Four years ago, the Slovaks were the Cinderella Story. They beat Russia and Sweden en route to a fourth place finish in the Olympics.
And yet, as surprising as that was, it didn’t come out of nowhere. They were a team with quite a few talented NHL players leading the charge. To compare them to the nation they just suffered a 3-1 loss to, Slovenia, which has only one NHLer in Anze Kopitar, would be inaccurate.
Slovakia wasn’t a hockey powerhouse, but they weren’t far from it either. Times have changed though. It’s true that the Slovaks were dealt a bad hand when they lost Marian Gaborik and Lubomir Visnovsky to injuries, but their problems extend beyond that.
“We had different players (in the 2010 Olympics),” Slovak goaltender Jaroslav Halak said, per the Olympic News Service. “We were younger. Everybody’s four years older right now and the time is catching up with everybody.
“If you look at the roster four years ago we had really good hockey players that were in their prime. It is hard to replace them.”
And that lies at the heart of Slovakia’s problems. Its best are aging and a new generation hasn’t been able to take their place yet. There are just four Slovak players in the NHL who are 26 or younger. Of them, only Detroit Red Wings forward Tomas Tatar has played in more than 40 contests this season.
Back in 2005, eight players from Slovakia were drafted and it was 10 in each of the 2003 and 2004 NHL Entry Drafts. By comparison, only 21 Slovak players have been selected by NHL teams from 2006-2013.
“We have no one young coming up, but we have to play with what we have,” Halak admitted.
Until that changes, Slovakia will have a hard time living up to its past success.