Slovakia got off to a great start in the tournament as they beat Belarus in their first game, 4-2. Lukas Hursik scored the game winner 19 seconds into the third period and goaltender Adam Huska made 24 saves.
On the outset, Slovakia was supposed to have the upper hand. After all, Slovakia had won all four previous World Juniors games between the two nations. Also, for them, the game against Belarus was the first one in the tournament whereas Belarus had played a tough game against Finland less than 24 hours earlier.
“I don’t think that gave us any advantages. I actually good for them to have played a game and be tournament ready,” Slovakia's forward Filip Lestan said.
“This game was our best chance to stay in the top division and we were prepared to do everything to win it,” said a disappointed Belarus forward Andrei Belevich.
Slovakia got the start it wanted when just seven minutes into the game, while playing with six skaters during a delayed penalty, they scored the important opening goal. Juraj Siska and Matus Sukel played the puck to Patrik Koch on the point, and his slap shop found its way through a lot of traffic and into the Belarusian net. Ivan Kulbakov didn’t see the puck until it was too late.
“It went pretty well but we planned to score more goals in the game," Lestan said.
When Slovakia then got a power play a minute and a half later, it seemed that they had control of the game, but a good penalty kill gave Belarus an energy boost, and with 8:27 remaining in the first period, Belarus tied the game. A shot from the point was blocked, but Slovakia couldn’t clear it, and somehow the puck bounced to Vadim Malinovsk who was all alone in front of the net. He whiffed on the puck with his first try on backhand, but could control the puck and beat Adam Huska with a wrist shot from just outside the crease.
Early in the second period, Belarus got their first power play opportunity and they capitalized on it. Danila Karaban got the puck at the hash marks and coolly passed it to Belevich in the middle of the Slovak box. Huska made the initial save, but Ruslan Vasilchuk grabbed the rebound and slammed it in to give Belarus the 2-1 lead in the game.
“We were in the middle of a line change so we had to improvise a little bit,” Belevich said of the goal.
But Slovakia came back. Belarus turned the puck over in their own zone halfway through the third period, and Maros Surovy didn’t waste any time with his fantastic backhanded pass that found Lestan all alone in front of Huska’s net. Lestan had an easy job to one-time the puck into the net and tie the game.
Both teams had excellent scoring chances in the second period, but both teams' goalies were just as excellent.
Slovakia pushed its way back into the driver’s seat in the game in the first shift of the third period Matej Palocko won an offensive zone faceoff cleanly and Lukas Hrusik one-timed it top shelf, over Kulbakov’s glove just 19 seconds into the period.
With 14 minutes remaining in the third period, Belarus made a goalie change and Vladislav Verbitski came in relief, only to leave the net again eight minutes later when Kulbakov returned to action.
Belarus gave everything they got, but Slovakia held on to their lead all the way to the end and Juraj Siska scored Slovakia's fourth goal in an empty Belarus net with 19 seconds remaining in the game.
"It was tough at the end of the game because we had to kill back-to-back penalties,” Lestan said.
Now it's Slovakia's turn to quickly prepare themselves for the next game. Tomorrow at 14:00 they will take on their dear rivals, the Czechs.
“First win is naturally important and a good step forward. We hope to beat the Czechs tomorrow. It’s going to be a good derby,” Lestan said.
“We want to make the playoff stage, and then we’ll see what happens,” he added.
Belarus will rest tomorrow and then take on Russia on Tuesday.
“Of course we have to prepare for every game as well as possible,” Belevich said.