After their best-ever fourth-place showing at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, Team Slovakia will have an uphill battle to maintain in order to improve their standing in Sochi this February.
The 25-man national roster was announced on Tuesday morning. It features 14 NHLers, including captain Zdeno Chara anchoring the blue line.
The Slovaks were the surprise of the tournament in Vancouver, especially offensively. The late Pavol Demitra, who perished in the Yaroslavl plane crash in 2011, was the tournament's leading scorer with 10 points and was named to the All-Star team. Team Slovakia will miss its talented center this time around.
Marian Hossa was second among Vancouver's scoring leaders with nine points. He'll be expected to contribute once again in Sochi.
Injuries are also an issue for the Slovaks. Here's a look at how coach Vladimir Vujtek could deploy his personnel.
Forwards: Milan Bartovic, Marian Gaborik, Michal Handzus, Marcel Hossa, Marian Hossa, Tomas Jurco, Tomas Kopecky, Tomas Marcinko, Michel Miklik, Peter Olvecky, Richard Panik, Tomas Surovy, Tomas Tatar, Tomas Zaborsky
Defensemen: Ivan Baranka, Dominik Granak, Zdeno Chara, Martin Marincin, Andrej Meszaros, Andrej Sekera, Michal Sersen, Lubomir Visnovsky
Goaltenders: Peter Budaj, Jaroslav Halak, Jan Laco
Marcel Hossa, Left Wing: The younger brother of Marian, Marcel Hossa had 61 points in 237 NHL games before moving to Russia to join Dinamo Riga in 2008. A two-time Olympic veteran, he's enjoying a strong offensive season this year with 16 goals and 17 assists in 39 games.
Michal Handzus, Center: With Demitra's passing, Handzus becomes the Slovaks' top center. More of a natural two-way player, the hulking pivot will be strong on draws and is expected to feed his NHL teammate Hossa. Handzus was part of Chicago's 2013 Stanley Cup-winning team and will be playing in his fourth Olympics.
Marian Hossa, Right Wing: Also in his fourth Games, Marian Hossa has won two Stanley Cups with Chicago since his dominant performance in Vancouver in 2010. He has had a strong season with the 'Hawks so far despite lingering back issues.
What's Expected: The top line isn't as strong as it was in Vancouver, but Marian Hossa could put in another elite performance. Look for his brother to be switched up for a different left-winger if the pair doesn't click in the early going.
Tomas Tatar, Left Wing: The 23-year-old Tatar is showing strong offensive instincts in his first full season with the Detroit Red Wings. This will be his first Olympics—it could be a great chance for him to shine.
Tomas Kopecky, Center: Kopecky was Hossa's teammate on the 2010 Cup-winning Blackhawks and a member of the 2010 Olympic team. Now with the Florida Panthers, the veteran center is reliable as a second-line pivot.
Marian Gaborik, Right Wing: A big question mark. In his first game back with the Columbus Blue Jackets after missing 17 games with a knee injury, Gaborik broke his collarbone on December 21. It's unknown whether he'll be ready to lace up the skates in Sochi, but he's too important to leave off the Slovak roster.
What's Expected: It all depends on Gaborik's health. If he's ready to play when the Olympics start, this could be a potent scoring line.
Milan Bartovic, Left Wing: Veteran Bartovic has 11 goals and 23 points with Slovan Bratislava of the KHL this season. He started his career in North America, playing 50 NHL games and spending parts of six seasons in the AHL before returning to Europe in 2006. He played in the Czech and Swedish leagues, then the KHL in 2012. The 32-year-old has good offensive skills and could provide a steadying influence on the third line. This will be his first Olympics.
Tomas Surovy, Center: The 32-year-old Surovy had a cup of coffee in the NHL, playing 126 games over three seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins between 2003 and 2006. Surovy also plays left wing but will likely be deployed up the middle in Sochi. Has good hands and a physical component in his game.
Richard Panik, Right Wing: A regular member of the Slovak team at the World Championships, the 22-year-old Panik is one of the young faces contributing to this year's surprising Tampa Bay Lightning. Panik has good offensive skills but can be a bit of an adventure on his own side of the puck.
What's Expected: After their first two lines, Slovakia's depth at forward drops off pretty quickly. This group will have to concentrate on two-way play to ensure it doesn't become a defensive liability.
Michel Miklik, Left Wing: A first-time Olympian, 31-year-old Mitlik could be a pleasant surprise for the Slovaks. He's having a strong season with HC Slovan Bratislava of the KHL with 11 goals and 29 points in 40 games.
Tomas Zaborsky, Center: Drafted in the fifth round in 2006 by the New York Rangers, Zaborsky failed to make the NHL in two seasons, then returned to Europe. He has split his time this season between Avangard Omsk and Ufa in the KHL. Zaborsky has good hands but can be weak defensively.
Tomas Jurco, Right Wing: As an injury replacement, 21-year-old Jurco has had his first taste of NHL action in seven games with the Detroit Red Wings this season. A second-round pick by Detroit, Jurco's a two-time veteran of the World Junior Championship who will benefit enormously from his Olympic experience.
What's Expected: Miklik and Jurco have enough talent to contribute for the Slovaks. Their defensive play will likely dictate how much they're deployed.
Tomas Marcinko, Right Wing: A fourth-round pick of the New York Islanders in 2006, Marcinko spent four years in the AHL before returning to Europe. He has 15 points in 25 games with HC Kosice of the Slovak league this year.
Peter Olvecky, Left Wing: Olvecky was drafted in the third round by the Minnesota Wild in 2004 and played 32 NHL games with the Wild and Predators. He returned to Europe in 2011 and is playing this season with Slovan Bratislava of the KHL. Olvecky is a utility forward who can also slot in at center if needed.
Zdeno Chara: Big Z will captain the Slovak team for his second straight Olympics, making his third appearance in total. As usual, expect big minutes and physical play from the hulking 36-year-old veteran.
Lubomir Visnovsky: Visnovsky hasn't played since he suffered a concussion in mid-October, but he's a three-time Olympic veteran who projects as a key part of the Slovak blue line. If he's ready to play in Sochi, he'll boost his team's prospects considerably.
What's Expected: It all depends on Visnovsky's health. Chara is a pillar of reliability who uses his big body well on the big ice, but he'll need a strong partner to be at his best.
Andrej Mezsaros: A bruising defenceman, Mezsaros is healthy after enduring a long stretch of shoulder problems. He's solid on the back end and could help Chara by eating up significant blue-line minutes. This will be Meszaros' third Olympics.
Andrej Sekera: A more offensive blueliner, Sekera and Mezsaros should pair well together. The 27-year-old is on pace for a career year with 24 points for the Carolina Hurricanes so far this season. He's also solid defensively.
What's Expected: This pairing looks strong for Slovakia and will be expected to carry a significant load, especially if Visnovsky isn't available.
Martin Marincin: Recently called up by the Edmonton Oilers, Marincin is a lanky 21-year-old with a ton of upside. The Olympic experience alone will be a great reward for him.
Ivan Baranka: A veteran from the 2010 team, Baranka is a steady defender who rarely makes mistakes. Could be an excellent mentor for Marincin.
What's Expected: Baranka's experience could provide a useful counterpoint for Marincin as the youngster takes in his first Games.
Dominik Granak: At 6'0" and 179 pounds, Granak is on the small side but has a savvy approach to defense. The 30-year-old plays with Dynamo Moscow in the KHL. This will be his first Olympics.
Michal Sersen: If he's healthy, this will also be Sersen's Olympic debut. The 28-year-old Slovan Bratislava defender has 14 points in 33 games this season but is currently on the sidelines.
Jaroslav Halak, Starter: Halak starred for the Slovaks in 2010 and is expected to anchor the team once again. He has recently been out of the St. Louis Blues' lineup with illness but is expected to be game-ready well before the plane leaves for Sochi.
Peter Budaj, Backup: Budaj is having a terrific season with the Montreal Canadiens with a 2.05 goals-against and .923 save percentage in 10 appearances. If Halak falters, he'll be ready to go as a capable replacement.
Jan Laco, Third String: The 32-year-old Laco shone for the Slovaks at the 2012 World Championships, proving his big-game mettle. He'll be a steady presence who could step in as needed.