Talk about going from one extreme to another. Slovakia finished 10th as the host of the 2011 IIHF World Championship. But then, it earned a surprising silver medal in last year’s final against powerhouse Russia in Helsinki.
That achievement was as emotional as it was unexpected, particularly due to Slovakia’s close ties to the tragic September 2011 plane crash that wiped out the KHL’s Lokomotiv Yaroslavl. Former Slovak national team captain Pavol Demitra was on that flight, and as a tribute, Zdeno Chara wore a jersey with Demitra’s name and number (38) at the medal ceremony last year. And head coach Vladimir Vujtek had, coincidentally, guided Lokomotiv Yaroslavl until his resignation in April 2011.
Slovakia’s long-term challenge is to develop more young talent in the post-Socialist era, where there are no longer state-sponsored sports schools geared to turn out elite performers. But this year, it’ll still be relying largely on veterans to carry it through must-win situations.