Legacy Cup Shows More Signs of Progress For The Polish Women’s Senior Team

In their biggest test before the World Championship, the Women’s senior team traveled to South Korea to take on South Korea, Germany’s B team, and the Czech Republic U18 squad. While that sounds like a random assortment of teams, it gave Poland a variety of tests. Promising defensemen, Julia Zielinska made her senior debut at only 15 years old. Most of the team has played together this year with the Silesia Brackens in the Elite Women’s Hockey Leauge. The players on that team should be developing great chemistry and improving their game after competing against stronger players. While younger players have traveled beyond Poland to evolve their game. 

Game 1: Poland Defeats South Korea 4-1

South Korea took the early lead in this one after a lucky bounce off of Patrycja Sfora’s face. Poland would mostly control the rest of the game with Kamila Wieczorek recording three goals and one assist. Sass was brilliant in net. This was a big and convincing victory for Poland. They will play South Korea again in Poland at the Division 1B World Championship in April. South Korea took silver at the event last year, while Poland finished third. South Korea had beat Poland 4-3 at the event last year. South Korea is also ranked, above Poland, at 16 in the IIHF senior rankings.

Game 2: Poland Loses In Overtime to Germany B 4-3

This was Germany’s B senior team. I wasn’t even really able to find a roster online for the team. They did beat Czechia U18 and finished first in the tournament overall. Germany’s primary senior team is also the ninth-ranked team in the IIHF, so their B team can’t be too bad. This game was very winnable for Poland, and they played well. They had a few nice goals and strong chances, just couldn’t finish. Agata Kosinska got the start for Poland in this one. The first two goals against were pretty weak, but she mostly seemed to find her stride after that. Germany’s overtime goal came on a poor aggressive choice combined with an unfortunate line change. Poland looked good, but I don’t really know how to properly evaluate this game without knowing the German roster.

Game 3: Poland Loses A Close One to Czechia U18 2-1

This game was the one that feels like a harsh slap in the face back to reality. Going up against the Czech Republic’s u18 squad, Poland played well and was mostly the better team, but failed to win. Their only goal was a blast from just outside the point from Klaudia Chrapek. Sass played great in net for Poland as expected. Big picture though, the Czech Republic is the eight-ranked team in the women’s IIHF rankings. This was their U18 squad, and Poland couldn’t pull out the win.

Earlier this year, the Czechia U18 squad beat Poland U18 15-1. The Czech Republic is a top division team, and it would take close to a perfect decade for Poland to come close to catching them. Poland has been able to produce players like Kamila Wieczorek, Wiktoria Sikorska, and Julia Zielinska, who can compete with these teams, but the rest of Poland looks so far behind. These depth issues should continue to improve slowly. It will be a long time before Poland is a strong competitor in Divison 1 Group A. However, this tournament showed Poland can beat their strongest returning competitor in South Korea, and stayed competitive versus a relegated Italy earlier this year. Promotion to Division 1 Group A is possible, which is the next step.

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5 Thoughts 2020 Men’s Olympic Qualification

Things started to appear as dark as they always do for the Men’s senior team just days before this tournament. Patryk Wronka had pulled out, as well as three other players and Poland was a bit low on depth. In the end though, this Polish squad took the lead in every game they played and only once trailed in the entire tournament after a slow first period against Ukraine. This was the best I have seen the men’s team play in a long time. Easily their best tournament under Tomek Valtonen.

Walls Wish They Could Be Murray

One of the biggest reasons Poland won this tournament and are advancing to the next stage of the Olympic Qualification is John Murray. He was outstanding and finished with a .960 save percentage. The highest in the entire tournament! His best performance was against Kazaksthan where he stopped 51 out 53 shots.

Points for Ciura! 

Bartosz Ciura had played in 59 games for the Polish men’s team before this tournament. He had not recorded a single point in any of those games. The GKS Tychy defensemen isn’t that bad offensively recording 96 points (21-75-96) in 446 PHL games. Against the Netherlands, he recorded his first assist for the Men’s team and against Kazakhstan his first goal to give Poland a 1-0 lead.

The Open League Improvement

Poland’s controversial decision to remove an import limit on the league was met with comments about how it could kill Polish hockey. In year one, the league is stronger than ever before. Polish captain Krystian Dziubinski talked about it to IIHF.com,

“Now it’s very tight, any one of the top eight teams can beat anyone else. The other two are not quite there, but maybe they will change something in the near future. Most important, the standard is getting higher. We can see that with the Polish teams in the Visegrad Cup. Jastrzebie won that cup last month, they beat Nitra, who came second in the Slovak league last year, so there’s more progress there.”

The standard is raising for sure and the increased quality of the league has resulted in some big growths for younger Polish players. Dominik Pas was able to continue to test his defensive side against much stronger players and looked miles ahead of last year. Oskar Jaskiewicz seemed more offensively sound and confident and scored twice. Jakub Michalowski held his own defensively never looking out of place. While the detractors may be right in the long run, there have been nothing benefits to the first year of the open league in my opinion.

Strong Special Teams

It seems often when doing 5 Thoughts I have to point out a weak penalty kill or power play. That is now the case for Poland this time. Poland’s powerplay was the best in the entire group with a 35.7 powerplay percentage. The penalty kill was even better not allowing a single powerplay goal on all eight kills.

A Much Needed Win

The first article I wrote this year was looking at who had the most to prove in 2020. The number one person on that list was Tomek Valtonen, I kept his short basically saying it was time to win or get out. Valtonen picked up the biggest win of his Polish hockey career today. The team looked fantastic and really seemed to be clicking in his system. When I defended Ted Nolan I said it would take more than a year to install a system. While his start may have been rougher, the same goes for Valtonen. In a time where the men’s team was appearing as dark as could be this was a much-needed win. There is a light at the end of the tunnel again.

Quick Thoughts

– Oskar Jaskiewicz had a great tournament, not only did he score two goals, but he also added an assist. He tied Krystian Dziubinski for the lead in shots on the team with 12.

– Three of the six defensemen on this team were 25 or under. Defense is probably the position Poland lacks the most depth at. This tournament saw them missing three national team regulars. The defense was able to thrive though.

– Martin Przygodzki is one of the numerous players that never had any national team chances until Valtonen arrived, in his IIHF senior debut he scored two goals.

– Congrats to Michal Kieler on stopping the lone shot he faced in the tournament. The young goalie does actually have a bright future for Poland.

Pawel Zygmunt Career Continues To Skyrocket

Coming into this year, I had Pawel Zygmunt ranked as the sixth-best U23 Polish player. As I began to create the list for 2020, Zygmunt has certainly moved into a top-five spot and may even have made a case for the number one spot. Zygmunt has been able to play 18 games this year for HC Litvinov in the Tipsport Extraliga. In those 18 games, he has posted 1 goal and 3 assists.  While those numbers are not world burning, for Poland the production is just a bit better than how other national team staples fared in their rookie Tipsport Extraliga seasons

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Zygmunt also has a couple years on them for his debut season. The 6’3 forward sits seventh in Points-Per-Game among U21 players with ten games in the Tipsport ExtaLiga. In the Chance Liga, the second Czechia league, Zygmunt has 3 points (1-2-3) in 9 games between HC Stadion Litomerice and SK Kadan. HC Litvinov has mostly used Zygmunt has as a fourth-line forward or extra forward. He has mostly averaged around eight minutes a game in the Tipsport Liga, only receiving over ten minutes three times. In the Chance Liga, though Zygmunt has seen his ice time skyrocket with an average just over 16 minutes (Data is missing for one game). 

His rookie season in the Czech Republic appears to indicate he will have a future career in leagues stronger than the PHL, but one of the biggest endorsements that the young forward has earned is from Tomek Valtonen. Pawel Zygmunt earned a place on Poland’s roster for the Olympic Qualifiers. Tomek Valtonen had a chance to evaluate Zygmunt earlier this year, at a non-IIHF event. This will his IIHF senior debut for team Poland. Zygmunt will be the youngest player on team Poland for the event, and one of only two born in 1999 (Dominik Pas). Zygmunt maybe relied on heavily as well for Poland, as Patryk Wronka has pulled out of the tournament. This leaves Poland without one of their most talented forwards. Zygmunt’s size and shot may have in line for more offensive chances in Wronka’s absence.

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The Scoring Struggle. 5 Thoughts 2020 Women’s U18 D1B World Championship

Coming into this hockey year, I predicted that both of the Polish women’s team would be able to earn promotion during 2020. Poland’s U18 team had a roster that featured almost everyone returning from the previous year. The key players were taking more huge steps in their careers and gaining valuable experience. My prediction did not occur, as Poland struggled to generate any offense during the tournament. On the final day, the offense would explode with five goals to keep Poland from being relegated. It was the best Poland played all-tournament, but how did the rest of the tournament go?

Attack on Titans

There was a huge size difference in this tournament for Poland. Going by average height, Poland was the second smallest team in this tournament. It was very noticeable at times as taller opponents were just able to push through Polish defenders. It is something that Poland can’t really fix either. It was by no means the disadvantage that lost Poland games, but it was certainly a big hurdle.

Standout Schramm

Iga Schramm made her fourth and final appearance for the Polish U18 squad and she did fantastic. She recorded two goals and two assists, which tied Sikorska for the team lead. She looked very confident rushing the puck and had a solid shot. Schramm was second on team Poland in shots with 21. The Poznan center was great in the faceoff draw as well. Schramm appears to be another solid piece towards Poland’s future.

Best In Net. Best My Chemical Romance Song.

Helena Grzybowska had an absolute standout performance in net. She faced the second-most shots in the tournament and finished with the second-highest save percentage at .948. She kept Poland in every single game of this tournament and absolutely proved that Sass is not Poland’s only goalie capable of starting. Every part of her game was impressive.

Sikorska’s Off Tournament

Wiktoria Sikorska served as captain for Poland at this tournament. It was obvious to anyone watching that she was the best player on the ice for Poland. In her first trip to the U18s she had five points, last year she had ten points, this year only four points. In a tournament, where Poland needed scoring badly their best player did not produce as expected. Sikorska will be able to represent Poland at one more U18 tournament next year.

[highlights] GREAT BRITAIN - POLAND 1_5

A Moral Victory

I don’t believe in moral victories in sports. This tournament was as close as they come through in my opinion. Poland took Austria to overtime and battled hard with Norway.

This team and sport is making progress in Poland. Their performances are getting better and better by a wide margin every year. They played so well defensively that if they were just a fraction better on offense we would be talking about Poland’s first gold medal team of the 2019-20 season.

Quick Thoughts

– This was one of the best defensive performances by any Polish team in recent memory. They were very good limiting at high danger chances.

– Julia Zielinska had some ups and downs this tournament, but her highs showed why she is the future of Poland on defense

– Ida Talanda has some potential and could make for an interesting prospect.

– eight departures from the team are coming, most of them having spent two or three tournaments on the U18 squad. Both goalies are also leaving. This will be a really different team next year and Poland women’s hockey will hopefully show a lot of growth.

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Top Ten in Polish Hockey With The Most To Prove in 2020

The final day of 2019 is here, and it has been up and down and down year for Polish hockey. The upsides have been on the women’s side, young talent, and the PHL becoming a much more competitive league. The downsides have been on the Men’s senior team and continued backstage messes and drama. We had an article on New Year’s Eve looking at who had the best years in 2019, but today lets look at who needs to rebound after some rough patches in 2019.

Honorable Mentions: Cracovia Krakow, Kasper Bryniczka, Michael Luba, Patrik Spesny, and Risto Dufva

10. Ernest Bochnak

Bochnak saw himself left off an IIHF Polish junior squad once again. He made the Polish U18 squad in his first season of eligibility. He has yet to make a roster since, and his time is up. It is shocking to me that he was never able to get on a roster after his initial U18 appearance, where he recorded three goals and one assist. This year he was able to play professional games in both the second and third Czech leagues. Bochnak is an outstanding junior player, and he’ll find himself on a senior roster, I’m sure of it.

9. Patryk Wronka

Wronka had an outstanding 2018-19 season in the PHL and used that to sign in the Elite Ice Hockey League (EIHL) with the Belfast Giants. The highly skilled player got off to a hot start recording two goals and one assist in six Champion League Hockey games, as well as six assists in seven EIHL Cup games. That production did not carry into the regular season, and he only recorded eight points (4-4-8) in 24 games before mutually parting ways with the Giants. Now Wronka has a fresh start with Rapaces deGap of the Synerglace Ligue Magnus. In his first three games in the French league, he has four goals and one assist. Wronka is insanely talented, the EIHL just wasn’t a fit for him. In 2020 he needs to prove that.

8. Jacek Szopinski

Jacek Szopinski has been the head coach of both Orlik Opole and Naprzod Janow over the past two years. These clubs are complete clown shows. Both teams are very uncompetitive. Now Szopinski is not responsible for their financial situation. He is responsible for lying to players, bashing players to other coaches and teams, as well as being regarded as a difficult coach to deal with. Szopinski simply needs to shape up and act like a coach should or get out of the PHL.

7. Zaglebie Sosnowiec

Zaglebie Sosnowiec showed a lot of promise last year in their first season back in the PHL after two final losses in the second league. This year with a full offseason to prepare, they signed the big Russian trio that propelled KH Torun to a strong season. The Russian trio has not been able to replicate their production, and some young players did not take as big of steps that were needed. Now going into 2020, they sit just above Janow in the standings. If the team doesn’t improve, a lot of big changes are going to be needed.

6. Sebastian Lipinski

Sebastian Lipinski looked to have the title of Poland’s best goaltending prospect on lock. In 2018, he had a great performance at the U20 World Championship and led PZHL u23 to their first win. In 2019, he had a disastrous U20 World Championship run and endured an up and down PHL year. His 2019 does include two shutouts as well as some flashes of brilliance in the net. Lipinski has to become more consistent in 2020.

5. Patryk Wysocki 

I had Wysocki ranked as my sixteenth best U23 Polish player to end last year. The Belarusian born defensemen had been able to play professionally in Belarus and Poland, while also appearing in the top Russian junior league the Molodyozhnaya Hokkeinaya Liga (MHL). This year he started in the MHL once again with the Chinese junior club but left his team after playing only ten games and receiving very limited ice time. His final game in China took place in October. Wysocki wouldn’t play another hockey game till December when he popped up in the BeNe League, a lower European league composed of teams from Belgium and the Netherlands. There he has two points in four games. It is an odd choice for him, and there isn’t enough information to guess a reason why his season has gone as it has, but he still remains one of Poland’s most developed defensive players for his age.

4. Piotr Sarnik 

Piotr Sarnik led the U20 team to a poor performance at the 2019 Division 1B U20 World Championships, but that wasn’t even his biggest challenge at the time. Risto Dufva left GKS Katowice in November to take a job in Finland, leaving behind a GKS Katowice that had not lived up to expectations. Sarnik is now tasked with giving a team identity that doesn’t have one in a PHL that is more competitive than ever. It is going to be quite a challenge for the young coach.

3. GKS Katowice

As mentioned in the last entry, Katowice is supposed to be up there with GKS Tychy. In the past seasons, they seemed to just always be one step behind GKS Tychy. This year GKS Katowice already has as many regulation losses as they did in the last two seasons combined. The season has also been very hard injury-wise with only eight players managing to play all 32 games so far this year. Katowice also released Radosław Sawicki early in the year, and Sawicki currently sits seventh in league scoring. Before the new year, Martin Cakajik left the team after two and a half seasons.GKS Katowice is going to need to regroup fast.

2. Men’s Senior Team

After being demoted to D1B for the first time since 2014, it was only expected to be a one year stop. That was not the case as Poland has continually struggled during 2019, never once show any signs of promise. 2019 saw more players retire or currently suspend their national team career. The team’s depth has taken quite the hit with younger talents not being ready to jump in. They’ll have two big chances at the Olympics Qualifiers and D1B World Championships to prove this team and staff have potential. If neither chances are successful drastic actions will have to be taken.

1. Tomek Valtonen

Simply put, it is sink or swim time. Everything that was a pro about Valtonen never came to fruition. There is some blame on both the coach and the PZHL. What he can control though, he has done poorly, so either win or leave time.

The Ten Best Polish Hockey Years of 2019

The final day of 2019 is here, and it has been up and down and down year for Polish hockey. The great signs have been on the women’s side, young talent, and the PHL becoming a much more competitive league. The downsides have been on the Men’s senior team and continued backstage messes and drama. We will have an article on New Year’s day looking at who needs to improve in 2020, but today lets look at who had the best 2019.

Honorable Mentions: Bartlomiej Neupauer, Filip Stopinski, JKH GKS Jastrzebie, Kamila Wieczorek, KH Torun, Noureddine Bettahar, and Radoslaw Sawicki.

10. Damian Kapica

Kapica was a dominant offensive force at the top of the Cracovia Krakow line up in 2019. The Nowy Targ native currently sits 5th in PHL scoring for the 2019-20 season. He added in an explosive performance at the World Championship, including a five-goal game against Ukraine. It was one of the best performances by a Polish player in World Championship history.

9. Kamil Walega

Kamil Walega just capped off his 2019 with a superb performance at the 2019 Division 1B U20 World Championship with 11 points (6-5-11) in 5 games. He was also able to make his senior national team debut in 2019. In the PHL, Walega had become a significant part of the JKH GKS Jastrzebie offense with 17 points (5-12-17) in 20 games.

8. Wiktoria Sikorska

Sikorska has continued to cement herself as the future face of women’s hockey in Poland. In 2019, she was the best forward at the D1B U18s with seven goals and three assists in five games. She then went on to make her senior IIHF debut at just 16-years-old. The sky is the limit for Sikorska, and her season in the top Czech women’s league has proved that as she sits ninth in league scoring with nine points (1-8-9) in four games.

7. Unia Oswiecim

The 2018-19 season saw a rough start for the blue and white. The team finished eighth in the league, their worst finish since 2009-10. This year though, they were back with a vengeance. The team was one of the most skilled teams the PHL has seen in a while, all spearheaded by new Slovenian head coach Nik Zupancic. The club currently sits fourth in the PHL and made it to the finals of the Polish Cup after defeating GKS Tychy in the opening round.

6. Julia Zielinska 

Julia Zielinska is one of the most active Polish players on social media, and she definitely has a career worth following. The talented 15-year-old defensemen became the first female Polish player to play at a top senior level in Finland and the second male or female. She has spent most of the season with Kiekko-Espoo Akatemia in the Metsis recording one assist in tens games. Zielinska is on a quick path to being the best female defenseman in Polish hockey history.

5. Pawel Zygmunt

The big 6’3 forward took a big step in his hockey career after a successful try-out with HC Litvinov of the Tipsports Extraliga. He and Aron Chmielewski are the only two Polish players in the league. Zygmunt was able to score in his debut match and also recorded three points in the second Czech league. Zygmunt has also been a member of various Polish senior teams and could be in line to make his senior IIHF debut this year. He also scored the game-winning double-overtime goal last season to send Cracovia Krakow to the PHL finals.

4. GKS Tychy

The big dog of Polish hockey has continued their strong reign with back to back PHL championships. Not to mention they are once again at the top of the table for the 2019-20 season with 70 points. They have appeared to find another stud North American with Polish roots in Christian Mroczkowski. They set a new record for points by a Polish club in the Champions Hockey League with 4. This includes a victory over Austria’s Viena Capitals and taking Alder Mannheim of the DEL to overtime. The PHL continues to improve, and GKS Tychy is the team leading the charge. They also won the first-ever Champions Hockey League marketing award. Props to the team behind the team.

3. Alan Łyszczarczyk

The Ontario Hockey League belonged to Alan Łyszczarczyk after his midseason trade to the Missauaga Steelheads. Despite the Steelheads trading away many of their top players, Łyszczarczyk was one of the players that stepped up to get the Steelheads to the postseason. He finished the season with 82 points (39-42-82), setting new career highs in every category and finishing 19th in the league for points. Łyszczarczyk put up a goal and three assists for Poland at the World Championships as well. His strong play during the 2018-19 season earned a deal with the Fort Wayne Komets of the ECHL, as well as an invite to training camp with the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League (AHL). Łyszczarczyk has been a star for the Komets posting 27 points (11-16-27) in 28 games, which is third among rookies in the ECHL. There is a strong chance his first AHL call-up should be coming soon.

2. Women’s Hockey in Poland 

It has been a big year for the growth of women’s hockey in Poland. Both the senior and U18 team played very well at their international tournaments with promotion being a possible goal for both 2020 tournaments. Those 2020 tournaments will also both be hosted in Poland. On top of that, the team continues to make more strides and there is a goal of an official U16 squad. The most significant addition to Polish women’s hockey this year was the women’s national team joining the Elite Women’s Hockey League. The club currently has a 3-6-1 record. The Silesia Brackens have stayed competitive in every game. The future of women’s hockey in Poland is very bright.

1. Jakub Lewandowski

The prospect of the year for Poland is easily Jakub Lewandowski after being a controversial late cut from Poland U20’s team in 2018, he continued his offensive excellence in the top Czech junior league finishing with 48 points (22-26-48) in 44 games. He was able to turn that into a chance to play in the top junior league in the United States. Lewandowski got off to a scorching start in the United States Hockey League (USHL) but has cooled down a bit since. He currently has five goals and five assists in 22 games. This earned him a C ranking, meaning a player viewed as a late-round NHL draft pick, on the NHL preliminary players to watch list. Lewandowski has a great chance to become the first Polish player drafted since Marcin Kolusz was taken by the Minnesota Wild in 2003.

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No Defense Allowed. 5 Thoughts 2019 U20 D1B World Championship

This year the U20 team was packed with plenty of offensive talent highlighted by NHL Draft hopeful Jakub Lewandowski. The team possessed a very young defense that had a lot of returning players. The goaltending duo had impressed last year and even if they did half as well Poland looked have promotion secured on paper. Of the three units, only one of them was able to live up to their expectations. The offense did great while the defense and goaltending suffered. As a disclaimer, I was only able to watch a handful of games, which brings us right to the first thought.

Sorry Excuse for Streams

About a month before this tournament, Ukraine hosted a four-nation U20 tournament. All of those games were streamed on Youtube in okay quality. This year Ukraine originally only planned to stream Ukraine games on Facebook. In the end, random select games received very poor quality streams that appeared to be shot on a camera from the early 1990s. This comes at a time when there is a lot of criticism the IIHF has received for the lack of quality streams.

Streams for tournaments are decided by the host federation and them alone for most tournaments. IIHF senior world championships seem to be the only exception for that. It should be a requirement though for hosting a tournament that the host is able to provide quality streams for the tournament. For these junior players especially this is the most exposure they will get and a great chance to gain film. In a perfect world, these streams would be handled by the IIHF and streamed on their Youtube channel.

Put In The Third String

Poland’s goaltending was very disappointing in this tournament. The duo of Sebastian Lipinski and Maciej Miarka both played poor in their appearances. Of goaltenders to appear in at least 40% of their teams total minutes, Lipinski finished dead last with a .819 save percentage. Back up goalie Miarka posted a .775 save percentage in his limited time. While one tournament is not the end-all for everything, Poland’s goaltending future does not seem as secure as once believed.

An NHL Draft Worthy Performance

Jakub Lewandowski was a stud in this tournament and put in the performance one would hope with his resume. This tournament was his and he put up 13 points to lead the entire tournament in scoring. Lewandowski proved he is a step above all other Polish talents. He was off to a hot start in the United States Hockey League, but cooled off. Hopefully, the U20 World Championship will help bring back his early-season production.

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Bieniek’s Breakthrough

In my limited viewing, Szymon Bieniek was Poland’s most impressive defenseman. He has the two-way game to thrive at both ends. I think he has a very good chance to be Poland’s best defensemen since Pawel Dronia. He has excelled in the states being named both a player of the month and to the NAPHL all-star game.

Sarnik’s Second Chance

Poland’s U20 team head coaches usually have two to three years reigns. Jaroslaw Morawiecki had three seasons at the helm, Andrei Parfenov lasted two years at the top, Torbjörn Johansson led the team for three, then David Leger just had one year. This was Sarnik’s second chance at leading the team and he now has led them to their worse finish this century. The U20 team needs a new coach and Poland should bring in a foreign coach to aid with that development. I don’t believe Poland currently has a coach that can develop talent to higher levels and produce results.

Quick Thoughts

– Klaudiusz Libik’s lack of experience seems to be catching up with him in his development. He remains one of Poland’s best defensive prospects though.

– Kamil Walega maybe the best offensively talented player developed in Poland in the last few years

– There were plenty of special offensive players in this tournament. All of Damian Tyczynski, Igor Smal, Jakub Blanik, Maciej Witan, and Sebastian Brynkus deserve a lot of praise.

– As is custom for almost every tournament. Too many penalties. Poland ranked second in the tournament with 75.

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