A former head coach of Poland once described Polish hockey as mission impossible. Another former national team head coach said Poland was far, far away from reaching the Elite. Polish hockey is no longer mission impossible, and they’re right back in the Elite now. The dark times of the sport appear to be behind the country once again, and the future is very bright. This team only raised expectations throughout the year and then smashed them out of the park each time.
Poland came into the tournament with something to prove, and they immediately did just that. Poland opened the tournament with a dominant performance over Lithuania, putting up seven while shutting them out. The red and white did lose their next game to Great Britain. In the loss, they battled so hard and came back down from a two-goal deficit, and would later once again would overcome a second lead change after some bad luck. They never gave up and forced overtime. Sure, they lost 5-4 in overtime, but the determination and ability to change up the pace of the game so late was impressive. The next day Poland would play their best game in recent history. A devasting forechecking attack left Italy helpless, and Poland beat the tournament favorites 4-2, never once trailing. Even in a game that made me nervous against South Korea, Poland once again proved they were too good for division one with their second 7-0 shutout win. Poland would finish the tournament with a 6-2 win over Romania. Romania is the team that upset Poland back in 2019, stranding the Eagles in Group B for a few years. Poland won promotion to the Elite Division for the first time since 2002. It’s time to celebrate Poland!
Usually, for years we have seen Poland be the team that tries to play defensively and safely. It is often the best course for teams to take when out-matched. Allow less dangerous shots and just hope to generate some odd-man rushes or powerplay opportunities. Instead, in this tournament, Poland played with confidence and put the message on the ice that they were the better team. The Polish forecheck was too much for any team to contain, and once Poland turned it on, teams would just be forced to easily surrender the puck. When it was clicking, Poland felt like the best team on the planet. I don’t know if that style will work in the Elite division, but it will certainly make Poland annoying to play against for any top country.
The Young Core Is Here To Lead
There was a lot made at times of Poland’s age at the tournament from new spectators seeing the squad. While Poland will certainly have some players departing the national team soon, it should not worry fans. First, Poland has some great prospect depth that is coming, and we will get more into that this offseason. Second is look who were some really key forwards for this team. Alan Łyszczarczyk (25), Bartłomiej Jeziorski (25), Dominik Paś (23), Kamil Wałęga (22), Pawel Zygmunt (23) are all in the top nine, and all are 25 years old or younger. 12 of Poland’s 28 goals came from those five young forwards. Only two members of Poland’s top nine forwards group are older than 30. Poland is a great spot talent-wise, and that core has taken the step from the future of the team to the leaders of the team.
A Career Gap
In his post-game comments after Poland’s win over Romania, captain Krystian Dziubinski remarked how a lot of guys saw this as their last shot to reach the Elite. 22 years between chances at the Elite Division is more than just one career, but most likely the average of multiple players’ careers in Poland. It sets up a very interesting choice for Poland to make next year. Do you reward the long-standing national team members who fought to get here, or do you use it as a chance to promote some younger talent, for example, Jakub Lewandowski or Krzysztof Macias? Playing at the Elite Division is the biggest scouting chance a lot of Polish players will receive. Just go back to a few years ago for proof, when Hungarian goalie Adam Vay received an NHL entry-level deal after a few strong games. Whomever Poland takes will have a tough challenge ahead of them. We can only hope that the next time Poland is in the Elite after 2024 is not another long career away.
King Kalaber and Staff
Robert Kalaber did not come to the Polish national team with the same flash and excitement as past coaches. He has proved that he is the best to come through when it comes to getting the job done. Poland has done nothing but excel under the leadership of Kalaber and general manager Leszek Laszkiewicz. Whoever worked on the powerplay is a genius after an abysmal performance the previous year in Group B. The powerplay set Division 1 Group A records for the most amount of goals (11) and efficiency (64.7%). Lastly, credit as well to goaltending coach Marek Batkiewicz who had young goalie Maciej Miarka ready for an almost emergency start in place of Murray.
What is Next?
I always end 5 Thoughts with what is next. I don’t really want to think about next anymore. Today we need to just take a chance to enjoy what has taken place. Poland has done what we were all told and probably thought would be impossible. In just two short years, they went from Division 1 Group B to the Elite Division of the IIHF. That is an insane rise that I’m not sure will be replicated any time soon. The one thought that I will offer on what is next. This feels like a massive moment for the sport in Poland. There is so much interest in the sport, and the tv numbers are strong. The tournament next year is close to Poland in Czechia. This could be the major change that helps Poland grow their number of youth players and helps the level of hockey to rise for years to come.
- Maciej Miarka got his first IIHF start on Friday after Murray went down close to game time. After letting in a goal on the first shot he faced, he settled in very nicely and got Poland the win. A great appearance from such a young goalie playing for such high stakes.
- Alan Lyszczarczyk showed that he is the prince of Poland, one of the best to come out of the country in a long time. I wouldn’t be surprised if every club or scout at the event is trying to see if they can pry him away from Cracovia.
- Bartlomiej Jeziorski had an amazing tournament. It was the best I’ve ever seen him play. He is another piece in Poland’s bright future.
- Patryk Wronka is one of the most fun players to watch in hockey. While he is fun, that comes from how smart he is with the puck offensively.
- Thank you all for following this year. We hit more record highs, and I’m sad another hockey season has come to a close.
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