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.
– 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.