International Ice Hockey Federation

The Ramsay Revolution

The Ramsay Revolution

Instant impact from incoming Slovakia coach

Published 16.02.2018 01:54 GMT+10 | Author Andy Potts
The Ramsay Revolution
GANGNEUNG, SOUTH KOREA - FEBRUARY 14: Slovakia head coach Craig Ramsay is all smiles after a 3-2 preliminary round win against the Olympic Athletes of Russia at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games. (Photo by Andre Ringuette/HHOF-IIHF Images)
New head coach Craig Ramsay hasn't taken long to put a smile back on the face of Slovak hockey. We asked experienced defenceman Dominik Granak to tell us how.

Not much was expected of Slovakia here in Gangneung. The team’s last major competitive outing, the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship, was a dis-spiriting experience: an overtime victory over Italy in the first game was the only triumph, and disgruntled fans brought banners to Cologne thanking Denmark for defeating the Italians and securing Slovakia's top-flight status.

Not exactly the best of preparations for the Olympics. But then came Craig Ramsay. Summoned by a phone call from old friend Miroslav Satan, part of the golden generation of Slovak hockey, the 66-year-old Ontario native arrived just months before the Games to replace Zdeno Ciger. It looked like a long-term project – but with a 3-2 victory over the hotly-favoured Olympic Athletes from Russia, Ramsay’s work seems to have had an immediate impact.

According to experienced defenceman Dominik Granak, attention to detail has been the key.

“The coaching staff are really working on the details,” he said. “That’s the biggest difference from before. Now we are really focused on each player’s role, every nuance, every blocked shot. For us, positioning is now really important. That’s something the coach has brought.”

The commitment to getting bodies on the line and blocking shots was clearly visible in the game against the Olympic Athletes. After a blistering start from the Russians, who went 2-0 up in the first five minutes, Slovakia knuckled down to its task. The Slovak penalty kill was rock solid, and goalscorer Martin Bakos reckoned his team-mates must have blocked about 20 shots along the way.

But it's not just about gritty defence. Ramsay is also keen to get Slovakia to play more expressive hockey when it gets the chance.

"He tries to give us courage," Granak added. "He wants us to keep the puck more and try to make a play, not just throw the puck away. But of course, when we get in front we try to play simple and not make mistakes."

Ramsay’s squad selections for PyeongChang raised eyebrows: just one KHL player, Avtomobilist’s Michal Cajkovsky, and no current players from Slovan Bratislava, traditionally Slovakia’s powerhouse club. Granak admitted that he’d expected a slightly different line-up, but pointed out that Ramsay had quickly earned the respect of the players he is working with.

“The coach is really calm, he’s experienced, so when he speaks everyone is quiet,” the D-man added. “I think every word makes sense for us.”

Ramsay’s experience takes in more than 1,000 NHL appearances as a player, followed by more than two decades of coaching in the league. That included a Stanley Cup win with Tampa Bay, where he was an assistant coach on the 2004 Championship team.

Since arriving in Slovakia, he and his coaching staff, which includes Vladimir Orszagh, another ex-NHL player, have worked hard to get his players to believe that they can compete – and to reignite some pride in being part of the national team.

“We want them to believe, no matter what happens,” he said. “The coaching group are always trying to teach them that if they just play their hearts out, we have always got a chance.

“Each person has a job – to be the best player he can be. You don’t have to be the best player on the ice, but you can always be the best player you can be. If you do that, then your team-mates will support you and at least the game is fun. And, at the end, no matter what happens, you feel pride.”

Thanks to Wednesday night’s sensation, there’s suddenly no shortage of pride around Slovakia’s team and fans.

 

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