Erik Cernak. (Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
When we last left Slovakia, the team was on the highest of highs, outworking Sweden for a bronze medal -- but the stars from that team are not around in 2016.
Slovakia | Group B | Roster | THN odds to win: 20:1 When we last left Slovakia, the team was on the highest of highs, outworking Sweden for a bronze medal thanks to goalie Denis Godla and left winger Martin Reway. Both heroes have aged out, but talent remains with the team. Los Angeles Kings pick Erik Cernak will be making his third appearance for the world junior squad, and he’ll provide leadership, minutes and two-way play on defense. His season got off to a tempestuous start when he refused an assignment to OHL Erie, only to hook up with the Otters later when a bid to stick with AHL Ontario failed. But since then, Cernak has begun to contribute on a loaded Erie team.
Cernak’s cousin, defenseman Christian Jaros, is an Ottawa Senators pick who plays in Sweden. He’s another returnee from the bronze medal team and has the same intimidating size as his kin, though he uses it more. Size won’t be a problem for Slovakia, as 6-foot-5 left winger Radovan Bondra will also be available for a second spin. Like Cernak, Bondra is playing in North America for the first time. He’s now a member of the WHL’s Vancouver Giants, where he is having modest success as a responsible, two-way winger. With Godla gone, hopes in net likely fall to Rangers pick Adam Huska, who is having a solid year in the USHL. Assuming the Slovakians handle Belarus in their opening game, the real challenge comes in the medal round, where an unbalanced field means they’ll likely face Canada, Sweden or Team USA in the quarterfinal. This is a shame, since the program has made some nice strides of late. The bronze medal wasn’t just a validation of the 2015 team itself, but also the Orange 20 program (Slovakia’s version of the U.S. National Team Development Program) where many of the players came from.