Ceresnak lost the puck on the play that led to Denis Malgin’s opening-minute breakaway goal in Switzerland’s 5-3 victory over Slovakia at the Helsinki Ice Hall. The 29-year-old from Skoda Plzen also had a cross-ice pass picked off moments later when Calvin Thurkauf got a clear break and forced goalie Adam Huska to make a tough blocker save.
However, Ceresnak persevered. And head coach Craig Ramsay didn’t lose faith in him. The Trencin native, who was part of the history-making 2022 Olympic bronze medal team in Beijing, logged 21:25 in ice time versus the Swiss, third-highest among all Slovak skaters.
Playing on the top pairing with the newly arrived Martin Fehervary of the Washington Capitals, Ceresnak finished with an even plus-minus in this raucous, physical affair.
Now the Slovak assistant captain is ready to move on to better things. His Central European nation is gunning for its first Worlds medal since 2012’s surprising silver right here in Helsinki.
“Of course, we have a couple more games ahead of us,” Ceresnak told IIHF.com. “We’ve got to focus on those. We're still in the tournament. We've got to focus on the next games and win.”
A two-time Olympian and three-time World Junior and Worlds participant, Ceresnak loved the taste of winning he got in Beijing. He put up five assists in seven games, including one on 17-year-old tournament MVP Juraj Slafkovsky’s winner in the 4-0 bronze medal victory over favoured Sweden.
The 191-cm, 95-kg veteran also loved the boost that his sport received among media and (especially) fans back home. Their joyful choruses of “Slovensko!” echo through the corridors of Jaahalli every time Slovakia plays at these Worlds.
“There was a huge celebration in Slovakia,” Ceresnak said of the Olympic aftermath. “Everybody's watching hockey right now. That's the number one sport. So we really appreciate it and we enjoy it very much. Hopefully more medals will come.”
If captain Tomas Tatar’s team reaches the medal podium on 29 May in Tampere, Ceresnak will surely have made some extra-special contributions. This former member of the OHL’s Peterborough Petes set the tone this year in his sixth season with Skoda Plzen, where he recorded a personal high in points (6+34=40 in 50 games). Even though the club bowed out in the wild-card round with a hard-fought 3-2 series loss to Mlada Boleslav, Ceresnak had reason to feel good about 2021-22.
“The season in the Czech Republic was great, and it was all about my teammates,” Ceresnak said. “They were great, and our power plays were great. So it was a pleasure to play in Plzen. Just a great season!”
One additional bonus was getting to play with David Jiricek (5+6=11 in 29 games). The 18-year-old Czech blueliner is a top-10 prospect for the 2022 NHL Draft. He’s making his mark with coach Kari Jalonen’s Czech team in Tampere at present, despite missing more than three months this season due to a knee injury. What does Ceresnak think of Jiricek?
“Boy, he’s a humble guy, a great player. I hope he will get drafted as high as he can. And I think he’ll be a great NHL player.”
Of course, at the moment, Ceresnak is hoping for an even better performance out of Slovak teammate Simon Nemec, another 18-year-old D-man whose skating, puck movement, and vision gets NHL scouts’ hearts beating faster.
Nemec has enjoyed more international success than Jiricek so far. The HK Nitra rearguard, who was the MVP of the last Hlinka Gretzky Cup, joined Ceresnak on the Olympic bronze medal team. Nemec is currently suiting up at his second straight Worlds.
“They’re in the biggest competition right now, these two guys, Simon and Jiricek!” said Ceresnak, who was drafted in the sixth round (172nd overall) by the New York Rangers in 2011. “It’ll be between those two guys in terms of who’s the first defender taken in the draft. But either way, it’s only a draft. It doesn’t matter if you go third or fourth. It’s all about what happens the following year. Have you impressed the team, the coaches, and the staff enough for them to make room for you on the big team?”
Kids like these, no matter how talented, have a long way to go before they can be mentioned in the same breath as Zdeno Chara, who hails from Ceresnak’s hometown of Trencin.
The 45-year-old Chara, who spent 2021-22 with the New York Islanders, is rumored to have played his last NHL game. With 1,680 regular season games and 2000 playoff games under his belt, the 2009 Norris Trophy winner’s biggest NHL highlight was hoisting the 2011 Stanley Cup as the captain of the Boston Bruins.
Chara was just nominated for the Masterton Trophy, which annually celebrates the player who “best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to the game,” along with Montreal’s Carey Price and Philadelphia’s Kevin Hayes.
“I don’t know how his situation is with the last game in the NHL,” Ceresnak said. “I heard about it, but I don’t know if it’s true. If it is, it was one helluva career for him. One of the biggest hockey players and sports persons in Slovakia. So, huge respect!”
Right now, it’s up to this Slovak World Championship team to keep earning respect for itself and embark on another great medal round run. The next step is making sure they get another three points in Group A against Kazakhstan on Friday. Perseverance and focus are essential.
“We’ve got to be better in all aspects,” Ceresnak said. “For one, we’ve got to be better on our power plays. Overall, on the ice we need to play as a group. Sometimes it feels like everyone is playing by himself and we are not supporting each other well. So we’ve got to change that and just get better.”