Zdeno Chara (Slovak), Martin Havlat (Czech), Marian Hossa (Slovak) and Lubomir Visnovsky (Slovak), would make for a potent Czechoslovakia team. (Photo by Dave Sandford/Getty Images for NHL)
Sometimes an inquisitor doesn’t really consider how a question will be received until it’s already half-posed.
For instance, while North American fans, far removed from the politics of Eastern Europe, often ponder what a powerhouse team the Czechs and Slovaks could have if they were still one nation, perhaps the players from those countries are so fiercely proud of the colors they currently wear it would never occur to them to contemplate the “what ifs” of the issue. As it turns out, the potentially troubling hypothetical was met almost universally with a twinkle.
“We talk about it over the summers, the guys have a beer and talk, you know it would be awesome,” said Jaroslav Spacek of a combined Czech-Slovak roster. “But what happened, happened, it’s not going to change. And even now, we can have a great lineup and the Slovaks have great players. We split the countries and now we’ve got to go on our own.”
When the Soviet Union crumbled in the late 1980s, many East Bloc nations under hammer-and-sickle rule once again found independence. The Soviet-supported communist government in Czechoslovakia fell apart and the country, as part of the ‘Velvet Revolution,’ peacefully dissolved into two entities. And while Slovakia and the Czech Republic are cordial neighbors, nobody is anxious to see the guy beside him higher on the podium.
“When we play against the Czech team, we want to beat them and I think it’s the other way around, they want to beat us, too,” said Slovak goalie Jaroslav Halak, Spacek’s teammate in Montreal. “We want to show them we are good, too.”
So far, the Czech Republic has had more success, winning five world championships since the breakup, including a win over Slovakia in the 2000 final. Slovakia’s greatest triumph came when it reigned supreme at the ’02 worlds. Of course, the Dominik Hasek-led Czechs scored the golden blow at the Nagano Games in 1998, the first Olympics that featured NHLers.
“We are something like brother nations, but I would say the players are not of the same origin somehow,” said Slovak coach Jan Filc. “We have a little bit of a different nature than the Czechs. When we were together, it was high quality because Czechs have a very well developed sense of techniques and tactics. Slovaks are maybe a little more quick, more natural and put more heart in the game. The combination of those two things always made a good team. We miss a little bit of the Czech’s sense and they probably sometimes miss the direction to the net our skills of that kind.”
Ryan Dixon takes a closer look at what might have been had Czechoslovakia not separated.
REPORTER: Ryan Dixon | PRODUCER: Ted Cooper
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