Canada might have won tonight’s game against Team Slovakia, but the European nation won the hearts of all who were watching in a game that was close until the final whistle. In a tight game, they became the World Junior darling in the process as they showed heart, desire, and a lot of effort against arguably the best team in the tournament. An effort and lovable style that is similar to other loveable underdogs like Denmark in 2015 and Kazakhstan in 2019.
The World Junior Darling Stopped the Snowball
Coming off a massive 16-2 win over Germany, things changed tonight for Canada against Team Slovakia. However, it didn’t look like it in the first few minutes when they quickly took the lead. After a long attack, Jordan Spence scored to make it 1-0 and everything looked like it did against Germany leading up to it. A blowout was looming.
But then, Slovakia stopped the infamous snowball from rolling. By hunkering down and playing hardworking and clever hockey, they managed to stay in the game, where they took away the Canadian shooting and passing lanes. Team Canada was looking arrogant and complacent, which Team Slovakia used to slow the game down and stay in it for as long as possible.
After the Spece goal, Slovakia was able to get the pace of the game down to a level where they were able to match Canada fully, having just as many shots in the final 40 minutes as Canada did. Canada did have the better chances but Slovakia wasn’t without opportunities. Moments before Phillip Tomasino scored to make it 2-0 with 3:30 left of the game, Slovakia had just been banging at a puck that was dancing around Devon Levis crease, with a mad scramble in front. One stick hit that puck and it’s a tie game.
The World Junior darling even showed a lot of grit and a never say never attitude when Martin Chromiak scored to make it 2-1 shortly after Tomasino’s goal. They fully believed the comeback and upset was doable and played like it. It fell short, but it was close and deserves a ton of respect for the young Slovakian team at this year’s World Junior Championship.
Wonderful Goaltending From Team Slovakia
Despite matching Canada shot for shot after the first goal of the game, one player stood out in this game. That was Samuel Hlavaj, who had gotten the start after Simon Latkoczys shutout against Switzerland on an opening day. A bold move, but it paid off as Hlavaj was playing about as well as you could ask for. He was solid and kept Team Slovakia within one goal for 56 minutes of the game. It was reminiscent of Denis Godla back in 2015, who was fantastic and led Slovakia to a historic bronze medal. Could the tandem of Hlavaj and Simon Latkoczy be on the verge of doing similar?
They were far from alone in holding back Team Canada. The defense of Slovakia also played a huge role. Everything clicked tonight and a lot of fans more than likely will be cheering for them the rest of the tournament. A similar thing happened to Denmark in 2015, where they almost upset Russia and Czech Republic in Toronto. They fell short both times, but it gave them a cult following and they became the World Junior darling that everyone wanted to love. This is exactly what Team Slovakia did tonight and it’s going to be interesting to see if they can follow it up against Germany tomorrow.
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