I was excited to get back to our usual and familiar IIHF events going into this tournament. Now I just want to go back. This team’s performance was the worst by any national team since I started covering Polish Hockey. This team was beyond sloppy and undisciplined, so much to the point that I don’t think any of the national team staff should return. I don’t know what happened at all the previous camps and exhibitions, but this team was not ready for easily beatable opponents. Poland won a medal in every Division 1 Group B tournament they played in from 2013 to 2019, with one gold and bronze each and four silver medals. They have finished fourth and sixth, this year, in the last two tournaments.
Poland started off the tournament against eventual tournament champions France, and they lost 6-2 in somewhat of an expected result. After some terrible second-period penalties, Poland dropped to Slovenia, but that game looked competitive as Poland fell 3-1. These losses to the top two teams in the group are not concerning. In game three, Poland gets blown out by Japan 7-2, and Poland accounts for almost one-third of Japan’s entire goals for amount in the tournament. Game four against host Estonia should be the best chance to win, and Poland just self-destructed with constant penalties and awful defense. They would lose in overtime 4-3. Ukraine would send Poland down to division two on the final day with a four to one win.
I would give every position group an F, a shameful performance for the national team on all fronts.
I feel like I talk about penalties too much in five thoughts. As it is a constant problem for national teams with Poland’s hard-nosed style of hockey. Often too many penalties show a talent disparity, with one unit failing to contain opponents without having to slash, trip, or whatever other illegal takedown. In this series, Poland took dumb and awful penalties against everyone. Including letting Estonia have a total of 35 MINUTES of powerplay time. In total, Poland committed 28 two-minute penalties and two five-minute majors. This gave Poland an average of 21 minutes on the penalty kill a game. An entire period per game. Poland had two misconducts to boot as well.
Before the tournament, there were a few choices that I had to question, but I respected the offense and was going to trust the staff with what they saw in camps and more. The defense was worse than I could have imagined allowing players to slice through them like a hot knife in butter. The goaltending didn’t fare well, while it appeared Plonka was healthy. After playing zero competitive games this year, Szymon Dobosz made the team, and boy, did you see that rust at times. Overall this team was not in a position to succeed. They didn’t have the most outstanding selections to pick from. But when you only score nine goals, seven less than any other Polish team in group B history. There were some missed choices.
The Staff Failed
This entire coaching staff failed. The penalties are partly to blame on the coaching staff. Artur Slusarczyk and his staff have to have their team more prepared and disciplined. The blame for some possible team choices will fall on them. The biggest thing they need to take responsibility for? This team had almost zero structure and was not ready to play. If there was a system, it was executed poorly or downright garbage. Poland is lucky quite a few players got lucky breakaway goals, or this staff would even look worse. Poland needs to get a new staff quickly. I think it’s time to bring back an import head coach before the U20 team and program goes entirely off the rails, which would be not earning a promotion next year.
I can’t be all negative, Fabian Kapica impressed me in this tournament. While he only finished with one goal and one assist, he did lead Poland in shots with 15. He looked to be playing with a ton of confidence and creativity in the offensive zone. It is hard to see that with young players in the PHL sometimes due to the talent disparity and playing against grown men. Kapica looked excellent and is backing it up with another strong year in the PHL.
Do We Dare Ask What Is Next?
So now, what is next for the U20 team? While they will be playing in Division 2 Group A for the first time since the group system in the IIHF was established. This will see Poland take on Great Britain, Lithuania, South Korea, Spain, and the team promoted from division two group B. Great Britain and South Korea are looking pretty scary to me personally. Only eight players from this team will be returning next year. Notable for Poland that returning group includes; Fabian Kapica, Jakub Ślusarczyk, Kacper Macias, Karol Sterbenz, and Krzyzstof Macias.This group is going to need a lot of help.
- Bartosz Florczak struggled in this tournament, especially against Slovenia. His penalties in the second period were highly unnecessary and a big reason Poland ultimately lost at the time.
- Eryk Schafer was a ball of energy at times. He finished second in shots for Polish defensemen. A long ways to go, but I think Torun might have a good one.
- Oskar Polak and Mikolaj Szczepkowski both had some good games in net. Szczepkowski was sharp against Slovenia.
- Oliwier Kasperek scored two goals within two minutes of each other. Those two goals led Poland, not bad for a defenseman.