The Women’s U18 team was quite busy the last few weeks playing three exhibition games against France, along with competing in a four nations cup tournament in Great Britain. Against a much stronger French opponent, Poland did drop all three of their games with a goal differential of -11 for Poland. In the Four Nations tournaments against competition in Poland’s range, they finished second after losing to Great Britain on the final day of the tournament. They will have a rematch against the British U18 team in just a couple months at the IIHF U18 Division 1 Group B World Championships.
The games against France were a massive test for the Polish squad. This U18 team has a couple of big names on the roster with Wiktoria Sikorska and Julia Zielinska leading the charge. Sikorska is the future of the Polish national team and has a chance in the next couple of years to be considered the best women’s player in Poland. Julia Zielinska is a defenseman that is mature beyond her years. She turns 15 in December and already plays in the second-best senior league in Finland. They are players that are more than ready and able to take on France with ease compared to the rest of the Polish roster.
This tournament was a good way to see who Poland has after them that has the potential to really make those next big steps. In total Poland lost all three games, but really kept two of them competitive. The first meeting was a three to nothing defeat, while the second was four to one. The final game was a six to one loss. These games showed that Poland could stay competitive with a team like France though. France is ranked tenth in the IIHF Women’s rankings which is a lot higher than Poland at 22. They are also in the division above 1B. If Poland were to earn a promotion, France is a team they could possibly play.
When a team gets promoted in international hockey there is always a concern on how they will actually fare in that division. A lot of times that team is quickly dispatched besides one game against the other bottom-dwelling team. France has been that team in Division 1A. Despite the division’s short history, they have been relegated once already and it took them two tries to return to Division 1A. There is a large gap between Division 1A and 1B where Poland resides. If France is still a big task for Poland the rest of D1A should be considered massive challenges.
The Four Nations Tournament was a more evenly balanced tournament for Poland. In fact, they were the highest-ranked team in the tournament. I should note that IIHF rankings are for the senior division only, but I do believe they’re a solid indication of the junior divisions. Most of the time they almost match the senior rankings exactly. Despite Poland being considered the favorite it was not an easy weekend for the Eagles.
The first game saw Poland take on a U20 Iceland squad. Iceland does not a women’s U18 team, so they brought a u20 squad. This was probably to the benefit of everyone in the tournament as it gave them a much more competitive roster. That said Poland was still able to beat them easily seven to one. Iceland is only ranked 32nd in the World and this was by far the easiest opponent in the tournament for Poland. With that in mind, I was hoping to see more production out of players outside of the top lines on Poland produce, but it was mostly the Sikorska and Zielinska show.
The second game of the tournament saw Poland take on Spain. Spain is in the division right below Poland. They played a very well structured game. They have been on the outskirts of Division 1B for the past few seasons never winning promotion in the qualifying games, but a growing program and I expect they’ll be able to finally earn promotion to Division 1B this year. The game saw Poland mostly have control and lead three to nothing after two periods. They didn’t stay aggressive though and collapsed in the third period allowing Spain to make a comeback. In the end, Poland had to take it to the shootout to get the win. The biggest takeaway from this game is a learning experience. These players can’t just hold on to a lead against any opponent. They need to keep their game up for all three periods.
The final game is the most interesting as Poland will have that rematch with Great Britain at the D1B U18 IIHF Championship in January. Poland held a two-goal lead in this game at one point, but would allow four unanswered goals that gave Great Britain the four to two win. Poland did win the shot advantage and played well, but what killed the team were some costly turnovers and penalties. I would say three of Great Britain’s goals could have been completely avoided if not for Polish mistakes.
This is how players learn though. Poland didn’t play poorly in any of these games, there were just mistakes that can and should be corrected. Across the six games, Sikorska showed that she is the real deal with three goals and six assists. Julia Zielinka also played well at both ends and recorded three goals and five assists. The top two players were there and produced. The team after them though is the concern. Maja Blaszkow was able to stand out and scored four goals in the six games, including a hattrick against Iceland. Karolina Baran provided some solid production and strong play. Goaltending was fine, but nothing overly special.
These tournaments showed that Poland is a very competitive team that can play aggressive. They’re going dictate how the game is played. There are correctable mistakes that should go away with more experience. The bigger problem facing Poland right now though is the lack of depth. The depth is steadily improving but not as fast as Poland is producing top players. There are large gaps of skill in Poland’s own roster. That gap can go both ways as top players can keep them in a game they have no business being in, but also have them lose games they have no reason to lose. There is a lot to like about the future of the women’s team, but massive steps still need to be taken.
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