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World Juniors: Who was Slovakia’s goalie?

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It was a nail-biter in the quarter-finals as Slovakia was looking to get their first win in U20 history against Canada. With a game that was shut down by the predicted overall-first drafted in 2023, Connor Bedard, it was still a game to remember as a lot of the focus went onto one individual that was constantly giving Slovakia a breath of air when being rained down by Bedard. Adam Gajan stood on his head throughout the game and has shown a lot of NHL scouts that there is a goalie from Slovakia that is ready for his chance.

Gajan was born in Poprad, Slovakia. It is a city of almost 50,000 and is in the northwest part of the country in the Prešov region. The 18-year-old had an opportunity to play a few games for the U16 team of HPK in Finland in 2018. But after only one season and a handful of games for the team, he would return back to his hometown and play for the U16, and then U18 teams of HK Poprad.

A year after he had the opportunity to play on his first senior team with HK Skalica of the Slovak 1. Liga is the second-tier Slovakian hockey league. While he only played once for the team, he would hop around the next season between the U18 and U20 teams of HK Skalica until the current season where he has been playing in the United States.

At the beginning of the year, he was the starter for the North American Hockey League (NAHL) team, Chippewa Steel. After 16 games playing in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, he had another opportunity to join the biggest junior domestic league in the United States, the United States Hockey League (USHL). Gajan wouldn’t have to go far for his next team as he was placed in Green Bay to play for the Green Bay Gamblers. Despite only having played two games for the team, he remains undefeated with a save percentage of .961. He has also confirmed that next year he will be playing in NCAA Division I for the University of Minnesota-Duluth.

Despite his massive growth in the past couple of years what has been his highlight so far in his short career has been his performance at the 2023 IIHF World Juniors.  Slovakia is known for goalies coming out of nowhere to steal the show. In 2015 when the event was being hosted by Toronto and Montreal, Denis Godla came out of nowhere to help push Slovakia for their second bronze medal and the first one since 1999. Despite not getting the same result as Godla, Gajan still showcased a performance that was one of the best of the tournament and will make him memorable for the upcoming draft.

But like NHL teams, sometimes the answer to a goalie situation could come out of nowhere. Gajan certainly didn’t have the straight path to being Slovakia’s starting goalie this tournament.

Gajan didn’t start the match against Finland where they lost 5-3. After that Gajan got the task to start in net against the United States. A difficult task turned into a huge opportunity with the United States only scoring three goals and Slovakia winning 6-3. Gajan would ride the high into his game against Latvia where he would get his first and only shutout of the tournament. After that, he suffered a loss in a shootout against Switzerland losing 4-3.

It was one of the best runs for Slovakia since 2020 and even 2015 when they got the bronze medal.

Gajan would face his toughest opponent in the quarter-finals as the third-place team would face the first-place team from Group A, Canada. After three periods it was tied 3-3. A lot of the credit for the tie had to go to Gajan as Canada took three periods to relentlessly shoot at him from all angles. Sadly, it would be Bedard who shut down his tournament and give Canada the win to go into the semifinals. Canada would end the game with 57 shots on goal, and Gajan had 53 saves.

He came out of nowhere and was the star Slovakia needed in this tournament. He may not have gotten the medals he wanted but he still showed the hockey world who he was and he was ready for the next step. He still has a year at Green Bay before he goes to Duluth for university. It will be interesting to see how he grows from there.

main image credits: Getty Images

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