The World Juniors opened up on Sunday for Slovakia, and unfortunately, they were handed a 4-3 loss by team USA. Not even 24 hours later, the Slovaks were up against Jesper Wallstedt and Team Sweden, who was also starting its tournament with back-to-back games.
A few line changes occurred heading into this matchup, which saw Vegas Golden Knights prospect Jakub Demek move up to the second-line for a deserved promotion. Goaltender Simon Latkoczy got his second straight start for the Slovaks.
However, the team once again faced a goalie who was on a mission to win. Wallstedt made 48 saves and secured the 3-0 shutout over Slovakia.
Shots, Shots, and More Shots
Slovakia played a hard game against Sweden, and it was relentless in the shots on goal department. At the end of the first period, it had outshot the Swedes 13-4, and despite trailing 1-0 at the end of the first, the Slovaks had a strong period.
They were quick to get shots on the net, but unfortunately weren’t able to capitalize on any chances. Sweden took advantage of a power play, and Detroit Red Wings prospect Theodor Niederbach picked up a quick goal.
The pressure was there in the second again, as the Slovaks outshot the Swedes 30-19, but the Swedes picked up another goal when Dallas Stars prospect Albert Sjöberg made a quick move to get around Simon Becar and bury it past Latkoczy. Wallstedt was phenomenal in the net once again, taking all 30 shots with ease while robbing multiple Slovak players of chances.
The Slovaks came out hard for the third period, quickly getting shots on the net and taking control of the game. As the first ten minutes started to wind down, Swedish defenceman Leo Lööf took a run at Simon Nemec, resulting in a headshot, and was handed a five-minute major, and match penalty. Not even a minute into the major penalty, Sweden took another undisciplined penalty, forcing a 5-on-3, but Wallstedt was sharp as ever, and the Swedes killed the penalties off. Philadelphia Flyers prospect Emil Andrae played a crucial penalty-killing role.
The Slovaks continued to add pressure in the final ten minutes, hitting the goal post and crossbar a couple of times, but were unable to capitalize. Daniel Ljungman, a Dallas Stars prospect, picked up the empty-netter to seal the game 3-0.
Prospects Continue to Shine
2022 top-prospects Juraj Slafkovsky and Nemec once again put all their talents on display for the world to see. The second-line unit that is made up of Slafkovsky, Demek and fellow 2022 prospect Filip Mesar, was the line to watch tonight. They are arguably the best line the Slovaks have assembled, and will be utilized more. The duo of Slafkovsky, and Mesar continues to create dangerous chances. Slafkovsky had a couple of early chances, but Wallstedt was able to shut him down on both occasions. He was named player of the game for the Slovaks.
Meanwhile, Nemec once again starred on defence for the Slovaks. He has become one of their most reliable defenders, and can be used in any situation. His mobility is his best asset, and he proved that once again tonight. He can jump up into the rush, but also transition back into his zone fluently. He’s truly a special player to watch, and there’s no doubt that he will be a top-5 selection at the 2022 NHL Draft. Watch for his talents to continuously be on display for the remainder of the tournament.
Unfortunately, 16-year-old Dalibor Dvorsky did not get as much ice time as some may have hoped. He didn’t see a single second of ice time in the entire five-minute power play that Slovakia possessed in the third period. As a player who dominated the Hlinka Gretzky Cup in the spring, you would expect him to be utilized in more critical situations, such as special teams. However, it’s important to remember he is only 16, and will likely see more ice time as the tournament progresses. With players like Slafkovsky, Nemec, Mesar, and Dvorsky, the future of hockey in Slovakia is looking bright.
Back at it Wednesday
Slovakia will get a much-deserved day off and will be back Wednesday to play against Russia. The Russians are 1-1 in the tournament, as they lost their opening game 6-3 to Sweden before picking up a big 4-2 victory of Switzerland.
While Latkoczy has been playing great for the Slovaks, it will be interesting to see if they go back to him for a third straight game in net. This will also be the first time since the Hlinka Gretzky Cup that Dalibor Dvorsky and Russia’s Matvei Michkov will face off against one another.
All Your THW 2022 World Junior Championship Coverage
Born and raised in Kamloops B.C. and a die-hard fan of the Kamloops Blazers, hockey has always been a part of his life. Now, Colton is exploring the sports media world and looking to make it a career. He currently covers the Winnipeg Jets, as well as contributes to World Juniors, and draft-related content. He is co-host of the WesternCentric Podcast, which revolves around the WHL.