Slovaks send message with big win
by Andrew PODNIEKS|12 MAY 2024
photo: Matt Zambonin/IIHF
Slovakia came out firing on all cylinders, scoring three times in the first period en route to a convincing 6-2 win over Kazakhstan today in Ostrava. Regardless the score, it was a testy, hard-fought game. The win gives both teams a 1-1 record and creates a five-team logjam atop the Group B standings.

Martin Pospisil had two goals for the winners while Libor Hudacek added a goal and two assists. The Slovaks more than doubled their opponents in shots, 42-16, and were full measure for the win.

"We had a much better start today, which is what we wanted, especially after the first game, and we knew we had to score some goals early to put us in a better position, and we did that, too," said Marek Hrivik. "There are no easy opponents, and this team had some good players as well. We wanted to stick to our system, not get carried away, and maybe we did a little in the second period when we got our heads away from where we should be, but back in the third we finished strong."

Martin Pospisil got the Slovaks started midway through the first on a power play. He jammed in a loose puck at 11:54 after goalie Andrey Shutov failed to corral the initial shot. Juraj Slafkovsky earned an assist on the play, which was due to the quick work of team trainers. Moments earlier Slafkovsky blocked a shot by Alikhan Assetov that dislodged the Slovaks’ skate balde from its holder. Slafkovsky pushed and slid his way off the ice, but the blade was re-attached in mere seconds.

Less than a minute later Slovakia added to its lead when Martin Fasko-Rudas fired a bullet that went in and out so quickly referees waived it off. The Slovaks scored on the rebound, but video review confirmed the initial shot went in at 12:28 to make it 2-0.

Later in the period, Matus Sukel broke out of his end on a two-on-one. He barrelled down the right side and fired a low shot to the far side at 17:56 to make it 3-0, sending the massive pro-Slovak crowd into paroxysms of joy.

The Kazakhs had their best stretch in the first half of the second period, and they were rewarded early for their tenacity. They made it a 3-1 game at 3:02 after a lengthy possession on a delayed penalty, Assetov banging the puck over the line from a scramble in front. 

But the momentum changed again when Slovakia was awarded a penalty shot. Libor Hudacek took the freebie and beat Shutov with a deke, and from then on the rest of the period reverted to Slovak domination. The team added a pair of goals early in the third off identical passes from Hudacek in the corner. First he spotted Pospisil at 1:18, and four minutes later Lukas Cingel to made it 6-1.

Amirkhan Omirbekov added a Kazakhstan goal later in the period from in close, but it was too little, too late.

"We had a good start and got the lead, 3-0, then got away from play for a bit, but they didn't hurt us, and we can back strong in the third," said Peter Cehlarik. "It was a good win for us after losing the first game. We wanted to respond well, and I think we did."

Slovakia is right back at it tomorrow, playing the United States in a matinee, while Kazakhstan gets a day off before facing Latvia on Tuesday in another critical match.
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