Team Slovakia came into the world juniors with very modest expectations – don’t get relegated, don’t play for relegation. Thanks to a win over the Swiss in the round-robin, it did indeed get a spot in the medal round, where it fell in the quarterfinal to Finland.
And though there were some notable names on the Slovakian squad – Tomas Jurco, Martin Marincin and Martin Gernat, for example – the youngest player on the team was also one of the most visible.
Right winger Marko Dano is a late birthday who isn’t draft eligible until 2013, but spent his first world juniors crashing around the ice and hitting everything that moved while also displaying a knack for offense and willingness to stick up for teammates.
No surprise then that his father, Jozef Dano, once led the Austrian Nationalliga in goals, points and PIM, all in the same season (2004-05). The younger Dano is already playing against men in Slovakia’s top league with Dukla Trencin and though you’d think having a young kid throwing himself around against players old enough to be his father would inspire bad blood from the veterans, Dano doesn’t see it that way.
“No, no, it’s the other way around,” he said through a translator. “That’s the way I learn how to play, the experience from the senior’s league. I bring that to the worlds here.”
It certainly won’t be his last world juniors, but the next international stop for Dano will be the under-18s, where Slovakian WJC coach Ernest Bokros will also be behind the bench.
“I wanted to have goalie Richard Sabol and Dano on the under-20 team to get experience,” Bokros said through a translator. “I expect Marko to be a leader on the under-18 team.”
As the world juniors went on, Dano was given more responsibility and ice time. The 5-foot-11, 179-pound sparkplug saw duty on both the power play and penalty kill, while even seeing top-line time in the final game against the Czechs when Jurco was scratched due to a minor hip flexor injury.
“We reached our goal – to go up from the relegation round,” Bokros said. “Right now it is better for him to adapt to the pressure of the game and I wanted to give him more ice time to accomplish that. All the technical aspects of the game, he’s very good at. He has a hard shot and is a good skater.”
Back home, Dano wears No. 68 for Trencin, the same number worn by both his father and one of his heroes, Jaromir Jagr. Playing for Trencin’s under-20 team last season, he put up numbers similar to his father, with 18 goals, 40 points and 86 PIM in 28 games. So far with the top team this season, he has still chipped in eight points in 26 games.
“It’s a huge experience,” Dano said. “The main difference is that the game is much harder and faster.”
Dano believes his feel for the game and his passing are his best assets and was more than happy to take on any role with the Slovakian world junior team. His aggressive play sometimes landed him in the penalty box unnecessarily, but the fact he stared down any opponent who got too close to his netminder was a reminder that the youngest are often also the bravest in battle.
“I was honored to be picked and tried my best to be a team player,” he said. “I worked hard to earn my spot.”
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