There is no secret that Samuel Hlavaj was going to be heavily relied on to stay in games through the IIHF World Juniors. One game Slovakia did not expect it to be needed was game one against Kazakhstan. Although Kazakhstan put up a battle against Switzerland, Slovakia was still heavily the favorite to come out with the win.
Period one did not see any goals scored, but plenty of opportunities were had. Slovakia out shot Kazakhstan 9-8, however it was the underdogs with the more dangerous chances. Hlavaj had to be sharp early making some big saves to keep it scoreless and keep his team in it.
It was only 4:49 into the second period when the WHL Lethbridge Hurricanes product, Oliver Okuliar, opened the scoring for Slovakia. This seemed to light a spark for his team. Slovakia picked up the pace of play and it seemed they were gaining momentum until Maxim Musorov tied things up five minutes after. Both goals scored this period were power play markers. Kazakhstan was given two more power play opportunities late in the period. It was their inability to finish that was ultimately their demise.
The final frame was back and forth action with neither team able to solve the goaltenders early. Just when it looked like Kazakhstan were starting their journey to upset land by sending the game to overtime, Daniel Vladimir Tkac played hero for his country and put Slovakia up 2-1 with 2:56 remaining in regulation. A collective breath of relief seemed to be taken in the arena by the Slovakia faithful. Robert Dzugan added an empty netter to seal the game and a 3-1 final.
This Slovakia win should all but guarantee a spot in the quarter finals. Kazakhstan plays Finland and Sweden to end the tournament which should send them to the relegation playoff. Next up for Slovakia will be a tough test against Finland on Saturday. Finland will be battling to get in the win column after a tough loss to Sweden in overtime in their tournament opening game.
Photo Credit – IIHF (Twitter)