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Why I'm rooting for Slovakia in the Olympic hockey tournament—and really you should be, too

February 14, 2018


Ladies and gentlemen, it’s officially time to join me on the Slovak Train to Olympic Hockey Glory, now departing twice daily, choo choo. There is always room, we are a welcoming (if hirsute) people and our warm greetings, genial nature and delightful gypsy-folk music will easily make up for the smell of much of what we are cooking. (Sorry about that, but you try to prepare meals containing this much sauerkraut and not ending up smelling like the interior of a snowboarders' boot. Also, my cousin Kevin will offer you a drink called slivovica; it’s a “plum brandy” that will result in alcoholic fire shooting out of your eyes.)

Indeed, I am flush with homeland pride because last night, or possibly tomorrow morning, I don’t really understand time zones, the Slovak Olympic hockey team upended the much-favored squad from the proud nation of Olympic Athletes of Russia, which has many citizens, four million conservative Twitter bots and is known to be pretty good at hockey. This is a very big win, akin to … OK well no other major Olympic Russian-related hockey upsets come to mind, but it’s a big deal. (As it happens, the non-NHL U.S. team lost to Slovenia, so basically Olympic hockey just got its bracket busted, or, as we say in Slovakia, bjysykd.)

Some background: My family hails from Slovakia, or whatever country Slovakia was when my family came over, that was like three or four names ago. And though it’s a beautiful land of mountains and castles and old-world majesty, not a great deal happens in Slovakia, unless the Von Trapps wander over. Slovakia is a cold land, a flinty land, a land that my great-grandfather Andras left in 1906, traveling to American in steerage on a future World War I destroyer so his great-grandson could make fun of former countrymen while drinking flavored coffee that has whipped cream in it. (Thanks, Grandpa, this mocha is simply divine.) Our particular parcel of this hard country is called Cierne Polo, which translates roughly into "black forest," which, I hardly need tell you, is not a place thick with elves and chipmunks. It is gray and foreboding and occasionally characters from "The Road" meander through.

Yet I am nothing if not prideful, so every four years (or, as we Slovaks call it, “a fortnight”) I jump full-on intro the world of Slovak Olympic Sports. I do this because as a Slovak there aren’t many other times you can exhibit an awful lot of national pride, especially now that they seem to have canceled that national pierogi competition and we don’t have anyone in the running for the Oscars this year. (It turned out, after considerable research, that Timothee Chalamet is not Slovak. Neither is anyone in “Lady Bird,” apparently.)

And frankly, we are doing pretty damn well for a country that most people think 1. is a spelling error, or 2. Is the place Borat came from. I know it’s a dated reference. I’m leaving it.

So with Slovakia making such a statement in its first game — against a team that basically everyone thought would crush all competitors like they were Facebook algorithms — I invite you to join me, my family and 300 lbs. of cheese pierogis on Team Slovakia. (I’m currently rocking a Slovakia T-shirt, which is getting me all sorts of shifty looks from people at the coffee shop. I will probably be deported.) The Slovak people are friendly, the slivovicz is flowing (slowly, as it’s basically lighter fluid), and the polka band is laying down some sweet oom-pah gypsy grooves. If you’d prefer to wait to do so until after Slovakia plays the U.S., we are totally cool with that.

Because that’s how we do it in Slovakia: no flash, no endorsement deals, no frizzy-haired redheads blasting themselves 16 feet off the half-pipe (we haven’t produced a redhead in 400 years), no rich kids rocketing down one of the 14 luge tracks on Earth. Just battle-hardened and probably hirsute hockey players turning their gritty, workmanlike performances into victory, the kind that you absorb when you hone your life skills in the Black Forest, and the kind that, one day, we will apply to our approach to cooking, we promise.