Slovakia had to work the full 60 minutes in their game against Kazakhstan, but they did beat them 4-2, and took important three points.
Tomáš Kopecký scored two – including the game winner halfway through the third period – and Dominik Graňák scored one and added an assist.
“I don’t think they had too many surprises to us. I don’t think it was a great game, but in the end we got three points, so we have to be happy with that,” said Miroslav Saran.
“We got off to a bad start and they got a goal so quickly. We were tired the whole game. We feel like we’re getting better and better every game, and the experience is really good for us,” Kazakhstan’s Vadim Krasnoslobodtsev said.
Wednesday’s early matchup was one of the rare ones in the World Championships. Slovakia and Kazahkstan had met only three times in previous tournaments, the latest of them a preliminary round game in Cologne in 2010. Slovakia won that game 5-1.
Slovakia was obviously a big favorite today, too, having just beaten Team USA on Monday and added Michal Handzuš to the team.
“It was the first time we were the favourite here and we didn’t play very well,” said Slovakia’s coach Vladimir Vujtek.
And when Dominik Graňák gave Slovakia 1-0 lead at 1:08, off Miroslav Šatan’s nice feed from behind the net, it would have been easy to write off Kazakhstan. None of the people with such thoughts were sitting on Kazakhstan’s bench, though, because the team dressed in blue surely didn’t give up.
“We have a young team, and I think who we play affected us. That’s the story,” said Šatan.
And ten minutes and ten seconds later, at 11:18, Yevgeni Rymarev beat Ján Laco in Slovakia’s goal, completely fooling him. Rymarev had the puck behind Slovakia’s net, and he looked like he was going to attempt a wraparound from the left side and when Laco moved towards that post, Rymarev slipped the puck in at the right post.
Slovakia controlled the game but couldn’t beat Vitali Yeremeyev in Kazakhstan’s goal until 17:49 into the second period when they were on power play. Zdeno Chára sent a pass across the blue line to Graňák who sent it directly to Libor Hudáček on the other side. Hudáček took a couple of steps in and fired a wrist shot from the left faceoff dot, and beat Yeremeyev high on the glove side.
Kazakhstan tied the game early in the third period, at 3:15, with Konstantin Pushkaryov’s goal. He went around the net, and sent the puck to the front of then, and somehow it found its way into the net.
Slovakia found yet another gear and that was enough for them to put pressure on Kazakhstan. At 8:18 they also got the goal they needed. Tomáš Kopecký made it 3-2 when he onetimed Ivan Baranka’s pass from the right faceoff dot.
Kazakhstan’s chase to tie the game was cut short thanks to a team penalty for too many men on the ice with 1:26 remaining in the game. Slovakia could hold onto the puck, and with just 13.5 seconds remaining Kopecký scored his second of the game when he one-timed Handzuš’ perfect pass past Yeremeyev off a 2-on-1 rush.
“Our players gave it their best shot, but it wasn’t enough. But we’ll come back and fight against Canada, Finland, and the U.S., three teams that will play in the playoffs,” said Kazakhstan’s coach Andrei Shayanov.
Slovakia now has two days off and then plays back-to-back games against Belarus and Switzerland, their two biggest rivals in the race for the quarter-final spots.
“These are crucial games for us. They’re important games if we want to be in the playoffs,” said Šatan, and added: “And we do.”
IHLC: With the win, Slovakia wins its first successful defence of the International Hockey Lineal Championship it won from the United States two days prior, Slovakia’s tenth IHLC reign. Canada entered the tournament as IHLC champions, winning one before dropping the title to Team USA, who in turn then lost to Slovakia. This was the first meeting between Slovakia and Kazakhstan for the IHLC since the 2006 Turin Olympics, where Slovakia retained the IHLC in a 2-1 win. Slovakia faces Belarus in group play next for the IHLC.
01:08 – GOAL – Graňák (Šatan, Hudáček)
11:18 – GOAL – Rymarev (Novopashin, Shemelin)
23:26 – PEN – Radivojevič, tripping
31:31 – PEN – Shemelin, high sticking
32:38 – PEN – Kopecký, slashing
36:50 – PEN – Fadeyev, hooking
37:49 – PP GOAL – Hudáček (Graňák, Chára)
43:15 – GOAL – Pushkaryov (Zhailauov, Upper)
44:34 – PEN – Korabeinikov, hooking
48:18 – GOAL – Kopecký (Baranka, Sekera)
58:34 – PEN – team, too many players
59:47 – PP GOAL – Kopecký (Handzuš, Radivojevič)
W: Laco (20-22)
L: Yeremeyev (29-33)
SHOTS ON GOAL
10+11+12 = 33
8+5+9 = 22
Goaltenders: Peter Hamerlík, Ján Laco. Defence: Ivan Baranka, Zdeno Chára (C), Dominik Graňák (A), Andrej Sekera, Michal Sersen, Tomáš Starosta, René Vydarený. Forwards: Milan Bartovič, Mário Bližňák, Michal Handzuš, Marcel Haščák, Marcel Hossa, Libor Hudáček, Tomáš Kopecký, Michel Miklik, Juraj Mikúš, Branko Radivojevič, Miroslav Šatan (A), Tomáš Surový, Tomáš Tatar.
Goaltenders: Vitali Kolesnik, Vitali Yeremeyev. Defence: Yevgeni Fadeyev, Vladislav Kolesnikov, Andrei Korabeinikov, Vitali Novopashin (A), Roman Savchenko, Denis Shemelin, Alexei Troshinski, Sergei Yakovenko. Forwards: Yevgeni Bumagin, Dmitri Dudarev, Vadim Krasnoslobodtsev, Fyodor Polishuk, Konstantin Pushkaryov, Konstantin Romanov, Yevgeni Rymarev, Konstantin Savenkov, Andrei Spiridonov, Dmitri Upper (C), Alexei Vorontsov, Talgat Zhailauov (A).