A Chance to Avenge Poland’s Most Devasting Loss

When Poland was set down to Division 1 Group B just a few years ago, it was considered a minor setback. Poland would go down to Group B, win gold, and find themselves back up at the top. In their previous three tournaments before being relegated, Poland won two bronze medals and had a fourth-place finish. The sixth-place relegation seemed out of place and just bad luck. In April 2019, Poland traveled to Estonia for the Group B World Championships. They started the tournament as we expected, blowing out the Netherlands 8-1 and Ukraine 7-3. Poland clearly seemed like the favorite and would just sweep through the tournament. Their day three game was against Romania.

Romania is not a thriving program, but the sport is growing, and the results reflect that. The team kept bouncing between D1B and D2A, winning gold at the lower division before being relegated right as they returned to division 1. 2017 would see them win another D2A gold and promotion. This time in group B though, Romania would manage to stay in the Group, overtaking a falling Croatia. Romania stayed finishing in fifth place, just avoiding relegation. When the tournament started, they didn’t seem like a favorite or strong team to win the group. They were expected to be fighting to avoid relegation once again. Romania would start with Estonia on day one of the tournament and come up with a 4-3 shootout win. On day two, they pulled off a massive upset, beating Japan 3-2. Romania was now clearly a team staying in division one but had a tough match-up versus Poland left.

Poland and Romania quickly went from a throwaway game to a match that would likely decide the gold medal. Romania goalie Zoltan-Laszlo Toke would be tasked with stopping a high-powered Polish offense led by Damian Kapica. Poland took two early penalties, and Romania capitalized once, taking a 1-0 lead out of the first period. Poland would regroup, turn on the pressure afterward, and take control of the game. After two periods, the shot total was 23-14 for Poland, but the score was still 1-0. Ten minutes would pass in the third, and Poland still hadn’t gotten on the board. Things were starting to get desperate. Kapica would calm the nerves of Polish fans everywhere by scoring with just over eight minutes left.

A tie game, and with momentum, things looked good for Poland. Romania would quickly silence the crowd with another goal and take back their lead. Poland would continue their attack and try to once again equalize the game. Odrobny would be pulled, and with under two minutes to go, Poland was in full desperation mode with six skaters. Their persistence would pay off as Krystian Dziubinski scored with only 23 seconds left. This one was headed for extra time. If Poland kept up the pressure, it felt like overtime was theirs to win. Three minutes in, Poland was called for hooking and would head to the penalty kill once again. Just thirty seconds into their powerplay, Romania would score.

Poland had now lost to Romania 3-2 in overtime. Poland’s destiny was no longer in its own hands. They finished one game away from advancing to the Elite Division a few years prior. Now they would be hoping for a Romania loss, so promotion was still an option. The red and white would finish off their tournament with two wins. They would beat Estonia 3-2 and end with a 7-4 win over Japan. You could feel the energy somewhat drained from this Polish team in both games. Romania would roll through Ukraine 5-1 on day four. Then on day five, despite a valiant effort from the Netherlands, Romania prevailed 3-1. Romania finished first with gold and promotion, while Poland just went home with silver.

It felt like the darkest of times for Poland. How far had they fallen? Was Poland no longer good enough to compete in Group A. Group B was only going to get more complicated as Japan and Ukraine had great prospect pools. It seemed like doomsday had arrived for Poland. Staying at this low of a level seemed like it could be a death sentence for Polish hockey and set the country back for years. There was discussion, panic, and critique of every Polish hockey level and rule. It felt like Polish hockey needed a complete reset.

Poland would sit in Group B for a few more years as the tournaments were canceled due to the pandemic. When the 2022 tournament arrived, Japan and Ukraine were now much better squads. While the matches were close, and Ukraine even took Poland to overtime, the Eagles would prevail and return to Group A. The red and white looked terrific under Robert Kalaber, while talented young players like Jeziorski, Lyszczarczyk, Pas, Walega, and Zygmunt provided new life to the team. Poland went from their lowest point to advance to the final round of Olympic qualification, upsetting Belarus at the event, and then pulling off a fantastic exhibition season against Group A and Elite Division talent in a span of two years. Poland was now entering Division 1 Group A expecting to stay and win. Romania had managed to stay in Divison 1 Group A due to the pandemic and the suspension of Belarus and Russia. With the IIHF pausing relegation, they remained in Division 1 Group A with a 0-4 record. Now in 2023, both countries were set to face off again in Group A with a wide-open tournament.

Poland’s return to Group A came with both optimism and some caution. Expectations were high, and maybe they felt too high at times. The red and white would quickly show they were legit. They opened the tournament with a massive 7-0 victory over Lithuania. They went into the challenging part of their schedule next with Great Britain and Italy. The two teams many expected to take gold and silver along with promotion. Great Britain would take an early strong lead on Poland, with the score being 3-1 in favor after two periods. Poland would battle back, taking over in the third. They would tie the game with two late dramatic goals. The game would go overtime! Great Britain would score after a questionable tripping call on Poland. While Poland lost the game, it proved they belonged at this level. Despite the loss, things still felt hopeful for Poland, and the game against Italy was still winnable. Poland played against Italy with one of the best forechecking efforts I have seen. It felt like Poland was the better team against Italy at so many moments. The score would reflect that as Poland took down Italy 4-2, never once trailing in the game. With that win, Poland had secured remaining in Group A at the minimum, and promotion was now the likely result.

Still, I can’t lie. Going into the game versus South Korea, I felt nervous. If there was a time for Poland to choke it all away, it was against a fast South Korean team with a goalie similar to John Murray. Poland instead went out and won 7-0. A dominant victory to prove it was time for Poland to be promoted and face off with the best of the hockey world. There was now just one game left for Poland. A game where if they win, they guarantee themselves promotion. Poland’s destiny is in its own hands. In this final game, they play Romania.

The same team that upset Poland in 2019 is now the final one standing in their way. A win versus them would feel like exercising a demon. If Poland can pull it off and earn a promotion with a win. It will be something special. The TV numbers are substantial and it feels like there is a massive amount of interest in the team. Poland has a chance to not just earn promotion back to the Elite Divison for the first time since 2002. It is a chance to put Polish hockey back on the map and breathe new life into the sport in Poland. They can also do this by avenging one of their most devasting losses in recent history.

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