With the division of Czechoslovakia 30 years ago, the joint hockey team also broke up. And while the Czechs remained among the elite and immediately won bronze at their first World Championship in 1993, the Slovaks were relegated to the third category teams. Even then, a rivalry began to sprout, which will write its next installment this afternoon in Riga.
The Czechs finished third at the championship in Germany in 1993, where they performed as an independent team for the first time.
“The tournament was very successful for us, it’s just a pity that we lost in the semi-finals. But even years later, I remember it fondly,” says Martin Hosták, the then national team striker.
Coach Ivan Hlinka’s team started the tournament with a 1:1 draw against the USA, and lost another “point” only in the semi-final against the Swedes, where they lost 3:4 in overtime. He did not lose a single game in the regular season.
“It was seen as a bit of a failure, it was the bronze age. Later, the golden era came and covered it up,” says Hosták.
Already at the end of the Czechoslovak period, the national team collected five bronze medals in a row at major tournaments, and at the German World Cup, the Czechs freely followed up with a sixth.
“Every medal is great, especially from today’s point of view, but Ivan Hlinka was certainly not satisfied then,” smiles Hosták.
“We happily equalized with the Swedes in the last minute, we believed in them. Unfortunately, Thomas Rundqvist’s shot went through in overtime,” he adds.
Petr Bříza in goal experienced an otherwise fantastic tournament with a success rate of almost 95 percent and an average of 1.23. Hosták, playing in the form of his life, recorded four goals and four assists in eight games.
“I played in the center of the first line, we did well with Petr Rosol and Kamil Kašťák. Mainly, we were very compact as a team, almost all of us were active in Europe and regularly toured all events,” recalls the man who has been one of the experts of the Czech Republic for many years TV.
In the fight for bronze, the Czechs swept Canada with Erik Lindros, Paul Kariya and Marko Recchi unequivocally 5:1. The Russians took the gold.
Petr Bříza and Antonín Stavjaňa at the 1993 WC against the USA. | Photo: ČTK / AP
The Slovak hockey environment was really bitter after the division of the federation. The World Cup in 1993 did not concern the Slovaks at all, and for the next year the IIHF Council classified them up to group “C”, among the selections of the third category.
“It was a clear injustice,” recalled the then president of Slovak hockey, Ján Mitošinka. “Swine sty,” coach and former national team player Jaroslav Walter was angry.
According to Peter Šťastný, then finishing his career in the NHL, the mistake was that the Slovak officials did not have time to register for the WC. The consolation for the Slovaks was at least a place in the Olympic qualification.
The newly formed national team managed to beat the favorites in Lillehammer. Captain Šťastný, young rifles Miroslav Šatan, Žigmund Pálffy and others sought to advance to the semi-finals. He missed them only in the quarter-final overtime against Russia.
In a month, they were already starting Group “C” of the World Cup against the Bulgarians.
“Everything bad is good for something. It was motivating for everyone, none of the players made excuses about health or family problems,” said national team coach Július Šupler years later.
“I felt sorry for the Slovaks, because it was clear that they did not belong in the third group qualitatively. But they had excellent players in the team and in two years they were back at the top,” describes Hosták.
However, they advanced only narrowly from the “céček” in Poprad and Spišská Nová Ves. They outshot the Bulgarians 20:0, the Slovenians 9:0, and the Hungarians 10:0, but they only drew against Ukraine and Kazakhstan and went into the last match with Belarus with a knife on their throats. They won 2:1 and all the players were heartbroken.
In 1995, the Slovaks played in group “B”, again at home in Bratislava. With the British, Japanese, Poles, Latvians, Danes, Dutch and Romanians, they did not hesitate even once and passed among the elite.
The federal derby between the Czech Republic and Slovakia took place for the first time at the championship in Helsinki in April 1997. The first Slovakian win did not come until the eighth attempt, also in Helsinki in the duel for bronze at the 2003 World Cup.
Especially at that time, there was often talk of a complex that prevented the Slovaks from giving their best performance against their neighbors. The seed of rivalry probably began to germinate in the 90s because of a grievance that sent the Slovaks into the hockey “forest”.
Today at 15:20 the seventeenth Czech-Slovak match in the history of the championships will start in Riga. Twelve times the Czechs succeeded, three times the Slovaks celebrated and once a draw was born.
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