Sochi 2014 team previews: Slovakia

Zdeno Chara and Slovakia will try to better their 2010 performance and leave Sochi with a medal. - Martin Rose

Zdeno Chara's bunch will be looking to improve on 2010's surprising fourth-place finish.

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Capital city: Bratislava

Population: 5,410,836

Schedule:

Feb. 13 vs. USA, 7:30 AM

Feb. 15 vs. Slovenia, 3 AM

Feb. 16 vs. Russia, 7:30 AM

(All times Eastern)

Group: Group A, along with Russia, Slovenia, and the United States

Best Olympic finish: 4th, 2010 (lost to Finland in bronze medal game)

Current IIHF ranking: 8th

Team Captain: Zdeno Chara (Boston Bruins)

Alternate Captains: Marian Hossa (Chicago Blackhawks) and Michal Handzus (Chicago Blackhawks)

Number of NHLers on roster: 13

Roster:

GOALIES

Peter Budaj (Montreal Canadiens)
Jaroslav Halak (St. Louis Blues)
Jan Laco (Donbass Donetsk)

DEFENSEMEN

Ivan Baranka (Avangard Omsk)
Zdeno Chara (Boston Bruins)
Dominik Granak (Dynamo Moscow)
Martin Marincin (Edmonton Oilers)
Andrej Meszaros (Philadelphia Flyers)
Andrej Sekera (Carolina Hurricanes)
Michal Sersen (Slovan Bratislava)
Lubomir Visnovsky (New York Islanders, may not play)

FORWARDS

Milan Bartovic (Slovan Bratislava)
Marian Gaborik (Columbus Blue Jackets) ruled out due to collarbone injury
Michal Handzus (Chicago Blackhawks)
Marcel Hossa (Dinamo Riga)
Marian Hossa (Chicago Blackhawks)
Tomas Jurco (Detroit Red Wings)
Tomas Kopecky (Florida Panthers)
Tomas Marcinko (HC Kosice)
Michel Miklik (Slovan Bratislava)
Peter Olvecky (Slovan Bratislava)
Richard Panik (Syracuse Crunch)
Tomas Surovy (Dinamo Minsk)
Tomas Tatar (Detroit Red Wings)
Tomas Zaborsky (Salavat Yulaev Ufa)

National anthem:

Sochi jerseys:

Slovakiafullset_medium

Best jerseys:

2010's red, white, and blue beauties.

Slovakia_hockey_inpost_medium

via cdnolympic.files.wordpress.com

Weird fact: Slovakia is so small that it could fit three times over into the area of Minnesota.

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Slovakia is a pretty intriguing team. They have a lot of high-end NHL talent for such a small country, but there's a significant drop-off between the high-end guys and the rest of the squad, i.e. they're either great or average, there's nothing in between.

Strength: The Slovaks have a wealth of talent at forward: Marian Hossa is a premier NHL sniper, Michal Handzus, he of 466 career NHL points, is a big winger who can score, and two Tomases, Kopecky and Tatar, have proven their worth at the highest level. Marian Gaborik being out with a collarbone injury is a huge loss, but the Slovaks do have some guys who can step in and combine to fill the void.

Weakness: The Slovaks may have the best overall defenseman in the tournament in Zdeno Chara, but he doesn't have a ton of help. Andrej Sekera, Andrej Meszaros, and Lubomir Visnovsky are serviceable NHLers, but none belongs on a top defense pairing against the world's best skaters.

Key player: As Jonas Hiller proved in 2010, a hot goalie can come pretty close to stealing the tournament, and can, at the very least, lead to some big upsets. The Slovaks have goalie like that in Jaroslav Halak of the St. Louis Blues. Halak has a record of 23-8-4 so far this year, with a save percentage of .914 and a GAA of 2.27. He's done it before for Slovakia, allowing just one goal on 37 shots in an upset win over Russia during the Vancouver games and backstopping that squad to a fourth-place finish. If Halak can get hot, Slovakia will be dangerous.

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