Slovaks thwart Danes
Tatar nets winner, tourney ends for both sides
"It was a pretty good game," said Tatar. "It was hard to find motivation for it. We didn't really have much to lose, but still, it's different to end up the world championships with a win than to go home with a loss. It makes a difference for the ranking as well."
Michel Miklik and Marek Viedensky added a goal and an assist apiece for Slovakia, and Juraj Valach had two helpers.
Morten Green had a goal and an assist for Denmark, while Mikkel Boedker and Jesper Jensen also tallied. Mads Christensen had two assists.
Slovak goalie Jan Laco and Danish netminder Simon Nielsen went head-to-head as Denmark outshot Slovakia 30-24. Game 54 of the tournament was a moderately paced affair that got a little wilder in the third period, with five goals scored.
"We knew since yesterday that we wouldn’t be in the quarter-finals and the players were disappointed," said Slovak head coach Vladimir Vujtek. "But they showed character and they wanted to win, and we got the three points."
On balance, it was an underwhelming tournament for both teams.
The Slovaks had aspired to at least make the quarter-finals, and failing to do so, with a ninth-place finish, is symptomatic of their gradual decline in depth and talent. This is the first time Slovakia has fallen outside the top eight under Vujtek. In 2011, they came 10th as the host country under now-Belarus coach Glen Hanlon.
"Looking back, the Czechs score with two minutes left," said Ladislav Nagy of his team's opening 3-2 overtime loss to its neighboring rival. "We could have had three points there. Ten minutes left, we're up 3-1 against France, and we take a lot of penalties and they come back [to win 5-3]. We've got a lot of new guys in the team. Fourteen players are playing in their first World Championship. We have a lot of guys with talent. It's a really good experience for them."Continue reading
This might have been the last IIHF game for Slovak captain Miroslav Satan. The 39-year-old winger is Slovakia’s all-time World Championship scoring leader (37-38-75), and played for all four of the country’s medal teams (2000 silver, 2002 gold, 2003 bronze, 2012 silver). A four-time Olympian, Satan was excluded from the 2014 Sochi roster.
Denmark only won two games in Minsk, an expected 4-1 win over now-relegated Italy and a nice come-from-behind 4-3 shootout victory over the Czechs. They'll finish 13th, one place lower than last year.
The Danes' inability to play consistent hockey kept them outside the top 10 for the fourth consecutive year, although maintaining their place in the top division, as they have every year since 2003, is worth something. They haven’t made the quarter-finals since 2010 (eighth place).
"Some games we played really good hockey," said Christensen. "We could have won many of our games against the big nations. But we are too inconsistent. There are a lot of games in a short period of time and you probably can't be 100 percent successful every time, but mentally, you need to be there for every game."
In this game, there were a couple of early golden opportunities. Jesper Jespen rushed in and tried to deke Laco but was foiled, and Marek Viedensky tipped one off Nielsen’s left post. With less than seven minutes left in the first, Laco twice stoned Kim Staal with his glove.
Slovakia opened the scoring at 14:41, as Tatar batted in the rebound from Juraj Valach’s right point shot.
Just 1:11 into the second period, Boedker got the 1-1 equalizer for Denmark on the power play. A centering pass bounced off a Slovak defender, and Boedker picked the puck up in the slot and zipped it past an off-kilter Laco.
Nielsen stood his ground against Peter Ceresnak with 4:19 remaining in the middle frame, as the Slovak forward got a near-breakaway while being checked by Philip Larsen. The Danish goalie also provided a great blocker save on Tatar a minute before the buzzer.
Slovakia made it 2-1 with a two-man advantage at 1:31 of the third. Miklik centered the puck from the goal line to Viedensky, whose shot was stopped, but Miklik was there to bat the loose puck home on the stick side.
Morten Green tied it up with 7:07 left on another fortunate bounce similar to Boekder's goal, swiping in a loose puck from the slot after a deflected shot.
Then things got livelier.
One minute later, Slovakia jumped back into the lead. Viedensky got good position in front of the Danish net and was wide-open for a neat feed from Miklik: all he had to do was put it into the empty net.
Tatar swooped in 24 seconds later, dragging the puck coolly into the slot before beating Laco to make it 4-2.
Denmark responded pronto. Jesper Jensen scored on a breakaway, splitting the Slovak defense at 14:25 to cut Slovakia's lead to 4-3. But despite pulling their goalie in the dying moments, the Danes couldn't send this game to overtime.
"We’re still in the [elite division]," said Danish coach Janne Karlsson. "That was our first goal, and we succeeded with it. We had a chance to take more points."
The three best players of the tournament for each team were named. For Slovakia, it was Jan Laco, Marek Daloga and Michel Miklik. For Denmark, it was Jannik Hansen, Emil Kristensen, and Patrick Bjorkstrand.
At the post-game press conference, both coaches were asked to give their picks for the gold medal. Vujtek picked Canada, Sweden, or Russia, while Karlsson endorsed Russia.
This was the fourth all-time meeting between Denmark and Slovakia in World Championship history. Slovakia won 8-0 in 2004, Denmark prevailed 6-0 in 2010, and the Slovaks triumphed 4-1 in 2011.