Monday, December 27, 2010

Slovakia Paniks and wins

Press Release

BUFFALO – Germany made an impressive comeback after the opening-day defeat to Switzerland but still lost in overtime to Slovakia. Richard Panik was the man behind the 2-1 OT win.

It was an excellent game by two teams who prior to the event were ranked fourth and fifth in Group A. After a tentative first period the game just got better and better and this carried over into the four-on-four five-minute overtime after teams had traded goals in regulation time.

The game was decided after Germany’s Thomas Brandl was called for a tripping penalty after 1:58 of OT. Slovakia scored the game winner at 3.39 when Richard Panik found Marek Hrivik with a phenomenal cross pass and Hrivik had basically and empty net for the 2-1 goal.

Despite the brave effort and one point, Germany will need a minor miracle in order to avoid the relegation round.

This German junior edition reflects in an encouraging way the continuously improving quality of German hockey. Coach Ernst Hofner’s squad is not only industrious, but it contains players who have both good skating ability and skill.

Germany should probably have gone to the first intermission with a lead, especially when Tom Kühnhackl was awarded a penalty shot after having been hooked on a short-handed breakaway by Peter Trska, with only 56 seconds left of the opening period.

Kühnhackl should probably have done better than the rather uninspired shot which Dominik Riecicky had little difficulties blocking.

The Slovaks got a boost from that and they took the lead only eight seconds into the middle stanza when Richard Panik scored on a three-on-two break, shooting into the near side of Philip Grubauer. If there was anyone to lead the way for Slovakia it was Panik, the Belleville Bull who had six goals and two assists in last year’s World U20 Championship in Saskatoon.

But despite some impressive end-to-end rushes by the Slovak forwards it was Germany which produced most of the pressure in the second period and the team more than deserved the equalizer at 16:46, when Norman Hauner jumped on a rebound after Corey Mapes’ shot from the point. The Germans held a 34-17 advantage in shots after two periods and 47-34 after regulation.

When was the last time a German national team had almost 50 shots against a quality opponent? One couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened had the Germans showed up for the first period against Switzerland on Sunday.

Both teams elevated their game in the third period which displayed furious and creative end-to-end hockey, with the teams trading chances on virtually every shift. Norman Hauner for Germany and Dalibor Bortnak for the Slovaks had the best chances, but both netminders Riecicky and Grubauer were spectacular.

If both those teams end up in the relegation group, then it’s abundantly clear that the level of junior hockey.

It’s too early to tell but Dominik Riecicky seems to have the potential to become the next great goalie to come out of Slovakia. A little bit ironic as goaltending was always considered as the weak position of almost any Slovak national team. But that was before Jaroslav Halak and later Jaroslav Janus came along.

Slovakia plays the U.S. on Tuesday, while Germany takes on Finland on Wednesday.

(Nathan can be reached at

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