Slovakia wins first ever Olympic medal
by Andrew Podnieks|19 FEB 2022
The Slovak players celebrate after winning their first-ever Olympic ice hockey medal for the country.
photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images
Two goals in the second period and determined defence in the final 20 minutes gave Slovakia a 4-0 win over Sweden in the bronze medal game at the National Indoor Stadium tonight. This marks the first ever Olympic ice hockey medal for the Slovaks. In 2010, they had a 3-1 lead in the third against Finland but ended up losing, 5-3. There was no such collapse today, only joy and celebration as the buzzer sounded to end the game.

Juraj Slafkovsky scored twice, and Patrik Rybar recorded the historic shutout by stopping 28 Sweden shots.

"It’s just an amazing feeling," Slafkovsky said. "After all we went through, bouncing back from the first two losses and a tough [4-1] loss to Sweden in the group stage, and then we score four goals on them. This has been an amazing few weeks since the start of camp and I’m so happy to be part of this."

"I’m proud of the guys," said assistant captain Peter Cehlarik. "Obviously we had a rough time at the beginning of the tournament, but we came together and today we played amazing. That’s the way to win a game. The second half we were the better team. We outworked them. We outbattled them, and we deserve this. All the energy and the sadness from losing yesterday, we used it all tonight and I’m really proud of the guys."

"We didn’t have the legs today," admitted Sweden's coach Johan Garpenlov. "We didn’t have the mindset today, and we played a really good team. We tried really hard, but we couldn’t get anything going. We had a really tough game yesterday, after the overtime and shootout, and it was a late night for us. But then again, we had the whole day planned for us to recover and go for the bronze medal. But we couldn’t really get it going. And Slovakia got the first goal and some energy from that, and we couldn’t respond."
Slovakia's Juraj Slafkovsky and Samuel Knazko react to receiving their bronze medals.
photo: Andrea Cardin / HHOF-IIHF Images
As is often the case with bronze games, it took a while for the teams to get going. The opening 20 minutes was tame and uneventful, with the exception of one dangerous flurry around the Sweden goal. Juraj Slafkovsky, the 17-year-old who has developed before our eyes in Beijing, made a little drop pass to Marek Hrivik, and he snapped a quick shot off the post. Moments later, Mislav Rosandic had a point-blank shot, but there were half a dozen bodies between him and the net, and his shot didn’t get through.

Sweden had the only power play on a rare minor to goalie Rybar for tripping, but nothing came of that. It was Rybar’s second minor of the tournament. The only other goalie penalty this Olympics was incurred by China’s Jieruimi Shimisi (Jeremy Smith).

The Slovaks picked up the pace in the second and took control with two goals. Slafkovsky scored his tournament-leading sixth at 3:17 on an odd play, the kind of goal that only goalscorers get. He got control of the puck in his own end and roared up ice, cutting down the left wing. He was angled towards the boards by Swedish defender Christian Folin, and in that moment Slafkovsky let go a shot. The puck was on end, and it then hit Folin in the leg and fooled Johansson.

Sweden then had a flurry of chances, but Rybar was rock solid. The Slovaks went up 2-0 on their second of two quick power plays. Pavol Regenda fought off two Swedes in the corner to get the puck, and he made a sharp pass out to the side for Samuel Takac. His shot beat Johansson to the short-side post, a shot the goalie should have saved. It was Slovakia’s first power-play goal of the entire tournament.

"It was our second power play in a row, so we played it well," Regenda described. "It was a draw, and I won the puck, I passed it to Takac and he ripped it from a really weird angle but he put it in. That really gave us some good momentum in the game being ahead, 2-0."

The history and drama and pressure of the game built as the third period progressed. Sweden made their hardest push yet, but the Slovaks were relentless. You could see how much victory would mean to them. Players stood at the bench; the forechecking grew more intense; the clock ticked down. They had a chance to put the game away midway through the period when Peter Cehlarik created a breakaway, but he was stoned by Johansson. 

Coach Johan Garpenlov pulled Johansson with two minutes left, and Sweden had a great chance when Pontus Holmberg was alone in front with the puck. He deked to the backhand, lost the puck, and never got a shot off. Moments later, Slafkovsky iced the victory with an empty netter, and 16 after that Regenda scored into the empty net as well to start the celebrations.

"When you take a group of players from all over Europe and make one team out of it, it becomes somewhat difficult," said winning coach Craig Ramsay. "I relied on my coaches and certainly on my captain to get everyone on the same page. I told them we can beat anybody, and in the end our third period today was the best period I’ve ever seen in my 50 years in hockey. The talk on the bench was spectacular. The talk on the ice was spectacular. That’s when you know you have a team. To see a group come together and be so committed at the end. They played great, and it just needed a goal to do even more. To be part of it and to see it happen and feel it happen – our kids were willing to do whatever it takes. I’m looking forward to a walk outside. I’m so thrilled for the country, that they can have this sense of pride. This is so vital to build something and keep moving forward."
Sweden vs Slovakia (Bronze) - 2022 Olympic Men's Ice Hockey Tournament