“We got our phones to take some photos and have some memories,” Dvorsky smiled, now off the ice but with many fans still cheering the team’s triumph.
Many of the photos were taken with the three members of the team’s top line: Dvorsky, Ciernik and Ondrej Molnar, who trailed the others with 10 points, but whose nine assists led the whole tournament.
“It’s great,” the centre Dvorsky said about playing together. “We’ve known each other for a long time. We’re really good friends off the ice too and we’ve known each other for a long time, so this is really nice.”
The Slovaks were expected to win this tournament and they wrapped it up already on Friday night with a 3-1 win over Denmark. One would have thought there was nothing to play for in the tournament’s final game on Sunday night against Kazakhstan, but the 2,778 in attendance at the Piestany Ice Rink – the fifth consecutive sell-out for host Slovakia at the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship Division I Group A – didn’t see it that way.
Neither did the team.
The Slovaks led 3-1 early in the third but Kazakhstan struck just seven seconds apart to tie it with 12:20 to go. At that point, coach Ivan Fenes lifted goaltender Patrik Jurcak and replaced him with number-one goalie Rostislav Elias.
Less than seven minutes later Dvorsky cut into the middle at the high slot and sent a backhand toward the net that found the tape of Ciernik’s forehand. Ciernik then waited for Kazakh goalie Vladimir Nikitin to commit and backhanded it past his love. Ciernik from Dvorsky and Molnar gave Slovakia the lead with 5:30 to go, and the trio celebrated the goal like it was a potential tournament-winner. When the final horn sounded for the 5-3 victory, the team poured off the bench as if they had just clinched the title, rather than having already sewn it up.
“It was really important to win all five games,” said Dvorsky. “We’d already won the tournament a couple days ago, but it was still important to win this game for us and for the fans too.”
Since that time, Dvorsky starred at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, earned a spot on the Slovak U20 team that went to the IIHF World Junior Championship in Alberta, Canada, became better than a point-per-game player in Sweden’s top U20 league and played 17 games in Sweden’s second-tier pro league, Allsvenskan.
“It’s changed a lot,” he answered, when asked about the path of his career since that time. “I’ve gained a lot more experience. I’ve grown as a hockey player and as a person.”
At that Hlinka Gretzky Cup here in Piestany last August, Dvorsky was part of a great Slovak team that included Simon Nemec and Olympic MVP Juraj Slafkovsky, who are both projected to be top-10 picks at this summer’s NHL Entry Draft. With that star power, the Slovaks – for years doormats at the prestigious U18 summer tournament – made the final. Slafkovsky had nine points, but it was Dvorsky, barely 16, who led the team with 12 points, including a tournament-leading eight goals.
Slafkovsky, currently playing for TPS Turku in the Finnish Liiga playoffs, was unavailable for this tournament. Nemec, a member of HK Nitra in the Slovak Liga’s playoffs, managed to play in one game for Slovakia at the U18 tournament when his club had a few days off between rounds. Because of that, the star defenceman was eligible for a medal and showed up wearing his jersey over his street clothes to be part of the ceremony.
“That was great,” said Dvorsky. “Simon is an amazing player and it was really good to have him here. It was a nice gesture for him to come here and celebrate with us.”
As for Slafkovsky: “I’ve known him pretty well for a long time. He’s a really good guy and I wish him the best of luck with TPS now in the finals in Finland.”
For Dvorsky, the 2021/22 season is now pretty much over except for the unfinished business of the World Juniors. Dvorsky made the Slovak team back in December and, if anything, has only increased his value since then. However, when asked about the restart of the tournament in August, he simply said: “That’s up to the coaches but if I make the team, I’ll go, of course. The World Juniors are one of the best tournaments.”
As for next season, he said: “I’m going back to Sweden to AIK Stockholm and I’ll play in the Allsvenskan.” Plus another World Junior Championship. Plus another U18 World Championship – this time in the top division.
The 2022/23 season will be Dvorsky’s draft season. It will also be for Molnar, who like Dvorsky was born in 2005, and for Ciernik, who was born in October 2004.
“Of course it’s helped,” Dvorsky said about the impact of the past year on his draft stock. “There have been some ups and downs but, at the end of the day, it’s been a really good year and I’ll do my best next year too.”