The Slovakians received an early scare from Belarus but managed to escape with a narrow 4-2 win. It wasn’t the prettiest of wins but in a tournament a win is a win and getting all 3 points is what matters. Belarus, coming off a 6-0 loss to the hosts from Finland, gave Slovakia everything they can handle but it was not enough to take any points from the game.
The story of the first 2 periods was the play of Belarus goalie Ivan Kulbakov, who was the main reason that it was only a 1 goal deficit into the final minute of the game. The Slovakians jumped out to a 1-0 lead 6:56 into the game on a shot from Patrik Koch but the game was level less then 5 minutes later. The Slovakians have an over active defence, which is very beneficial in the offensive zone at creating offense but can also be detrimental on the defensive side of the puck. Belarus jumped on a turnover at the blue line and put the puck toward the net which was banged home by Vadim Malinovski. Malinovski found himself in behind the Slovakian defence and was in all alone on goal keeper Adam Huska.
The second period saw an early powerplay goal from Belarus to take a 2-1 lead before the second period settled in and the play went back and forth. Both teams spent time in the offensive zone and had productive shifts before Filip Lestan capitalized on a poor Belarus turnover in their defensive zone. The third period was dominated by the Slovakians as they settled into a groove and imposed their will and wore down Belarus. 19 seconds into the period off a faceoff win Slovakian forward Lukas Hrusik fired a rolling puck past Kulbakov to put Slovakia up 3-2. The pressure kept up all period from Slovakia with lots of offensive zone time but no results on the scoreboard. A bizarre too many men penalty empty net goal (You have to see it to believe it) finalized the scoring at 4-2.
Slovakia did have a few stand out performances. Ottawa Senators draft pick and captain Christian Jaros had a solid performance and was named player of the game for Slovakia. Kristian Pospisil was the most noticeable player on the ice and a force in the offensive zone. Pospisil, who plays for Blainville-Boisbriand Armada of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, is a undrafted 19 year old who was easily the most dominant player on the ice at times while also having moments of an undrafted 19 year old trying to do too much. Radovan Bondra, the 6’5” Vancouver Giants player and Chicago draft pick, also had a strong game and was a force at times during the game. These players will have to continue to have strong performances if Slovakia is to make noise in the tournament.
It will be interesting to see Slovakia going forward as they did struggle structurally at times in the defensive and neutral zone. They will have to rectify these issues quickly as the competition they see will improve every game going forward. Next up on the schedule for Slovakia is the Czech Republic on Monday.