HOCKEY fans showed sadness perhaps, but no loss of pride.
photo: Ján Svrček
"Nevermind", and "thank you" roared in the city's SNP square in the early morning hours of May 10, welcoming the Slovak team led by captain Miroslav Šatan of the Buffalo Sabres and coach František Hossa.
The hockey fever that, of late, has swept this central European country during the championship has kept fans in great expectation of medals from their team. However, the disappointment that came when the US won the tie-breaking shootout in the team's final match did not spoil the support and admiration that the fans have for their players.
"We are glad that we ranked fourth, but the potential of our team was bigger," goalie Ján Lašák told the fans on SNP square.
Lašák broke into tears after the winning US goal and shortly after the match he blamed himself for Slovakia's loss.
"I am very sorry. The shootouts come down to who beats the goalie, and out of four shots I passed four [compared to the two goals shot by Slovakia's Šatan, and Marian Hossa of the Ottawa Senators]," said Lašák.
But teammates hurried to support the goaltender, praising Lašák for his great performance in the championships.
"Sometimes it just doesn't work out. He tended a great tournament," said Šatan.
"We had bad luck in the last matches, but I think that we do not have to be ashamed of our performance. We are sorry that we did not get the medal, though we were close to it," added forward Vladimír Országh of the Nashville Predators.
Šatan, however, did not hide his disappointment that the Slovak team failed to win any medals, describing fourth place as "the worst ranking we could reach".
"Before the tournament we would not have taken fourth place; maybe the Japanese would want it. I think that we are all disappointed because, based on the game we played, expectations were high and we believed we could at least reach a medal," said Šatan.
Coach Hossa, however, insisted that fourth place was an achievement.
"The fact that Slovakia advanced to be among the four best teams in the championships is certainly not a disappointment, he said.
"The team was great; they did fantastic work throughout the whole tournament," Hossa added.
Upon their arrival on SNP square, the team thanked the Slovak fans and Lašák described them as the "best fans in the world".
Pavol Demitra, who plays for the St Louis Blues, even promised fans that team Slovakia would compensate for the Prague championships by winning the World Cup.
Comments on the hockey results came from high politics as well, proving that it is a national sport.
At a press conference held in Bratislava on the occasion of the opening of the Swedish and Finnish embassies on May 9, Slovak PM Mikuláš Dzurinda said: "The Slovak hockey players proved their high morale and they gave a great performance."
"We had a bit of bad luck but the team's performance has to be highly appreciated," the PM said.
17. May 2004 at 0:00 | Martina Pisárová