For the first time since becoming an independent nation in 1993, Slovakia is taking home an Olympic hockey medal. The Slovaks took down Sweden in the men's bronze medal game Saturday morning, shutting out the Swedes by a score of 4-0.
Slovak sensation Juraj Slafkovsky continued his excellent showing at the Olympics in the bronze medal tilt, scoring twice in the contest to help guide his home nation to victory. The 17-year-old's seven points (all goals) ties the Olympic record for points in a single tournament by a player under 18. Eddie Olczyk, who was calling the game for NBC, accomplished the same feat in 1984.
"We believe in him," said Slovakia head coach Craig Ramsay after the game. "What we thought going into this tournament was, 'Could he just score a goal?' He did it in spades.
“It was quite a performance.”
The first period was largely uneventful for both teams. Neither squad was able to find the back of the net, and quality scoring chances were few and far between. The Slovaks suffocated Sweden defensively for much of the opening stanza, but they were also unable to capitalize on their limited opportunities in the offensive zone.
That changed early in the second period when Slafkovsky netted the icebreaker — and also the game-winner — with a shot that redirected off a Swedish defender's leg and got past Lars Johansson. And at the middle stanza's 12:47 mark, Samuel Takac scored a goal of his own to double the Slovak lead.
Despite being down a pair of goals in the final frame, Sweden appeared completely lifeless in its attempt at evening the score. The Slovakia defense was stingy all game long, and before the Swedes knew it, they were down 4-0 in the game's final minutes after Slafkovsky and Pavol Regenda both buried empty-netters to seal the victory.
Slovakia turned out to be one of the great stories of the men's tournament. The Slovaks were not at all expected to compete for a medal, and many considered them one of the weaker teams at the Games. But the underdog squad, after losing its first two tilts, went on a three-game winning streak and fell just short of an appearance in the gold medal game.
The Slovaks may not have won the gold, but this is the type of story that can turn an entire country on to a sport. Without a doubt, this is a massive win for hockey in Slovakia.
"Just come with us to Slovakia and let's see what is happening in Slovakia right now," said forward Kristian Pospisil. "Go watch and you will know what it means right away for everybody, not just for hockey people."
"This is for the whole people. It's history."
With the bronze medal now awarded, just one game — the gold medal game — remains in the men's Olympic hockey tournament. The ROC and Finland will square off for the gold Saturday night at 11:10 p.m. ET. The game can be streamed on NBCOlympics.com, the NBC Sports app and Peacock, and it will be televised nationally on USA.