Slovaks love hockey and they have reasons to be proud of it, as nowadays many people agree that Slovakia is the European capitol of ice hockey.
A few words on history of ice hockey in Slovakia
In the beginning ice hockey was far less popular than very similar game bandy (often called winter football). It wasn’t until the European Championship in High Tatras in 1925 the Canadian version of ice hockey started to become more and more popular. Four years later in Starý Smokovec in High Tatras for the first time Tatra Cup (Tatranský pohár), which is annual attraction to the present day. In 1959 the ice hockey organisation was renamed from
Slovenská župa kanadského ľadového hokeja to Slovenský zväz Ľadového hokeja.
The Slovak league was created after the falling of Czechoslovakia in 1993. Before 1993 there was only one league for both Czechs and Slovaks. Slovakia belongs to international society Hockey Europe and since 2011 its league has a sponsored name Tipsport Extraliga (the name is shared with Czech Republic). The League changed the name several times since 1993, which was connected to the change of sponsors. Until 2009/2010 season there were 13 professional teams, including junior Slovak representation U-20 that has an extraordinary status, as it cannot take part in play-off stage. From 2010/2011 season the number of teams has decreased to 11 – 10 professional teams and Slovakia U-20.
Jan Filc, who was the trainer of the Slovak national team in 2000-2002, is considered as a father of modern ice hockey in Slovakia. In the first year of his work Slovakia managed to win its first World Championship medal, losing with the neighbours – Czechs 3:5. In 2002 during the World Championship in Sweden, Slovakia managed to win the golden medal for the first time as an independent country, winning with Russian representation 4:3. After the victory, Jan Filc announced that he resigned from the position of trainer, but in 2008 he came back and became trainer again. Unfortunately, the forthcoming years turned out to be not as successful as everyone wanted. In 2011 new trainer Czech Vladimir Vujtek was hired and for the first time since 2003 Slovakia won a Word Championship medal.
There is one restricted number in Slovak ice hockey representation – 38 – the number that belonged to Pavol Demitra, who died in JAK-42D plane crash near Jaroslav in Russia.
Miroslav Šatan – a right winger, who most recently played for Slovan Bratislava of the Kontinental Hockey League, retired on May 20, 2014 at the age of 39.
Marián Gáborík – a right winger currently playing for the Los Angeles Kings of the NationalHockey League (NHL), began his playing career in the Slovak Extraliga with Dukla Trenčín, on June 13, 2014, Gáborík won his first Stanley Cup, while playing with Los Angeles.
Moreover, in the late 90s three Slovaks Ľuboš Bartečko, Michal Handzuš, and Pavol Demitra played for St. Louis Blues The trio gained recognition as the “Slovak Pack”. They were known for comunicating in Slovak in order to hide from opposite team what they were saying.
All things considered, the best description of the importance of ice hockey in Slovakia is the situation from 2011, when Slovak national team after winning silver during World Championship was greeted by 25 thousand fans on the airport and more than 1 million (1/5 of Slovak population) watched their victory on TV.