In the aftermath of a huge win over Russia, where Team Canada surprising outscored their rivals to the tune of 7-3, fans immediately – and naturally, I might add – began to eagerly anticipate the realistic possibility of a re-match versus the United States for the Gold Medal.
Only many seem to have overlooked one significant detail: a red-hot Slovakian team standing between Canada and the final game.
There’s no two ways about it: Team Slovakia is better than many expected, and their opponents would be foolish to take them lightly. This is not to suggest that Team Canada can’t win the game; far from it. Rather, it is to say that we should give credit where it is due, and the Slovakians deserve a ton of it for getting to the final four of this tournament of hockey’s elite.
Many will be tempted to suggest that Sweden choked in their 4-3 loss to the Slovaks late Wednesday night. Those who watched the game closely, however, may offer a different perspective. Â
Sweden, down 2-0 on two quick goals (37 seconds apart, to be exact) could have crumbled beneath the weight of such a momentum shift. Â However, they were able to bounce back rather quickly to tie the game (with both goals also 37 seconds apart, interestingly enough). Sweden kept it close until the end, outshooting Slovakia by a wide margin and controlling much of the play from the second period onward. Â Simply put, the Swedes gave it their all, and the Slovaks aced their most difficult test of the tournament to date with flying colours.
What does this tell us about Team Slovakia? Â A few things:
- Their goatender, Jaroslav Halak, has been lights-out for the entire tournament. While most of the talk has centred around USA’s Ryan Miller, Halak has arguably been the top netminder of these Olympics, especially considering the relative depth of the Slovakian roster in comparison to that of the US.
- The Slovakian forwards capitalize on their opportunities. Â They didn’t get many against the Swedes (14 shots total) but were able to make their few scoring chances count.
- They do not crumble under pressure. They could have fallen apart when all momentum appeared to be with the Swedes, but were able to withstand the pressure and regain their focus against what was – on paper – a much stronger opponent.
- They play as a team. Entering the knockout phase as an underdog after a somewhat disappointing qualifying round, the Slovaks have been able to come together as a singular unit, and play to their strengths, in the games that matter.
- Slovakia is coming off what is being heralded as one of the biggest international victories in their country’s history, and will without a doubt enter this game with a level of confidence unseen in their previous games.
What this means for Canada is, the Slovakians cannot be taken for granted. To expect another blowout similar to the game against Russia does not do the tournament’s Cinderella squad proper justice. That’s not to say that a blowout won’t happen – anything is possible – but it is not the expectation people should have entering this game.
Despite the success of the Slovakian team thus far, the Canadians do remain the team to beat, in most nations’ eyes. The odds favor the Canadians to win this game, and rightly so; however, the feeling among many observers remains that the Slovakian team will find ways to keep this one close.
Team Slovakia (alphabetical)
Lubos Bartecko, Martin Cibak, Pavol Demitra, Marian Gaborik, Michal Handzus, Marcel Hossa, Marian Hossa, Tomas Kopecky, Zigmund Palffy, Branko Radivojevic, Miroslav Satan, Jozef Stumpel, Richard Zednik
Ivan Baranka, Zdeno Chara, Milan Jurcina, Andrej Meszaros, Andrej Sekera, Martin Strbak, Lubomir Visnovsky
Peter Budaj, Jaroslav Halak, Rastislav Stana
Team Canada (alphabetical)
Patrice Bergeron, Sidney Crosby, Ryan Getzlaf, Dany Heatley, Jarome Iginla, Patrick Marleau, Brenden Morrow, Rick Nash, Corey Perry, Mike Richards, Eric Staal, Joe Thornton, Jonathan Toews
Dan Boyle, Drew Doughty, Duncan Keith, Scott Neidermayer, Chris Pronger, Brent Seabrook, Shea Weber
Martin Brodeur, Marc-Andre Fleury, Roberto Luongo
Game Time: 9:30 EST / 6:30 PST
Radio: Fan 590
Watch Online: CTVOlympics.ca
Looking forward to your thoughts as always,