International Ice Hockey Federation

Slovak centralizing

Slovak centralizing

Bokros hopes all-year program will pay out

Published 25.12.2014 11:29 GMT-5 | Author Juraj Hudak
Slovak centralizing
Ernest Bokros will be behind the Slovak bench for his fourth IIHF World Junior Championship. Photo: JC Pinheiro / HHOF-IIHF Images
When the best juniors face each other, Slovakia is hoping for a good result against some big international competition.

A reason behind a possible success story for the team could be a specialized training project led by national junior team coach Ernest Bokros for the fourth year.

The project was originally established in 2007 to help Slovak juniors adapt more easily to senior hockey by playing official games in the top Slovak senior league, the Extraliga, prior to the IIHF World Junior Championship. sat down with Bokros ahead of the World Juniors to learn more about his country’s development project.

The Slovak national junior team has been a part of the Slovak Extraliga for seven years as part of the pre-tournament practice. Has it brought concrete results yet?

Slovakia has a very small player base. At the beginning we have 50 to 60 players in camp. The Canadians and Americans are able to choose from a pool of around 1,200 players. The reason why this project has been founded was that we want to prepare the most talented players for the World Junior Championship. This way makes our team more competitive against rivals such as Russia, Sweden and Finland.

What was the impulse that brought the junior team to the elite league?

It was mainly done to get young players to the senior games on a regular basis. I don't want to say our junior league is a kind of a kids’ league, but there is a big difference in the talent level. I personally rank the World Junior Championship over the senior games because it is much faster, tougher and more passionate. And with Canada as host country there will be perfect organization which is sometimes on a higher level than in the senior category.

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The Extraliga clubs weren't satisfied with this move at the beginning. Why?

Because each club has always focused on itself. Our top sponsor supports the players directly. People at the team management level believe they should get this money. It doesn't work this way. Sponsorship money is funded to the most talented hockey players and I am happy it works under the current conditions. It is a reason why we can be still be at a competitive level at the international tournaments.

The Slovak junior team won a bronze medal in 1999, and then reached the final four in 2009. Why is it tough for Slovakia to have consistent success at this level?

Because our player base is terribly small. We select within a small number of players. I met with my American colleague in Russia recently. He asked me how many players do we have in the final group before the tournament. I said 28. He started to laugh and asked me why I lied to him. He said they have 120 men. You see the ratio. It is a hard reality. If we had to choose from our junior or lower leagues and not from the elite league, I wouldn't be a coach of the team.

Why is that?

In a way those players must prepare for this tournament as men. We have our players at the same ice for five months thanks to this project and you can clearly see improvements in their hockey. If you watched them in August, you wouldn't believe how they have improved their skills. The other topic to consider is we probably have the strongest teams in our group like Canada, USA, and Finland.

What does it mean for you to have the first game against Canada in Montreal?

I am looking forward on it. I love the atmosphere at these games. We will never experience something like that in our country. We can see hockey is a religion to Canadians. Our disadvantage is we aren't a strong team. We will fight for every result and we want to enjoy it. I think it will be a career highlight for many players.

How do you prepare the boys mentally for these games?

We talk a lot about what to expect, and showed them the video of the 2012 championship in Calgary. But you’re asking them to try and visualize it, but the reality is quite different. Many of them are used to having only 300 fans in the stands at their games. There will be over 20,000 fans in Montreal. It is hard to describe local modern arenas and the atmosphere if you haven’t experienced it. It will be special also for us, the staff.

What is the biggest strength of your team?

Slovakia has played some very good games at the World Junior Championship. Too many penalties slowed us down many times. We had a chance to beat Canada last year, but Patrick Luza's injury had a serious impact on the team. We saw that some of the players weren't ready for these kinds of games. I’d say the question of a good goalie is a key for a win. Anybody could be a winner if you have a strong player in the net.

What is the one goal for the Slovak national junior team this year?

Make the playoffs.


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