Juraj Slafkovsky makes name with seven goals to fire Slovakia to bronze

The powerful 17-year-old was key as his country claimed its first Olympic ice hockey medal. And he's sure to be a top-10 pick at the 2022 NHL Draft.

By Danny Lewis
Picture by ge GETTY IMAGES

Juraj Slafkovsky was one of the most eye-catching performers in men's ice hockey at Beijing 2022.

The 17-year-old forward scored seven goals - the highest tally in the tournament ahead of the gold medal match - to help Slovakia claim their first Olympic hockey medal.

He found the net twice on Saturday (19 February) as the Slovaks beat Sweden 4-0 to take bronze.

The team's Canadian coach Craig Ramsay said afterwards, "It's pretty amazing for a young boy for that... we believed in him. We've given him a chance now for a couple of years.

"All we thought going into this tournament actually was, 'Could he just score a goal?' He'd had trouble scoring, he was stuck. He did it, and he did it in spades! He got to play with a bunch of really good players, and then we put him up on the first line even. It was quite a performance for any young person to put out."

Juraj Slafkovsky celebrates his second goal in the bronze medal match against Sweden
Picture by geGETTY IMAGES

International career

This was not Slafkovsky's first appearance at an international tournament for Slovakia.

He was first selected for the 2021 Ice Hockey World Championships, helping his nation to the quarter-finals where they were eventually beaten 6-1 by USA.

His first international medal followed at the prestigious U-18 Hlinka Gretzky Cup, as Slovakia beat Finland in the semi-finals before succumbing to Russia.

He also played in last August's Olympic Games Qualifying Tournament in Bratislava, registering one assist in three games as Slovakia won the group to make Beijing.

But he has stepped up to be their key player on the Olympic stage.

Juraj Slafkovsky's first Olympic Winter Games

Slovakia endured a tough start to the Games, losing 6-2 against Finland, but Slafkovsky provided signs of what was to come by scoring both of his nation's goals in that match.

Already the youngest player in the tournament, those goals made him the youngest goalscorer at an Olympic Winter Games since USA's Eddie Olczyk at Sarajevo 1984.

He also scored a late consolation in a 4-1 defeat to Sweden.

Slovakia then beat Latvia 5-2 with Slafkovsky scoring his side's third goal.

In the qualification playoffs, they stunned PyeongChang 2018 silver medallists Germany 4-0 to set up a quarter-final clash with USA.

Then came a shock with Slovakia, for whom Slafkovsky opened the scoring, winning 3-2 in a shootout.

It was a deadly strike from the teenager with the American defence making the mistake of giving him time to pick his shot.

He said, “I had a couple seconds, there was no one. I was talking with our goalie coach and he was telling me about the goalie and, yeah, it went in."

After the youngster's opener, goals from Nick Abruzzese and Sam Hentges gave USA the lead.

But Marek Hrivik equalised with 44 seconds left and, after neither side was being able to score in overtime, Peter Cehlarik was the only man to convert in the shootout to secure Slovakia's place in the last four.

Hrivik has been fulsome in his praise of Slafkovsky saying, "He's been really good. It's really nice to watch him in the practices and now he comes into the game and scores big goals.

"He's got a bright future. He's going to be a big player." - Marek Hrivik on Juraj Slafkovsky

Slafkovsky was out of luck in the semi-finals as Slovakia were shut out 2-0 by Finland.

But he was back to form in the bronze medal match against Sweden, showing once again his knack of conjuring goals from nothing.

Three minutes into the second period, he advanced into the Swedish zone and let fly with an audacious shot which beat Sweden goalie Lars Johansson up high and went in off the post.

After Samuel Takac doubled the lead, Sweden pulled their goalie with two minutes to go and Slafkovsky pounced on a loose puck to shoot into an empty net and make it 3-0.

The celebrations were already underway when Pavol Regenda scored another empty-netter to secure Slovakia their first hockey medal in Olympic history.

Juraj Slafkovsky (L) and Pavol Regenda pose with their Beijing 2022 bronze medals
Picture by geGETTY IMAGES

Juraj Slafkovsky's NHL prospects

Slafkovsky, who stands at 1.92m tall and weighs 99kg, had scouts talking about him as a potential top-10 2022 NHL Draft pick before Beijing.

Now he looks almost certain to be in the top five with his stock rising considerably at the Olympic Winter Games.

With NHL players missing the Games due to Covid concerns, he has given notice that his future lies in North America.

Slafkovsky has shown his prowess in front of goal and, while he does not have any assists to his name in Beijing so far, he is also a fine passer of the puck.

Juraj Slafkovsky (#20) tries to set a screen in front of USA goalie Strauss Mann
Picture by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

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