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WJC Preview: Slovakia prepares to embark on Mission: Improbable

The Slovaks are considered a prime candidate for relegation, but there is enough talent on the roster for a surprise victory and the chance to play spoiler.
Slovak Ice Hockey Federation

Slovak Ice Hockey Federation

In all likelihood, Slovakia’s most important game of the round-robin will also be its final one of that round, with Kazakhstan as the opponent. The outcome will probably determine which team has to fight in the relegation series and which one gets a quarterfinal berth.

There’s a chance Slovakia could surprise one of the bigger fish in their pool, as the team does have some talent, but the depth is not there. Should the squad be competitive, they’ll need big performances from forwards Adam Ruzicka (Calgary), Milos Roman (Calgary) and Maxim Cajkovic (2019 draft). Ruzicka and Roman have already played in two previous WJCs, while Cajkovic emerged as a breakout star at the world under-18s last year, leading the tournament in assists and posting 11 points in five games. The youngster had great chemistry with linemate Oliver Okuliar at that event, and they could be reunited in Victoria.

On the back end, Slovakia looks shallow, though they will have some experience. Martin Fehervary (Washington) is the big name, and he’ll keep opposing forwards honest. Undrafted Michal Ivan and Marek Korencik are also eligible to return.

Whenever Slovakia has made a run at the world juniors, goaltending has always been the key, and the stars haven’t always been household names coming into the competition. Undrafted Juraj Sklenar has been playing the majority of games for the HK Orange 20 program, which acts as a feeder system for the national junior team, and at 6-foot-2, he has the requisite goalie size for this era. He also put up great numbers during a short stint with HK Nitra’s junior team this year.

Veteran coach Ernest Bokros returns behind the bench for Slovakia, and he has pretty much seen it all during his years at the tournament. – ryan kennedy

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