February 16, 2010
Heading into Vancouver, one the dark horses in the men's Olympic hockey tournament was Slovakia. With its offense led by Marian Gaborik(notes) and Marian Hossa(notes), and with Jaroslav Halak(notes) tending the net, the Slovaks were a team that was ready to make some noise in Group B.
What could derail the team are the injury issues that surround its top two players, as Slovakia prepares for their opening round game against the Czech Republic on Wednesday night.
According to NHL.com, the Slovakian team doctor said that Gaborik is still weak in his right leg and that flexing his knee is difficult. Gaborik collided with Henrik Lundqvist(notes) during practice a week ago, and the New York Rangers forward took a skate to the thigh.
One deep gash later, and Dr. Dalimir Jancovic tells John Dellapina that he believes Gaborik should not train for at least three days, which would mean he'd miss the Czech Republic game as well as Thursday evening's game against Russia. Gaborik would then be available to return for Slovakia's final round-robin game Saturday against Latvia, where Slovakia could find themselves winless and needing any sort of boost before the qualification round begins next week.
Gaborik isn't the only injury worry for Slovakia. The team's other offensive threat, Hossa, sat out the Chicago Blackhawks final game before the Olympic break Sunday night after taking a hit Saturday from Atlanta's Colby Armstrong(notes). Hossa managed to get through the entire Slovakian practice Monday without pain and said he just needs doctor's approval and he can play:
"Today I did a little bike test and I didn’t have any headaches, so I decided to skate for the first 20 or 25 minutes," Hossa said. "But it felt pretty good, so I stayed out for the whole practice. Basically, I didn't go hard – I went 60-70 percent.
"But if I'm going to feel pretty good in the next hour that's a good sign. [Tuesday] I have to do some tests with the doctor. And if I pass those tests, I should be cleared to play."
This year's tournament features the addition of the qualification playoff after the round-robin games, where the group winners plus the fourth-place team overall will get byes to the quarterfinals. The remaining eight teams are seeded and play to advance to face the group winners in the quarterfinal round. That safety net could help a team like Slovakia that could get off to a slow start, but the addition of a Gaborik before their final group game could help in the one-and-done qualification round.