We continue our preview of the ice hockey tournament at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi by taking a look at the Slovakian, Slovenian, and Czech teams.
Here is the Slovakian roster, per SBNation:
Zdeno Chara vs.
Marian Hossa Tomas Tatar. That's what this all boils down to.
Slovakia has a fairly well balanced team, with a mixture of talented defenseman, forwards, and goaltenders. But, of those three positions, the forward corps impresses me the most.
Tomas Tatar, Tomas Jurco, Richard Panik, Marian Hossa, Michal Handzus, Marian Gaborik, and to a lesser extent Tomas Kopecky, are all talented hockey players. They're not Canada's forwards, but they aren't Slovenia's either (more on that later).
Plus, with two current Red Wings, and two former, something has to work out.
Slovakia has some great players, but they don't have enough of them. Slovakia's biggest weakness is its lack of depth.
Secondary scoring will be a problem for the Slovaks. But, their lack of depth is most prevalent on the defensive side. Once you get past Chara, the rest of their D-Corps is a extremely mediocre.
And a mediocre defense is not going to hold up in this tournament.
Slovakia tends to always be an underrated team and the same applies this year. The nation does have enough star power to make it far in the tournament, but there are some obstacles.
Slovakia is in Group A along with Slovenia, host nation Russia, and the U.S. They obviously won't win, and the only way I see Slovakia ending up in 2nd place in the group is if either the U.S. or Russia completely collapses, which I doubt will occur. Despite that, Slovakia should beat Slovenia with ease, earning them a half-decent matchup in the qualification playoffs.
Who knows what Slovakia can do if they make it into the quarterfinal stage. The nation has enough offensive ability to score on the best teams, and a solid enough defense to stop their opposition. But, the team isn't deep.
All in all, a quarterfinal appearance should suit the Slovaks well.
Here is the Slovenian roster, per SBNation:
Two words: Anze Kopitar. Kopitar is the only current NHL player on Team Slovenia, which says quite a bit about the nation.
When he is playing at his best, Kopitar has proven to be one of the best players in the entire NHL. Along with Jan Mursak, Kopitar should be able to put up a decent chunk of points in the tournament. But, I doubt it will make a significant difference.
Outside of Kopitar and Mursak, there is no one on the above roster that is worth noting. Part of that is because I don't recognize any of the names, but that also says a lot.
I am sure that quite a few of these players will impress, but when you are facing some of the NHL's best, you need to do more than just impress.
The outlook doesn't look all too bright for the Slovenian's. They have been placed in arguably the toughest group of the tournament, and I wouldn't be surprised if they came out of the group stages without earning a single point.
Granted, the Slovenian's weren't even in the 2010 tournament in Vancouver, so this shouldn't come as a surprise. If I had make a prediction, I would say that Slovenia finishes second-to-last in the tournament, in front of only Latvia.
If nothing else, I am hoping for Mursak to impress.
Here is the Czech roster, per SBNation:
The Czech's biggest strength is, in my mind, their defense.
While their offense may contain some of their more well-known names, such as Jagr, Krejci, and Elias, their defense is more stable, and is deeper overall.
The notable defenseman on the roster include Zbynek Michalek, Michal Rozsival, Vladdy Smid, and Marek Zidlicky. None of these guys will be on your top-10 NHL defenseman list, but they are all underrated, defensively sound defenseman.
In fact, the Czech's defense will perfectly complement its offense. This is especially true when you look at some of the Czech forwards. The majority of them are offensive specialists, which is important during the Olympics, while the Czech's defenseman are mostly defensive stalwarts.
This may very well turn out to be the prefect combination.
Not including Jakub Kindl on the roster.
In all seriousness, the Czech's lack a proven goaltender. Pavelec, Kovar, and Salak are all good, solid netminders, but none of the three are capable of stealing a game in this competition.
Will this prove to be a problem? Who knows.
Besides being the most talented nation that is not apart of the "Big 5", the Czech Republic has an opportunity to really impress at the Olympics.
The Czechs are in Group C along with Sweden, Lativa, and Switzerland. While Sweden is a sure bet to win the group (Heja Sverige!), the Czechs should be able to beat their other two opponents. For those of you who don't know, the winner of each group receives a first-round bye in the tournament, along with the best second place team. Based on the three groups, only Finland has a better opportunity to reach 6 points, which should be enough to secure the best second place finish.
With that in mind, the Czech's will have an opportunity to potentially get a very easy ride to the semifinals. Once there, it is anyone's guess what will happen.
But, if I had to guess, I would say that the Czech's finish 4th after losing the Bronze medal game.