International Ice Hockey Federation
Loading...

Rise of the Roman Empire

Slovakia to quarter-final, Danes to relegation

Published 31.12.2017 21:48 GMT-5 | Author Lucas Aykroyd
Rise of the Roman Empire
BUFFALO, NEW YORK - DECEMBER 31: Slovakia's Martin Bodak #5 stickhandles past Denmark's Daniel Nielsen #21 during the preliminary round of the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship. (Photo by Andrea Cardin/HHOF-IIHF Images)
Like a conquering hero, Milos Roman scored twice to lift Slovakia to a 5-1 win over Denmark on Sunday and a 2018 World Junior quarter-final berth in Buffalo.

"I think Denmark started very well," said Roman. "We had problems in the first five minutes, but after that our game got better. I am happy with my team. We won 5-1 and we’re in the quarter-final. It’s great."

Finishing fourth in Group A, the Slovaks will battle the first-place Group B team on 2 January. It would have been tragic to squander this opportunity in their round-robin finale after hitting an emotional high with the 3-2 upset over the defending champion United States.

"It wouldn’t have meant anything if we lost tonight," said Samuel Bucek, who leads Slovakia with six points.

Bucek and Martin Fehervary added a goal and an assist apiece for Slovakia, and Adam Liska also tallied. Joachim Blichfeld replied for Denmark.

The Slovaks have finished between sixth and eighth at every World Junior Championship in the 2010's – except for 2015, when MVP goalie Denis Godla backstopped them to a surprising bronze in Montreal. And that’s the blueprint they’d like to emulate or improve on.

"They played as one group, and we have to play like them," said Roman. "We have a very good team, very good defence, very good offence. We will play as one group, so we can beat everyone."

Slovak goalie Roman Durny won his HarborCenter duel with his Danish counterpart Kasper Krog as shots favored Slovakia 40-31.

Meanwhile, the winless Danes will miss the quarter-finals for the first time since returning to the elite division in 2015. It’s a tough pill to swallow.

"Last year, we had lucky bounces," said Krog, reflecting on the 2017 upsets against Finland and the Czechs. "This year, we don’t. Now we’re going to the relegation round, and we’ve got to pick ourselves up and win two games there."

Objectively, it’s unsurprising after Denmark was outscored 26-2 in the preliminary round. Coach Olaf Eller's boys just couldn’t find the special spark that delivered upsets over the Finns and Czechs last year. They will face Belarus in the best-of-three relegation series starting 2 January. Surely the Danes will be determined to succeed with Copenhagen and Herning hosting the IIHF World Championship next year for the very first time.

Once upon a time, a game between teams like Slovakia and Denmark would have had almost no bodychecking. It was treated like something that was regretfully obligatory when facing a North American opponent. But European hockey has evolved, and both teams came out throwing their weight around with wonderful teenage desperation.

At 4:46, Blichfeld opened the scoring off the rush, backhanding in the rebound from Nikolaj Krag’s shot. The Slovaks argued that the play was offside, but the goal stood.

"I just saw my teammate got the puck and he’s got a rocket of a shot, so I just wanted to drive the net," Blichfeld said. "Luckily the puck bounced right out to me and I had an open net."

At 11:42, Roman skated into the Danish zone, took a pass from Alex Tamasi and hammered a slapper through Krog from the top of the left faceoff circle to make it 1-1. For the Trinec-trained forward who plays for the Vancouver Giants in the 2019 co-host city of the World Juniors with Victoria, it was his first goal of the tournament.

Now the Slovaks began firing away. Krog was fortunate to stop Erik Smolka, who put the puck off the Danish netminder’s right pad with a half-open net to shoot at. Marian Studenic also had him fooled with a rising backhander off the iron.

Early in the second period, the Danes picked up the pace, with Blichfeld and Krag keying the charge to the Slovak crease. However, the tide shifted again after Denmark’s Rasmus Heine took a holding penalty, even though the Slovaks didn’t capitalize with that man advantage.

Just before the midway point, Fehervary stepped in on the left side and made it 2-1 with a short-side goal past a screened Krog. Next, Durny made one big save after another during a Studenic minor for slashing.

Slovakia took its second penalty of the game for too many men on the ice, and usually that indicates a team isn’t quite mentally prepared. But instead, the Slovaks turned it to their advantage.

With 5:22 left in the middle frame, a relentless shorthanded forecheck paid dividends when Roman grabbed the puck behind the net, cut out front and scored his second goal for a 3-1 lead.

"There was a good forecheck by my teammate, Alex Tamasi. I stole the puck from the Denmark defenceman and after that, I saw free space in front of the net and I went there and scored. I’m happy that I scored."

At 4:06 of the third, Bucek put the game out of reach with a short-side marker after a draw in the Danish end. Just 1:16 later, Liska finished off a rush to make it 5-1. The Danes called their time-out, but this train had already left the station.

"We were trying to play a simple game today," said Bucek. "We were trying to put the pucks behind them and deliver them to the net. It worked. That was the game plan and we stuck with it the whole game. That’s why we won."

In a strange sight, Danish captain Christian Mathias-Wesje left two Slovaks prone in the Danish end with big hits with under two minutes to go. Smolka left the game early for repairs. The teams finished 4-on-4 after some rough stuff.

Slovakia won its only previous World Junior game against Denmark, 4-3 on 30 December, 2007 in Pardubice, Czech Republic.

As both the Slovaks and the NFL's Buffalo Bills made the playoffs, it was a happy night at the HarborCenter -- unless you happened to be Danish, of course.