International Ice Hockey Federation

Slovaks to the Max

Slovaks to the Max

Cajkovic leads triumph over France

Published 23.04.2018 10:14 GMT+5 | Author Slava Malamud
Slovaks to the Max
CHELYABINSK, RUSSIA - APRIL 22: Slovakia's Maxim Cajkovic #27 celebrates after scoring a first period goal against France during preliminary round action at the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship. (Photo by Andrea Cardin/HHOF-IIHF Images)
Maxim Cajkovic took over the No. 1 spot among tournament scorers as Slovakia handily defeated France, 7-1, for its second IIHF World U18 Championship win.

So, this was probably unexpected. With three quarters of the preliminary stage complete, the man reigning among all the U18 Worlds scorers is none other than Slovakia’s own Maxim Cajkovic. The 17-year-old Malmo Redhawks prodigy who won’t be eligible for the NHL draft until 2019, is known for being, let’s say, rather active in the offensive third. After making his debut in the SuperElit (Sweden’s U20 league) this season, Cajkovic proceeded to razzle and dazzle against older players to the tune of 21 points in 28 games.

On the Slovak U18 squad, among his, more or less, contemporaries, Cajkovic is busy making sure almost nothing gets done in regards to scoring without his direct participation. Having already scored five points in the first two games, Cajkovic once again got busy against the overwhelmed French with a goal and four assists, including a first-period game-winner, for the total of ten points in the tourney, catapulting himself past the American fellow 17-year-old Jack Hughes in the scoring race.

"I am just trying to play my best hockey and do the best for the team, that's what it is", said Cajkovic by way of explaining his offensive prowess. 

Samuel Knazko added two goals of his own, as Oliver Okuliar picked up two goals and two assists and Kristian Kovacik wound up with four helpers. Adam Pauliny added two more for the victorious Slovaks. Jules Gallet had France’s lonely tally.

France, which looked much less intimidated in its second game than in the tournament-opening encounter with Russia, was looking to pull off a major upset. In the end, they allowed seven goals in their third consecutive game.

France's stifling defensive tactics seemed to work early on, though Slovakia, which pulled off a brave an opportunistic victory over Czech Republic two nights ago, didn’t look worried.

"They were underdogs", said Cajkovic. "At first, we thought that it was going to go easy and they will lose by themselves, but then we started skating much harder. That was what we needed. To skate and shoot."

The Slovaks were happy to proceed at a comparatively relaxed pace until they finally solved France’s stellar goaltender Valentin Duquenne, when Knazko banged the puck in from up close at 11:23. Things did get interesting in the 16th minute, when the French, operating on a 4-on-3 power play, set up Gallet for a hard wrister into the far lower corner from the left circle.

However, the first French comeback in the history of IIHF U18 World Championships lasted for mere 16 seconds. Slovakia immediately got the puck deep into the French zone and the ubiquitous Cajkovic lifted it over the goalie’s shoulder for a 2-1 lead.

"We are definitely happy that he is in such a shape, especially because, being underaged, he is eligible to play next year", said head coach Viliam Cacho of Cajkovic. "He has been showing what a scorer he is throughout the season. Hopefully, he will continue the same way."

If the first period was a bit on the boring side, Slovakia took it upon itself to provide all the excitement in the second, and wasted absolutely no time at all doing it. With just a minute gone since the faceoff, Cajkovic found Okuliar all alone at the far post. The Slovaks’ fourth goal was scored when Knazko slapped in a one-timer from the low slot. This happened at the 10:10 mark, just as Samuel Rousseau was leaving the penalty box.

At that point, the game was heading down a familiar blowout path for the French, who came undone under pressure from the unrelenting Slovaks. Pauliny slammed home the fifth goal before the second buzzer, but trouble didn’t end there for Les Bleuets.

Duquenne allowed a rather unfortunate goal exactly one minute into the third, when Okuliar put one right under his arm from the slot. That was it for the tall French netminder, as coach Anthony Mortas decided to give Adrien Vazzaz a chance. Or, maybe, to spare Duquenne a third-straight seven-goal game, because Vazzaz immediately picked up where his colleague left off, allowing Pauliny to score only 23 seconds into his U18 Worlds career.

Vazzaz did keep the Slovaks off the board, and Cajkovic from putting even more daylight between himself and Hughes, for the rest of the game.

"We are playing as a team, we block the shots. This is the most important thing", said Cajkovic.

Slovakia, which still, under the right circumstances, could win second place in Group B, will square off against Russia on Tuesday. France will finish its preliminary campaign on Monday, with a game against Czech Republic.

 

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