Sunday, December 28, 2008

Slovakia opens with a win

This win could prove very valuable for Slovakia if the teams, as predicted by many observers, end up in the Relegation Round. In that case, the three points earned in this game will count in the standings.

This common forecast is not far-fetched. The Latvians are newly promoted to the top division, while Slovakia has faced relegation woes in seven of the last nine World Junior tournaments.

It was Slovakia’s opening game of the championship, while Latvia dropped to 0W-2L. They lost to Russia 4-1 on Friday.

Slovakia decided the outcome in the second period, scoring three unanswered goals while outshooting the Latvians 19-0. That period marked a strange turn of events. After the teams exchanged two goals each in an evenly fought first period, the Slovaks turned on the turbo-speed in the middle stanza, virtually spending all time in the Latvian zone.

Marek Hrivik and Darius Rusnak scored goals 38 seconds apart during this shooting bonanza to break a 2-2 tie, giving the Slovaks a 4-2 lead.

Hrivik’s goal needed a video review which showed clearly that his backhander hit the roof-top metal inside the net before bouncing out. Rusnak’s marker shortly afterwards was Slovakia’s third power-play goal.

The emphatic dominance all means justified the three second-period goals. Radoslav Tybor made it 5-2 at the end of this very impressive middle-stanza performance. Tomas Tatar and Adam Bezak (shorthanded) added third period goals for the winners.

Attendance was 9,370.

Latvia, which was promoted to the top U20 pool last season, has only one previous World Junior experience. The Baltic country participated in the 2006 event in Vancouver where the team only won one game, earning it an immediate return to the Division I level.

Slovakia has 14 consecutive top-pool appearances, but the Slovaks, who won bronze in 1999, have been involved in desperate relegation struggles almost every year since this memorable championship in Winnipeg.

Both teams play Sweden next: Slovakia on Sunday, Latvia on Monday.

(Nathan also is a writer for Maineiacs Post to Post and the Maine Hockey Journal. He can be reached at

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