Slovaks confident of bronze medal

By STEVE BUFFERY, QMI Agency

VANCOUVER — Forward Pavol Demitra, who came within inches of tying Friday night’s game against Canada in the Olympic Games semifinal, is confident his squad will be able to regroup, recover and play even better against Finland for the bronze medal Saturday.

“For sure. Somehow we always play our best game the second game in a row,” said Demitra, who just missed scoring the tying goal with 10 seconds left in a 3-2 loss to Canada. “I think what happened (Friday) is good for our next game. We want third. We work hard and we never give up, and that says a lot about our team.”

Demitra, who has two goals and five assists in six games at the Olympics, said the Slovaks gave Canada a little too much respect Friday, allowing the Canadians to jump ahead 3-0, before fighting back and almost tying it.

“We tried to play too much a 0-0 game. We just shot the puck out of our zone and were hoping for a powerplay or something or a little break,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll have a better start (against Finland).”

The Slovaks near-miracle comeback Friday at GM Place was certainly not without precedence.

The year Slovakia won the world championship, 2002 in Sweden — a time referred to as the golden period of Slovak hockey — they trailed Canada by two in the quarterfinal, but fought back to win 3-2. That was by far Slovakia’s best moment on the international stage, as they went on to defeat Russia 4-3 in the gold-medal game.

The Slovaks are guaranteed at least a fourth-place finish in Vancouver, one spot higher than their previous best showing at an Olympics: A fifth-place at the last Olympics in Turin. Despite being out-gunned by a load Canadian side, the Slovaks gave an outstanding account of themselves.

And despite a roster here that features a number of current and former NHL stars, including Demitra, Zdeno Chara, Marian Hossa, Richard Zednik and Miroslav Satan, the Slovaks could not compete with the firepower of the Canadian team. The total salary of the NHL players on the Slovakian team at the Vancouver Olympics is $46.5 million, with Chara collecting $7.5 million of that. The total salary of the Canadian roster is $110.1 million, tops in the tournament.

A bronze medal against the dispirited Finns in Saturday’s bronze-medal game would represent a satisfying ending for a number of that team’s long-serving veterans, many of whom are expected to retire from international play after this tournament.

“For a lot of guys, this is our last chance, the last Olympics,” said forward Richard Zednik.

The Slovaks have been the heartbreak kids in Vancouver. Their last three games have all been decided by one goal, including a 4-3 win over Sweden in the quarterfinals and a 4-3 win over Norway in the playoff qualification game. But it may be difficult to find the legs necessary to beat Finland with less than 24 hours to recover.

“We have to get up for it,” said forward Josef Stumpel. “We have no choice.”

steve.buffery@sunmedia.ca

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