Kukla's Korner Hockey
by Phil Davies on 09/22/10 at 11:23 PM ET
Despite tempered expectations, Slovakia garnered a fourth place finish at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver. In spite of an aging core roster of players, Slovakia was able to retain it’s Elite Seven status, while upsetting the number one ranked team; Russia, and eliminating the number three ranked team and defending Olympic Gold Medalists; Sweden.
Since the split of Czechoslovakia into two distinct nation states in 1993, Slovakia slowly saw their stock on the ice rise, culminating in a IIHF World Championship in 2002. However, since then the Slovaks have found themselves in a similar quandary that Team USA did for the better part of the last decade; the increasing age of their elite players and management’s inability to find suitable replacements for the old guard. However, unlike the States, Slovakia does not have the depth of coaching and player development programs which has spawned a new generation of talent Stateside.
Although the Slovaks have increased the quality and depth of their goaltending and defence, (two historical areas of weakness for the team), with the exception of Marian Gaborik, in recent years they have failed to produce any elite forwards the quality of Demitra, Palffy and Hossa. The lack of young top flight players in Slovakia can be attributed to the fact that the country has less than fifty indoor rinks, which to put it in perspective, is less than the number of indoor rinks in the Metro Toronto area. Compounding this dilemma is the absence of a junior league to develop players, diminishing attendance figures and in turn, a lack of revenue for the Slovak Extraliga, which leads to younger players leaving for the CHL, in order to better develop their skills and veterans leaving for the NHL or KHL for the higher salaries.
In an attempt to address the lack of player development, the Slovak Extraliga has permitted junior age players to participate in their league, in order for their young prospects to gain exposure to a higher level of competition. The Slovak Extraliga also eliminated two teams, in order to increase the overall quality of their domestic hockey. Furthermore, the appointment of former NHL coach (and puckstopper), Glen Hanlon as the National Team Coach signaled steps in the right direction for Slovakia, as does the emergence of Detroit Red Wings prospect; Tomas Tatar and the Tampa Bay Lightning’s; Richard Panik. While it remains to be seen if the new additions to the national program will be enough for Slovakia to retain their Elite Seven status through the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, the first test will come soon enough, as Slovakia hosts the 2011 IIHF World Championships.
Filed in: Non-NHL Hockey, International Hockey, | KK Hockey | Permalink
Tags: detroit+red+wings, glen+hanlon, marian+gaborik, marian+hossa, pavol+demitra, richard+panik, tampa+bay+lightning, tomas+tatar, zigmund+palffy
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