While most eyes will be on the Big Four nations and their stars, teams like Switzerland and Slovakia are set to show the world what they can do starting this morning as the 2010 World Junior Championships kicks off.
The kid featured in this column at the beginning of December won’t break the U20 team for at least a couple more years, so Team Slovakia must continue with the motley crew that dragged the team into contention last year.
Part of the problem is the country’s development strategy. Instead of playing throughout the various senior and junior leagues like every other country, the best U20 players are selected to play for a team calledHK Orange that competes year-round in the Extraliga . It’s a fine idea in theory- let your kids play adults and they’ll develop quicker- but the real-world results have not been so good. Goalies and defencemen have been especially hurt by the system as they require the most mentoring and maturing. It’s also telling that the WJC team’s best forwards play either on other squads (Tomas Tatar) or in the CHL (Richard Panik).
However, goal and defense is exactly where the Slovaks need the most help after a key graduation. A little extra scoring wouldn’t hurt either.
F Jakub Gasparovic (90): Last year, it all came down to the offensive heroics of one Tomas Tatar. So how about pairing his clutch scoring ability with someone who once scored three shorties on the same PK? Beyond that feat, Jakub Gasparovic has the three key ingredients for WJC success: age, speed and offensive touch. 19 year-olds tend to dominate the tournament and Gasparovic should prove no different; the top offensive threat for HK Orange, his 13 goals in the Slovak Extraliga are tenth in the league and one more than a guy named Ziggy Palffy.
D Martin Marincin (92): Arguably the biggest struggle European teams have in playing Team Canada is size and physical play. This is where a player likeMarincin will come in handy. One of only a few 1992s on the roster, the 6’3, 181 lbs rearguard will be tasked with shutting down the other team’s stars. A strong performance would strengthen his draft stock immeasurably.
G Marek Ciliak (90): If the Slovaks are to repeat their medal round heroics, they need another Jaroslav Janus. The only problem? He’s now too old. Everything for the Slovaks rests on the shoulders of 19 year-old starter Marek Ciliak. While he’s out-played backup Tomas Halasz during the Extraliga season, that’s not saying too much. At home, Ciliak’s 5.43 GAA and 0.870 Sv% are slightly better Halasz’s 5.33 GAA and 0.840 Sv% for HK Orange.
In pre-tournament play, Ciliak shut out Austria- a team not in their pool- and allowed two goals on 13 shots against Team Canada after taking over from Halasz, who allowed four on fourteen.