading for China, with Hrivik and Cehlarik looking to rekindle a partnership that proved effective as clubmates in Sweden and caught the eye once again at last year’s World Championship in Riga. Those two have also enjoyed productive form in the KHL this season, while Hudacek’s journey has been rather bumpier. The 31-year-old led the team with three goals in qualification but left Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk of the KHL after 11 appearances yielded just three assists. A brief, prolific spell at Lugano saw him bounce back with eight goals in 10 games and he moved to Dynamo Minsk in December, where he has since picked up 3 (2+1) in three KHL outings for Craig Woodcroft’s team.

Assistant GM Otto Hascak is excited by the blend on the team. “Our roster is composed of older, more experienced players based in Europe, but also younger ones who embody our concept for the future of the Slovak national team,” he said. “We wanted them to have an opportunity to be part of such a great world tournament.”

“[The senior players] should pull us forward,” added Hascak. “But so should the younger guys. We are not just taking them to gain experience but because they have earned their places with their performances, and we believe they will help us get results. We went for quality and what the players showed during the season.”

The forward line also features Tomas Jurco, who left the NHL in the summer after seven seasons with Detroit, Chicago, Edmonton and Vegas. He’s now with Barys Nur-Sultan in the KHL and is in line for a second Olympic appearance after representing Slovakia in Sochi in 2014. The 29-year-old winger also has World Championship experience but missed the chance to play on home ice in 2019 as he was winning his second Calder Cup at the time.

Teen power

At the other end of the spectrum, 17-year-old Juraj Slafkovsky is a rising star whose reputation could rocket with a prominent Olympic performance. Despite his youth, this Kosice native already made his World Championship debut last season. Impressively, that was his first competitive appearance in men’s hockey, having worked his way through the youth system at TPS in Finland. This season saw him debut in the Liiga, where he has 4 (1+3) points from 20 games. Slafkovsky is a top prospect in this year’s NHL draft, with scouts excited by his powerful physique and his skillset.

Slafkovsky is not the only teen on the team, though. Defenceman Simon Nemec is just six weeks older and is another top draft prospect. Unlike Slafkovsky, Nemec has played his entire career in Slovakia and made his senior debut for Nitra back in 2019/20. Last season he played 37 games and led the blue line in scoring with 19 points, and his assured performance at the recent Hlinka/Gretzky Cup, where he captained Slovakia to a silver medal, has rubber-stamped his status as a defenceman to watch.

He’s joined on Slovakia’s defence by another teenager, Samuel Knazko, the only North American-based player on the roster. Knazko, 19, has spent time playing in Finland with TPS and burnished his reputation in junior international play. Drafted by the Blue Jackets in 2020, he signed an entry contract before returning to TPS on loan at the start of this season. That stint brought him a debut in the Liiga before he joined Seattle Thunderbirds in the WHL and captained Slovakia for a second tiem at the curtailed World Juniors last month.

Familiar faces

However, there’s plenty of Olympic experience on the blue line as well. Jaros is replaced by Michal Cajkovsky, one of six players returning from the PyeongChang 2018 roster. Cajkovsky, 29, missed the qualification tournament but has been a solid figure for Sibir Novosibirsk this season. He joins Marek Daloga and Peter Ceresnak, who also featured in Slovakia’s previous Olympic roster.

The goaltending stable also comes with Olympic pedigree. At 34, Branislav Konrad is the elder stateman on the team. He played every minute of the qualification campaign and also featured in two games in PyeongChang four years ago. In club action, Konrad continues to post good numbers in his sixth season with Olomouc in Czechia after he returned from a horrific injury in pre-season when he was hit in the neck by an opponent’s skate. Matej Tomek, currently with Kometa Brno, is the likely understudy ahead of Dynamo Minsk’s Patrik Rybar, whose was also involved in Korea.

“We’re thrilled to see that Konrad is back playing and playing very well,” said Ramsay. “We all have a lot of confidence in him. Tomek stepped in at oter tournaments and was extremely good. We’re hoping that both those two get to play. You never know what’s going to happen but we’re confident in our goaltending.”


Branislav Konrad, HC Olomouc (CZE)
Patrik Rybar, Dinamo Minsk (BLR/KHL)
Matej Tomek, Kometa Brno (CZE)

Michal Cajkovsky, Sibir Novosibirsk (RUS)
Peter Ceresnak, HC Plzen (CZE)
Marek Daloga, Kometa Brno (CZE)
Martin Gernat, Lausanne HC (SUI)
Mario Grman, HPK Hammenlina (FIN)
Samuel Knazko, Seattle Thunderbirds (NCAA)
Martin Marincin, Ocelari Trinec (CZE)
Simon Nemec, HK Nitra

Peter Cehlarik, Avangard Omsk (RUS)
Marko Dano, Ocelari Trinec (CZE)
Adrian Holesinsky, HK Nitra
Marek Hrivik, Torpedo Nizhni Novgorod (RUS)
Libor Hudacek, Dynamo Minsk (BLR/KHL)
Tomas Jurco, Barys Nur-Sultan (KAZ/KHL)
Milos Kelemen, BK Mlada Boleslav (CZE)
Michal Kristof, Komena Brno (CZE)
Kristian Pospisil, HC Davos (SUI)
Pavol Regenda, Dukla Michalovce
Milos Roman, Ocelari Trinec (CZE)
Juraj Slafkovsky, TPS Turku (FIN)
Samuel Takac, Slovan Bratilava
Peter Zuzin, HKM Zvolen

Head Coach
Craig Ramsay