This Could Be The Year. 2023 Men’s National Team Roster Review and Predictions

This is a piece that most years I dread writing. We usually come to the preview to the end of the Polish hockey year to recap a disappointing and exhausting year of Polish hockey. From ghost coaches, equipment not being delivered to players, national team players protesting, and overall frustrating results from the national team. Plus, we had a global pandemic, and I always think back to a conversation I had with another hockey writer about the possibility of Polish hockey dying during that pandemic due to financial problems. This year is different. There is no enormous controversy for me to talk about. There is no more significant problem casting a shadow on the event. There is a lot of optimism and hope that Poland can not only compete in Division 1 Group A. They might have a solid chance to win in the tournament and earn a promotion to the Elite Division for the first time since 2002.

This is what everything has been building to, the return to Division 1 Group A. A place Poland last competed in during the 2019 World Championship cycle. That isn’t that long ago, but it feels like a different time. That 2019 team has many of the same players competing on the 2023 squad. Is this team different enough to win? Is the competition lowered enough for Poland to win? I keep asking these questions when comparing the two groups. This is a significant opportunity for Polish hockey. The momentum of fan support and excitement is there. The players are there. If they win here, it could be a major turning point for the sport in Poland.

2022 World Championship Recap

When Poland fell to Group B in 2019, it was disappointing. It felt like a dam waiting to burst had finally hit its limit. The team failed, but it was time to win Group B and be promoted back up to the top group. That didn’t happen as Poland finished second and watched Romania climb up. Another country had passed Poland in the men’s hockey world. The following two tournaments were canceled, building up more pressure for Poland to be promoted quickly. Success at the Olympic qualifiers proved what this team could do; they just needed to do it at the Worlds.

Poland hosted the five-team tournament in Tychy. I felt nervous about every game, and it didn’t feel like Poland was better than their rivals. They started the tournament strong picking up a 3-0 win over Estonia and a 10-2 win over Serbia. It showed Poland was one of the best teams, but the powerplay struggled. Mistakes you couldn’t make against Ukraine or Japan needed to be erased. Poland vs. Ukraine had me on the edge of my seat in a close battle that went into a shootout. In the shootout, Poland was up 2-1 going into the final round. They shoot first and miss. The match was now John Murray vs. former GKS Tychy teammate and Ukrainian captain Andri Mikhnov. Murray would make the save and give Poland the overtime win. This was a hard fight, which came down to a shootout, which is always a little bit of luck.

Ukraine wasn’t even the final boss. That was Japan. Japan was a team that had mirrored Poland in many ways historically. With Yushiroh Hirano leading the charge, this Japan team looked deadly. Their offense was the best in the tournament, and in their three games, Japan scored 23 goals. Poland only scored 16. Both were too good for the group, but only one could take gold this year. A scoreless first period would kick the game off both teams as equal as can be. An unlikely hero would emerge early in the second as Arkadiusz Kostek scored to give Poland the lead. That gold would hold and be by itself until Alan Lyszczarczyk added an insurance goal with under two minutes to go. Murray and Poland would shut out Japan’s high-powered offense to win gold and promotion.

2023 Preparations

The gold made some noise in Poland, and it felt like Polish hockey had officially emerged from its dark place. They were not in the light yet, but progress was being made. All focus was put into Poland staying in Division 1 Group A and if that was feasible. The red and white were set to have a long year of exhibition matches that would give us an idea of how Poland might perform. While never getting a full-strength Poland or opponent, these games were still essential to see where the bar should be set. I tried to keep my expectations low, but Poland blew past them this year after the exhibition season.

It started in October with the Baltic Cup Challenge. Poland would start the year with their day-one opponent for the worlds in Lithuania. Poland would down them a 4-2 victory, in the perfect way to start this year. Poland would play Latvia B next and convincingly won 9-0. They ended the tournament with a 5-3 win over former D1B foe Estonia. One tournament down with Poland as the winner and a great start to the year.

The national team got together next for two matches, one against Ukraine and the other against France in December. Poland would have another close battle with Ukraine but come out on top with a 4-3 win. The France game was all action and no defense, as Poland won the thrilling contest 7-4. It is not the France squad that plays in the Elite, but against a strong group, they showed the offensive potential of this team. The second set was done, and my expectations grew more.

Poland’s biggest test to date would come in February. A Euro Ice Hockey Challenge hosted by England saw the best of Group A meet with Group B. Great Britain, Japan, Poland, and Romania faced off at the final international break before playoff season. On day one, Poland made a statement by destroying Romania 8-0. A game that felt like vengeance for that 2019 Group B tournament. The next two games would sour me a bit. Poland fell to Japan in overtime with a 4-3 loss, while Great Britain took care of Poland easily, winning 4-1. It started to really make me wonder what Poland was in for. Was staying possible, but promotion not?

In the lead-up to the Worlds, Poland packed their training camp with honestly the best teams Poland might face all year. Two exhibition games against Latvia, two against Slovenia, and two more against Hungary. Three opponents all preparing for their tournament at the Elite Division. None of them had their entire roster, but they had some strong teams that would be better than Poland will see this next week. I went into these games just wanting Poland to be competitive. Poland did more than compete. They showed they belonged in the Elite Division. Poland would split the series with Latvia, winning 5-3 in game one and losing 2-0 in game two. They went to Slovenia and played hard again, taking both games to overtime. Wronka would be a hero in round one to give Poland the 4-3 win. In game two, they would lose in extra time.

Going 2-2 in those games versus Latvia and Slovenia was terrific to watch, and it started to send my hype through the roof. I was ready for Hungary to send those hopes crashing down in the final two exhibition games. Instead, Poland would defeat their rivals in front of two hot Polish crowds. The first game was a 4-2 victory where Poland controlled the game only to lose the lead late. They didn’t panic; they regrouped and scored twice more on Hungary to reclaim their double-goal lead. In game two, they would win 3-2. They found themselves down 2-1 late into the second period, but they pulled off the comeback. This team was real. My expectations were set, and they’re at a medal with promotion.

2023 National Team Roster


John Murray

Maciej Miarka

Poland has always had to rely on their goalies. John Murray has been the savior this Polish team desperately needed. There is one thing I left out about all those exhibition games. Murray only played in three of them. One game against France, one against Slovenia, and the other against Hungary. Poland pulled off this exhibition season without having Murray bail them out with a 50-save game. Both Maciej Miarka and David Zabolotny showed out. They surprised me and showed me Poland has more depth in goal than I thought. Kamil Lewartowski was impressive in his games. Poland has goalies that can hold their own outside of Murray. Murray’s ability to steal matches helped raise my expectations even more. Check out what he did in the Champions Hockey League if you have any doubts about that.


Paweł Dronia – Patryk Wajda

Maciej Kruczek – Bartosz Ciura

Marcin Kolusz – Kamil Gorny

Oskar Jaśkiewicz – Arkadiusz Kostek

Poland’s defense is not the area I would call its strength, and they need to start looking at the future of it soon. They have held their own against strong competition and performed above what I expected. This group is also getting a big boost with the return of Paweł Dronia. The DEL2 defender will make his first IIHF appearance for Poland since 2019 and first international appearance in two years. I’m curious where he will slot into the lineup. The veteterns are all here for Poland, Bartosz Ciura, Kamil Gorny. Maciej Kruczek, Marcin Kolusz, and Patryk Wajda have held it down defensively for nearly a decade. Arkadiusz Kostek and Oskar Jaśkiewicz have quickly become vital contributors to the team. This group will have its hands full with Great Britain and Italy. Dronia and Kolusz will likely be able to assist and boost the powerplay.


Patryk Wronka – Grzegorz Pasiut – Bartosz Fraszko

Bartłomiej Jeziorski – Krystian Dziubiński – Alan Łyszczarczyk

Dominik Paś – Kamil Wałęga – Paweł Zygmunt

Radosław Galant – Filip Starzyński- Mateusz Michalski

Poland only takes 12 forwards to the tournament with no Aron Chmielewski coming. This is the group Poland rides with no matter the circumstance. There are some top-end skill players, but the two significant factors are skating and two-way game. If you don’t excel in both areas, you’re not what Kalaber seeks. The top nine all feel really balanced to me and poised to make an impact in both ends. All three lines can be counted on to push the offense and generate scoring chances. The fourth is the grind line, which will make their presence felt defensively on the special team units. Alan Łyszczarczyk and Krystian Dziubiński have shown a lot of chemistry and will undoubtedly be who Poland will give the puck to when they need a goal. Bartosz Fraszko will make his well-earned IIHF senior debut after another great year in the PHL. I have a lot of trust and faith that this group can win Poland the tournament.


Head Coach: Robert Kalaber

Assistant Coach: Grzegorz Klich

Goalie Coach: Marek Batkiewicz

Video Coach: Ireneusz Jarosz

General Manager: Leszek Laszkiewicz

I have disagreed with roster choices and other decisions a few times from Kalaber. Each time so far, I have been wrong. Kalaber is the coach for Poland. He gets what the task is and how to accomplish it. I have complete faith in him as the leader of the men’s squad. Klich joins this year as the new assistant coach. He has previously served in several different national team and PHL roles. I think he is an excellent addition to the staff. Marek Batkiewicz deserves a lot of praise for the performance of Polish goalies this year. Having them all ready for tough international opponents is a huge task, especially with their lack of playing time in the PHL. Poland has built what I think is a winning staff.


I can have all the expectations of the world, but when it comes to making my final predictions, there is still plenty of doubt. You look at the roster on paper and try not to let bias get in the way. I think Poland looks and has played like a team that can win gold, but I don’t think they are the clear favorite to do that. All these teams are going to be competitive with each other. Just because Poland doesn’t go 5-0 or 4-1 does not mean they failed.

Game 1: Lithunia vs. Poland. Key Players (LTU): Mantas Armalis (G), Emilijus Krakauskas (F), Arnoldas Bosas (F)

Lithuania took the bronze medal last year in group A. It is a scary opening match, as goaltender Mantas Armlais is a top goalie in the SHL. This gives them a player who can steal any matchup, more so than Murray. Krakuaskas plays in Switzerland’s National League. His health coming into the tournament is unknown, but he will be the offensive MVP for his country. Outside some stars, the roster is pretty weak. This game is probably more even than most fans will think, but I still mark this as a Polish Victory.

Game 2: Great Britain vs. Poland. Key Players (GBR): Ben Bowns (G), Liam Kirk (F), Ben O’Connor (D)

Great Britain returns to D1A after three years in the Elite Division. This squad is much different than the one Poland knew at the IIHF level. Ben Bowns has proven himself a great international goalie and not one easy to beat. Arizona Coyotes prospect Liam Kirk made hokey history by being drafted and has already created a solid professional career quickly. He had seven goals at the Elite tournament just a couple years ago, and that ability should scare Poland. Poland and Great Britain is a game I give a toss-up rating to. I am giving Poland the win since Murray didn’t play the first time these two teams met this year.

Game 3: Italy vs. Poland. Key Players (ITA): Alex Petan (F), Thomas Larkin (D), Dante Hannoun (F)

Poland has their most challenging tasks back to back. A team that is loading up for the Winter Olympics they’ll be hosting. Italy features eight North American imports with a North American coaching staff as well. Giving them slightly more Team Olive Garden vibes than Team Italy. Italy is the favorite in this tournament. They find themselves in D1A after being relegated from the Elite Division last year. I am willing to bet that they make it back in one try. I don’t see Poland overcoming such a strong opponent in this game. This is a loss for the Eagles. Maybe you win this one out of ten times.

Game 4: South Korea vs. Poland. Key Players (KOR): Matt Dalton (G), Sang Hoon Shin (F), Sang Wook Kim (F)

Games versus South Korea are always so hard to judge. You don’t get much hockey news about what is going on in the country. They shocked Poland and Italy and upset the Women’s Worlds earlier this month. The biggest name I see still there is Matt Dalton. The import goalie has been the leader of South Korea for the past few years, putting on fantastic performances against the best of the hockey world. Sang Hoon Shin posted a 50-point ECHL season, which makes him a significant threat in this division. Sang Wook Kim has long been this team’s captain and is still going at 35. Korea finished fourth last year, and I can see Poland outplaying them with Kalaber’s structure. This is another win for Poland.

Game 5: Romania vs. Poland. Key Players (ROU): Zoltán-László Tõke (G), Yevgeni Skachkov (F), Balázs-Szabolcs Péter (F)

Poland gets to the final day with just one loss. That would probably see a bunch of scenarios for gold, silver, and promotion on the table. Romania was saved from relegation last year by no one being relegated, and they went 0-4 with just eight goals. This team beat out Poland years ago, and it appeared they passed Poland. I don’t think that is true. I think Poland is the much better squad, and this is the game I most confidently pick as a win for Poland.

Final Record: 4-1 Silver Medal and Promotion

I did the thing I hate doing the most, predicting a lot of wins for Poland. I feel it always comes back wrong, and I have egg on my face. This year I’m just too excited and optimistic about the men’s team. I’m so happy to watch them play in Group A again with such high stakes. I also want to say that the goal is staying in Group A. Not achieving a medal shouldn’t be seen as a failure. Poland has proved it can compete with the top of Group A and the back of the Elite. It is going to be a great week of hockey.

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