Sunday, 12 February 2012

Slovakia victorious in the BelSwissBank Cup

Team Slovakia won both games in Minsk.
Team Slovakia put in two solid performances to win the BelSwissBank Cup. The Slovaks defeated Switzerland in the opening game of the tournament, scoring three third period goals to defeat the Swiss 3-1, before facing the home side Belarus in the final, where the Slovaks dominated the game from start to finish, winning 5-1.

The national side, who won the Deutschland Cup before Christmas continued their run of good form under new coach Vladimír Vůjtek, and their defensive play has been most impressive since the changing of the guard after Glen Hanlon's firing. The Slovakian national side needs any success it can get at the moment after the horror show that was the 2011 World Championships, and with Slovakia's current ranking putting into jepoardy their chance of automatically qualifying for the 2014 Olympics, any form of forward momentum would be greatly welcomed within the Slovakia set up.

Speaking with (link) after the game, Vůjtek sounded surprised at how the Belarussians folded in the first period.

"The match with Belarus was easier than we expected. In eight minutes we managed to put three goals past them, and then we just had to control the game."

"Against Belarus we were more relaxed than against Switzerland."

Two goal hero Juraj Mikúš celebrates
The opening game of the tournament was the definition of a slow burner, and although both teams had a fair number of chances in the opening half of the game, neither team managed to break the deadlock. Eventually Switzerland would take the league, as a Damien Brunner shot eluded the grasp of Peter Hamerlík, who was tending goal for the national side. Both teams only had 24 shots on goal, but that was the only time that Hamerlik was going to be beaten, and as the third period progressed, Slovakia started to take the upper hand, and they finally equalised with under five minutes to go, as Juraj Mikúš - recently loaned out to SM-Liiga side TPS from Lev - fired home to tie the game up. 29 seconds later, the Slovaks had taken the lead, as another Lev forward, Rastislav Špirko fired in from close range, beating former NHLer Tobias Stephan in the Swiss goal. Mikúš would get a second goal as the Swiss went with the extra attacker, meaning that the score ended 3-1 to Slovakia, with Mikúš scoring two, and surprise call up Michel Miklik, from HC Košice, added two assists. Belarus, who had shut out Germany in the day's later game would be Slovakia's opponents in the final.

Kristian Kudroc hammers
 Konstantin Koltsov
After flattering to deceive in the opening half of the game against Switzerland, the Slovaks clearly got the message against Belarus. Only 23 seconds had elapsed before Vladimir Dravecky fired home from close range to give the road team the lead. It took Slovakia a little over six minutes to double their advantage, as Juraj Mikúš bagged his third goal of the tournament in the 7th minute, tapping a juicy rebound off of Andrei Mezin's pads into the gaping net. 22 seconds later, and the Slovaks were three to the good, as Vladimir Mihalik's cross crease pass from the left wing fell perfectly onto the tape of Adam Lapšanský, and the young Sparta Praha forward made no mistake in burying the puck past Mezin. The Slovaks, who went with Július Hudáček in the net for the final seemed to switch off after the third goal, and the Belarussians beat Hudáček for the only time in the 8th minute, as Aleksandr Kitarov scored. Hudáček made 30 saves in Saturday's game, showing that he has no problem in translating his blistering Allsvenskan form into international play. Hudáček was called into making a number of saves early in the second, and against the run of play, Slovakia got their fourth, as Kristian Kudroc's point shot eluded Mezin and wound up in the back of the net. The scoring was closed out by Marcel Haščák, as the HC Košice sniped a wrist shot from the left circle into the top corner, capping off a brilliant game by the Slovaks, who take home the BelSwissBank Cup.

Juraj Mikúš led the way for the Slovaks, scoring three goals and one assist in the tournament, whilst Michel Miklik, renowned for his goal scoring touch in the Slovak Extraliga, showed an extra dimension to his game, picking up three assists in the two games. Considering some of the absences from the squad, including SM-Liiga forward Tomáš Záborský, who once again pulled out after being selected, the Slovaks should be pleased from their showing, especially with some of their depth players who weren't expected to contribute, although they're might be a few worries about the performance of the top line, as Vladimir Dravecký, Roman Kukumberg, and Štefan Ružička combined for just one goal. All in all though, I imagine the SZLH is very happy with the job that Vladimir Vůjtek has done so far, although the big test comes in a couple of months, when Vůjtek takes his Slovakia side to the World Championships, where the Slovaks will hope they can recreate the magic of 2002.

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