We saw our first national team action of the year and, more importantly, the beginning of the Kaláber era. The last national team head coach’s circumstances were a lot different, but there are some similarities. Valtonen faced a national team with a lot of players striking. They were also facing the reserve teams of a lot of the better European national teams. Teams, I would consider the guard of staying in the Elite division. Beat them, and you remain in the top, lose, and you’re back down to division one. The team had to try out a lot of different and new players. The ice conditions were poor, and I’m sure I could dig up more excuses to lose, but instead, Valtonen and team Poland went out and stayed competitive.
Kaláber saw plenty of top players not join the team as they had club commitments like Chmielewski and Zygmunt, while also being without all three of Poland’s best defensemen. Poland had a different beast to fight in Hungary. Poland’s biggest enemy and a country that is ready to take on the teams that guard the Elite division. This was a team Poland, much like the last, trying out many different and new players. They could have folded and broken and let Hungary just control the matches. They did not though. They fought until the end until Hungary finished them in a close fight. The parallels are there in the beginning, but will the ending be different?
For Valtonen, it all went downhill right away, with his next set of games being devastating losses to Hungary. Hungary controlled the Polish squad and destroyed them. It showed how much of a difference there was between the two countries. The first of game 1 showed that same trend as Hungary went up 2-0 and had a comfortable lead. In the second, though, Poland came out as strong as possible and gave up one goal but got two back. The third period was a mix between the two initial periods, but it never felt like Poland was drowning. The final was 5-2, and there was only a five-shot difference in favor of Hungary. Much different from the games under Valtonen were the shot margins were in the forties and fifties.
The next game was so much better. It was the first time in years we saw the team Poland that won medals in division 1 group A. The team that was on the cusp of making it to the elite. Poland didn’t even have starting goalie Murray in net, but Michal Kieler, who is maybe fourth or fifth on the depth chart. A whole two players in the lineup older than 30. The team got out to an early lead after Canadian import Mroczkowski looked natural sniping one past the Hungarian goaltender. Hungary responded early in the second, but Poland would react on the powerplay with GKS Tychy forward Jeziroski scoring. Hungary would take the game in the end 3-2, after two goals from István Sofron. The shot margin for this 26-25 for Hungary.
The defense is the most underdeveloped area of the Polish national team. The forward and goalie groups feel more than fine to stay competitive with the top teams of division 1. The defense though, is the Achilles heel of team Poland. Holding the Hungary team to 26 shots is a remarkable feat of shot suppression and kept Poland in the game. Allowing 48 shots in game one was their downfall, so game two was a much-welcomed surprise. It wasn’t a significant line-up change either, as only Szurowski swapped in for Horzelski on the bottom pairing.
The young players all delivered on their end. For once, all the imports in the line up seemed like they were making the team better by being there, not just plugging a whole. The goaltending was steady, and made some great saves. The defense was shaky but had one of their best performances in years during game two. I think when you add some of the star power back into this lineup, they definitely will be promoted back to group A. Can they fight and win in group A is a different story. Many players in the line up are already well familiar with the Kaláber style and system, and we will learn down the road how effective that style will be on the international level.