The Canadian | Juraj Slafkovský, “an idol for young Slovaks”

The information reported on Tuesday in our pages about a meeting between Juraj Slafkovský and the Slovakian ambassador to Washington was ultimately a blatant lie. Stopping at nothing, The Press got to the end of this story.

“I had to be there. We had communicated with Juraj through Peter Bondra and he was kind enough to accept our offer. But I tested positive for COVID-19 over the weekend, so I was stuck at home,” laments Radovan Javorčík on the phone.

They were finally two employees of the Slovakian embassy to visit Slafkovský, accompanied by their family, so that the young Canadian prospect was awaited by eight compatriots after the 5-2 victory against the Capitals.

“Juraj scored two goals, he played against (Capitals Slovak defenseman) Martin Fehérváry, so they talked about that. He also spoke to the children of my staff members to encourage them to invest in their interest in hockey,” says Mr. Javorčík.


Colonel Milan Halzinger (left), Slovak diplomatic staff in Washington

This visit says a lot, especially about the interest that Slafkovský arouses in his country. “One of the nicknames of our country is the “Hockey Republic”,” recalls the ambassador.

“In 2022, when Juraj was drafted first overall and Šimon Nemec was drafted second, we said, ‘Wow, something is happening and Slovakia is back.’ So we follow every Montreal game, we saw Juraj being promoted from third to second line, then to first. We read every quote from Martin St-Louis. »

In the top 3

Our interlocutor knows his hockey. You just have to hear him pronounce the name of the Canadian head coach in full, or mention Filip Mešár, a young man still far from the NHL despite his status as a first-round pick, to be convinced.

But according to Mr. Javorčík, Slafkovský has become “an idol for all young Slovaks”.

He left the country very young to live his dream. It’s a beautiful story of perseverance and his family made a lot of sacrifices. He is an inspiration for young people, he makes our flag shine and he has an endearing personality.

Radovan Javorčík, Slovak Ambassador to Washington, on Juraj Slafkovský

“Our hockey went through a period of uncertainty after the generation of Marián Gáborík and Žigmund Pálffy. There was a void. So to see a 17-year-old guy come to the Olympics and score goals, it gave momentum. »

According to him, Slafkovský is one of the three most famous athletes in his country, with alpine skier Petra Vlhová, Olympic slalom champion in 2022, and Marek Hamšík, pillar of the national soccer team, former Naples star, recently retired . We guess that the cyclist Peter Sagan also gravitates around this group.

There are around 12,000 registered hockey players in Slovakia, according to the most recent annual report from the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF). Soccer is played more there than hockey, Mr. Javorčík concedes, “because it simply requires a field and a ball. Hockey is more complicated.” But he considers hockey “more popular” than soccer. In the latest FIFA rankings, Slovakia came at 45e rank among men, at 49e rank among women.

“You know, we separated from the Czech Republic around thirty years ago. We consider the Czechs our best friends, but when we play against each other in hockey, we hate each other for 60 minutes! That says a lot about the importance of sport. »

Small embassy

With almost six million inhabitants, Slovakia is obviously not a global giant, and its embassy is therefore not huge. Around fifteen employees work there.

So, what does a Slovakian ambassador to Washington do?

“In general, it is about defending the national interests of Slovakia,” replies the diplomat. We open doors to meet people, to build relationships, whether in business, in sport or in the artistic field. »

So organizing a meeting with a hockey player is somehow part of this mandate, even if Radovan Javorčík doesn’t exactly experience torture attending hockey games.

“It allows you to combine business with pleasure. I like hockey. But I take the opportunity to meet people behind the scenes. If a Slovak plays, we post it on our social networks and show that Slovakia is represented. »

Mr. Javorčík intends to recover next season for his missed meeting. “I saw Juraj’s comment that he was hoping for an invitation to dinner from me or Martin (Fehérváry). Both are definitely invited! »


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