The Olympic qualification tournaments are weird. You play three games, if you’re a top 20 team, two of those games are frankly meaningless in a way. The Olympic qualifiers always provide plenty of blowouts. You spend the first two games comparing the blowout scores by the winners trying to see if you can see what team has an edge for final game. Poland beat Turkey 12-0, but the Netherlands destroyed Turkey 23-0, on the other hand Poland beat Mexico 8-1, while the Netherlands only beat them 7-1. There is not much to gain from either result in terms of picking a winner. Poland would be your grand prize winner in the end taking down the Netherlands with a score of 3-2 after some late game action.
For Poland this is a big step for the women’s team and has been a long time coming. It is the first time the women’s team will get to play at the final round of qualification for the Olympics. While Olympic hopes are there, the goal in that next round is not to advance. As that has almost no chance of happening unfortunately, the goal will be to stay competitive with Czechia (IIHF Rank:7), Hungary (9), and Norway (13). In August, Poland lost 5-3 to Norway, and 4-2 to Slovakia (15). It is hard to see them pulling off upsets against Czechia and Hungary. This experience will be valuable though for younger players, and vindication for older players that all they worked to build is starting to come to fruition.
Passing of the Torch or Hattrick
One of the coolest moments of the tournament to me was what happen against Turkey. While the game was a blowout, two players in the game netted hattricks. The longtime face of the women’s team and the GOAT of hockey in Poland, Karolina Pozniewska, scored 3 goals. The next face of the national team and a player that reached heights no other Pole has, Wiktoria Sikorska, also put up three goals. They played on a line together, both scoring and assisting on each’s others 3rd period goals against the Netherlands. It was a very cool moment to see two players that have had such an impact on Polish hockey sharing the ice.
Normally I try not to talk about players that are under 16-years-old. This is out of a belief that hockey should be fun for players that young, without having to worry about that much pressure. There have to be exceptions to that rule, especially with players like Magdalena Łąpieś who make senior squads at the age of 15. It has already been a great year for the 15-year-old forward, not only making her senior IIHF debut, but also getting four games in the EWHL with Metropolis Katowice. The sky is the limit for Łąpieś, whom is Poland’s newest junior star. One thing is for sure though, she is already legit and competition at the U18s should be scared.
The EWHL Difference
The EWHL project is one that I’m very supportive of. For those that don’t know the EWHL is the European Women’s Hockey League. It consist of teams from mainly Austria and Hungary with squads from Kazakhstan, Poland, and Slovakia as well. This allows Poland’s best players to get a lot more games against stronger players from around Europe. We have not really been able to see the effects from the EWHL due to the pandemic, but in the first big IIHF event since the team was formed. They pulled off a slight upset win and stayed competitive earlier in the year. Is that just development of Poland’s team outside the EWHL or has that experience really helped the rest of the squad? Probably a mixture of both if were being honest. When Poland host the World Championships in April, we will get a better idea.
Late Game Heroics
What a final period it was for Poland, they came in down 1-0. Then after 10 minutes, Netherlands doubled it up on them making it 2-0. Usually if you haven’t figured out a goalie with that little time left and down multiple goals it all starts to look a little bleak. Less than three minutes later though, Poland would finally break through.
The top line wouldn’t be done either yet. Just about a minute later, Sikorska would tie it up for Poland. All the momentum had completely switched. One team playing scared and the other charging down the ice. Every player on the Polish side wanting to live out the dream of scoring the game winning goal. Klaudia Chrapek would be the one to do it, only 18 seconds after Poland tied it.
The Sikorska Era
Poland’s women team has been playing in international events since 2011. Outside their first tournament, where Magdalena Szynal posted an astounding 20 points in just 4 games. Every World Championship and Olympic qualifier since 2012, was lead in points by Karolina Późniewska. Only ever even being tied for the lead in points once. In this tournament Karolina Późniewska finished with 5 points, it was third on team Poland. Kamila Wieczorek finished second with seven points, while Sikorska finished first with nine. Sikorska has become only the third player to lead team Poland in points at an IIHF event. She is the future of hockey in Poland and her era is beginning to start.
– Just take it in.
– Julia Zielinska continues to get better and better offensively. It is really hard to know what ceiling would be on her career, if there even is one.
– Sass continues to be a brick wall in net. A great effort in both games she played, allowing just thee goals across 120 minutes.
– Wieczorek was amazing at this tournament. Finishing second on team Poland in points, the first time she had more points than Pozniewska. Still only 24 and already a veteran of the national team.
– A huge thank you to Women’s Sports Replay for clipping the goals in the tournament. Make sure to toss them a follow.