Slovakia did not come into the 2020 World Juniors with lofty goals. The team wanted to finish better than their 8th place 2019 finish. When looking at their group with Kazakhstan and Switzerland, this seemed plausible.
The team with only two returnees started the tournament right, although closer than they would have hoped. They opened with a 3-1 win over Kazakhstan. From here things were ugly, being outscored in their next three games 21-5 by Finland, Switzerland and Sweden. This lead to a 4th place finish in Group A, and a date with Team Canada who finished 1st in Pool B in the quarters.
With just 53 seconds into the game, Team Canada’s Nolan Foote took a penalty. Foote was assessed a 5 minute penalty and ejected from the game. Slovakia was able to put together a good power play, including a few chances that goaltender Hofer had to come up big for Canada. Despite the solid effort, Slovakia missed a huge opportunity and were unable to connect on the 5 minute man advantage.
Every game Slovakia has played they seem to gain some momentum, get some chances then the opposing team comes down and capitalizes. Once again Slovakia fell victim to this after their extended power play. During just the second shift after the power play, Barrett Hayton buried one. He was left completely alone in front of the net and was able to put Canada up 1-0. Alexis Lafreniere who had been injured since game two for Canada put the work in down low to get the puck in the slot for Hayton. This would be all of the scoring action after the first, with Canada holding a slight shot advantage of 10-7.
The second is where Canada flexed their muscles and showed why they finished number one in Group B. Just over a minute into the second Connor McMichael converted on a 2v1 to put Canada up 2-0. It was all Canada at this point. Canada would go on to score three more in the middle frame to extend their lead to 5-0 after two. It was Lafreniere picking up the fifth goal for Canada, showing zero rust after missing the previous three games.
Slovakia was just going through the motions in the third. They seemed to know full well what their fate looked like in this game. Once again it only took a minute into the period for Barrett Hayton to light the lamp. This allowed him to collect his second goal of the game. Slovakia was able to give their fans something to cheer about when Oliver Okuliar blasted one by Hofer to cut the lead to 6-1. This would be it for goal scoring. The rest of the third period seen endless trips to the penalty box with neither team converting.
Slovakia had an inexperienced team heading into the World Junior tournament. No one would have given Slovakia much of a chance to make much noise. Slovakia did want to improve on their 8th place finish in last year’s tournament but it was not in the cards. After finishing 4th in their group, only because Kazakhstan was in that same group, they went up against a dangerous Canada team. This would leave Slovakia with another 8th place finish in 2020. Slovakia will now start to look ahead and try to put together a team that can achieve an improved showing in 2021 in Alberta, Canada.
Photo Credit – Hockey Canada (Twitter – HC_WJC)