After just coming up short last year with a silver medal, the Polish national team was back. If you were to make the odds based on rosters on paper coming into the tournament, Poland would have been a favorite with Italy. This division is really even, with each team having a lot of star power that could steal a game. In most groups, there is at least one team that I would call easy or outmatched, but that was not the case in Division 1 Group B this year. This tournament was a chance for Poland to climb to Group A for the first time. They would have to do it without star defensemen Julia Zielinska and later would have to finish without their other young star. The depth of the national team was going to be tested. Could they pass the test and win gold?
Poland started off the tournament with familiar foe Slovenia. Always a hard game as you go against Yale goalie Pia Dukarič. The red and white would get off to the right start with a 2-0 victory as Sass won the battle. Game two was against the host nation of South Korea, and they lost it 4-0. The host had beaten Italy on day one, and beating Poland proved they were the real deal in this year. Poland would redeem themselves with a hard-fought 2-1 victory over Great Britain. Game four was a bit close for comfort, but captain Karolina Pozniewska scored late for a 3-2 victory over Kazakhstan. This win did come at a cost, as Wiktoria Sikorska would leave with a broken rib and shoulder injury requiring six stitches that ended her tournament. The final game would come against Italy. A game I originally thought would decide the gold medal game, but now it was for the silver medal. Poland was a bit outmatched in this game; the Italians gave everything they could. Sass stopped all 49 shots from Italy, and Poland got one past Italy for the 1-0 win. A second straight tournament with a silver medal and just a tad closer to gold.
Karolina Późniewska continues to prove that she is the greatest of all time. The Polish captain once again led the team in scoring with five points (2G-3A-5PTS) in five games. She was beyond clutch in the tournament and scored when her team needed it most. She would tie the game for Poland versus Great Britain to open the third, and her goal caused a major change in the momentum. With little time left vs. Kazakhstan, she scored the game-winner on a great individual effort. Finally, in the ultimate game of the tournament, with Poland almost under siege in their own zone most of the time, she would score the game’s lone goal. In this tournament, Poland kept it close at times, but Późniewska secured the wins.
What Happen Against South Korea?
Poland only allowed seven goals in five games at the Worlds. Four of those goals came in the one game against South Korea. The shot difference was plus five for Poland, with a final total of 35-30. It also wasn’t a lack of opportunities, as Poland received seven powerplays and failed to capitalize on one. It was a very frustrating game to watch. Poland had some really good chances. This game came down to two main things, in my opinion. First, Poland just couldn’t finish. Whether that is just unlucky or an actual issue is hard to say. I would say anytime you record 35 shots in a game and fail to score, it’s a bit of bad luck, no matter the goalie. Poland was third last in shooting percentage for the tournament with 4.5%. You take out this game, and Poland would have led the tournament with a 9.45% shooting percentage. It seems just bad luck and a good goalie.
The second point is that Poland struggled when playing behind. Poland would have all the momentum only to give up a goal and then South Korea would take control of the play for some time. This allowed South Korea to capitalize quick for a second time on their third goal. We also saw it late as Poland tried to pinch up their defense which Korea took advantage of for easy odd-man rushes.
The Wall of Sass
There are times when I might exaggerate Polish players, as I’m not speaking about players in terms of comparing them to the rest of the hockey world, but to Polish hockey. That is not the case for Sass. Sass is genuinely one of the best in her sport. I don’t care about the level or competition. Sass is one of the best goalies in women’s hockey, which was on full display in this tournament. Her game against Italy was a 49-save masterpiece that stole Poland a game. A game that they likely should have otherwise lost. Two shutouts in five games and was second in the tournament with a save percentage of .955%. Poland would not be where they are without her; she earned the honor of being selected Poland’s best player in the tournament
What is Next?
Back-to-back silver is an impressive and bittersweet thing. I really thought Poland had a strong chance at gold this year, and it would come down to that game vs. Italy. I think what I like about this tournament is that Poland did this while missing some key players. Not having Zielinksa was a loss, and losing Sikorska for the last two games was rough. The growing hype around women’s hockey in Poland is largely thanks to those two players who have experience in Europe’s top women’s leagues. However, Poland didn’t have and never had to rely on them for success. This is a team that plays well together and keeps improving. We are not seeing players hit developmental walls and fail to grow. Poland will be back in Division 1 Group B next year, and they will need to repeat their results from this year. That Italy game will be hard. You can’t count on a 49-save performance again. Poland will need to get better again.
- Tetiana Onyshchenko has been a great addition to Team Poland. She and Tomczok have a lot of chemistry and were vital to Poland beating Slovenia.
- Brzezinska had a solid tournament scoring both her first IIHF goal and assist at the senior level.
- Aneta Krzemien made her IIHF debut at 29 years old. We had a mini thread on Twitter about her path to the squad.
- Wiktoria Dziwok led Poland in shots with 25 but failed to score a goal. Some rough puck luck.
- We send our best wishes for a speedy recovery to Wiktoria Sikorska, who suffered an injury early in Poland’s game vs. Kazakhstan.
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