Former King Ziggy Palffy, current King Michal Handzus reflect on Slovakia's 3-1 loss to Czechs
In the best-matched and most competitive game of the Olympic hockey tournament, the Czech Republic defeated Slovakia, 3-1, to end a tripleheader at Canada Hockey Place on Wednesday.
The pace and the skills were breathtaking, matching players whose two countries were one --Czechoslovakia -- until the early 1990s.
There were NHL stars of the past, such as former King Ziggy Palffy of Slovakia and Jaromir Jagr of the Czech Republic. And there were stars of the present, in Slovakia's Marian Gaborik of the New York Rangers, defenseman Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins, Marian Hossa of the Chicago Blackhawks and Czech goalie Tomas Vokoun of the Florida Panthers. Stars of the future, such as Slovakian goalie Jaroslav Halak of the Montreal Canadiens, were also on the ice.
Patrik Elias scored for the Czechs in the first period, but Gaborik tied it early in the second. Jagr, on a breakaway at 17:56 of the second period, and Tomas Plakanec on a power play off a pass from Jagr with two seconds left in the middle period, won it for the Czechs even though they were outshot, 35-24.
"It was fun," said center Michal Handzus of Slovakia and the Kings. "Obviously we are not happy we lost, but I thought we did just two mistakes in the second, in the last two minutes, and that cost us the game. I think we have to take the positives from this game. We know what we have to work on. It doesn't end with this loss."
Each team seemed to thrive on starting the tournament with an emotional matchup. "It was great," said Handzus, who skated alongside Lubos Bartecko and Richard Zednik. "The whole tournament is emotional. It's the Olympics. It's a dream come true to play here."
But the schedule is nightmarish: Slovakia must play again Thursday, facing top-seeded Russia. "It's a tough loss, but we just have to get ready for the next game," Handzus said.
Palffy, 37, played a strong game and was stopped on a first-period breakaway on a spectacular save by Vokoun. He said he remembers his time in Los Angeles fondly.
"I always have good memories. It was a lot of fun there. I want to go there just for vacation right now and not play hockey," he said.
Sorry, Ziggy. You have to play the Russians Thursday night. He said his team played well Wednesday but must be more disciplined; Slovakia took six penalties, and the Czechs scored on one.
"We have a lot of good guys in the front and in back and we have a great goalie, but we have to stay out of the penalty box. That's the key," he said. "We take a lot of energy and that's why we have a lot of problems after the second period. If we stay out of the box, we'll be fine."
As he returned to the locker room he yelled out, "Say hi to everybody in Los Angeles for me."
Hey, everybody: Ziggy says hi.
-- Helene Elliott in Vancouver