OGDB Semifinal: Bratislavan Brawl

After crushing Russia on Wednesday, Canada faces an energetic and gutsy Slovakian team with excellent goaltending from Montreal Canadien Jaroslav Halak. But who else is on this team?

They’ve got the Marians _ Gaborik and Hossa — the Human Crane, Zdeno Chara and slick D-man Lubomir Visnovsky, but after that the names are recognizable, but they don’t possess the fear of the Russians.

Still, don’t underestimate the Slovaks.

Pavol Demitra skated like he was 25 years old against Sweden. He won races to the puck and out-skated the Swedes all game. He is tied for the tournament lead with Dany Heatley, Jonathon Toews and Marian Hossa with seven points. The Slovaks are a very proud bunch and tonight will be the biggest game this small country has ever played.

Up front they have the Marians, Demitra, former NHLers Jozef Stumpel, Ziggy Palffy, Richard Zednik, Marcel Hossa, Lubos Bartecko, Branko Radivojevic and Martin Cibak, as well as Michal Handzus (Kings), Miro Satan (Boston) and Tomas Kopecky (Blackhawks).

Their backend consists of Chara, Visnovsky, Andrej Meszaros (Tampa Bay), Andrej Sekera (Buffalo), Milan Jurcina (Columbus), Ivan Baranka (Rangers 2nd rounder in 2003 played one NHL game) and Martin Strbak (Kings’ 9th rounder in 1993, played 49 NHL games).

They seem like a rag-tag bunch made up of NHL stars, former NHLers and current NHL role players, but they play like a team and they won’t quit.

Special stats for Slovaks

Jaroslav Halak will be busy. Canada is averaging 43 shots a game, while the Slovaks will test Roberto Luongo as they have fired 32 shots a game.

Canada will have to be disciplined.

The Slovaks have the best PP in the tournament, scoring seven goals in 19 chances good for 36.8%. Canada is 4th on the PP at 27.2%, with six goals in 22 chances.

Slovakia is also first on the PK at 94.5%. They’ve only allowed one goal on 19 chances, and they have faced the Czechs, Russia and Sweden so far. Canada is 3rd on the PK at 87.5%, having allowed two goals on 16 chances.

Other tidbits

Slovakia has a population of about five million people and is situated in Central Europe. It borders Hungary to the south, Ukraine to the East, Poland to the North and Czech Republic and Austria to the west.

Bratislava is the largest city (429,000) and the capital and they will be hosting the 2011 World Championships. A buddy of mine married a girl from Bratislava and a few buddies of ours went over for the wedding. They swear that Bratislava has the most beautiful women in the world so we are planning a trip for the World Championships next year.

Czech/Slovakia rivalry

Ladislav Smid and Lubomir Visnovsky sit beside each other in the Oiler dressing room and they are constantly exchanging barbs over which country is better. But yesterday Smid admitted that while there is a healthy rivalry between the two, he will be cheering for Slovakia tonight.

“I want to beat them when we (Czech) play them, but once one team is out of the tournament you cheer for the other. It would be great for them if they could upset Canada,” said Smid.

It would be an upset, but I don’t see it happening. You don’t have the angst leading up to tonight like you did against Russia, or on Sunday v. the States (if they can beat Finland), but the Canadians will be ready.

I expect them to dominate down low like they did against Russia, but to this point in the tourney Halak hasn’t allowed a weak goal. Canada will win but they probably won’t get two freebie goals in the first like they did on Wednesday.

Canada wins 5-2 and then the country gets ready to show the United States that this is still our game, and many of you can call or email the Jim Rome show and tell those Yanks a win in the round robin means nothing if you don’t win the GOLD.