Poland lucked into being back in the Division 1 Group B U20 World Championships. By lucked in, I mean that Belarus and Russia invaded Ukraine and were thus suspended from IIHF competition. This meant instead of being relegated to Division 2, Poland was once again at the bottom of Division 1. So now, with a second chance at life, could Poland correct their mistakes and return to the top of the division for a chance at promotion?
Poland started off the tournament with Estonia. The same team that embarrassed Poland last year in overtime in a game they 100% should have won. Estonia came in with a better roster and once again took Poland to overtime. This time though, Poland would prevail victoriously and win 4-3. The next contest was against Ukraine, who Poland had just played in two pre-tournament exhibition games. While in the exhibition games, Poland appeared to be the better team, in IIHF action Ukraine dominated Poland and won 5-2. Poland’s third test with promotion on the line came against Japan. I hate to say it because this is a squad of teenagers, but this game was the worst performance I have ever seen from any Polish IIHF squad at any level, and the score would reflect that with a 7-3 loss. Poland would then lose a deflating game against Italy, taking them out of the race for third place. Italy allowed the most goals in the tournament going into the game, and Poland only found the back of the net once and lost 2-1. Poland needed a win on the tournament’s final day to avoid relegation for a second straight year. They would get more than just a win as they put their foot to the pedal and never took it off, beating South Korea 11-2. Compared to last year, Poland looked better against the teams below them but somehow worse against the teams considered better. It took two teams getting promoted for Poland to stay in Division 1, which is far from ideal.
No Structure + No Displcine = Awful Hockey
Last year I was shocked by the lack of discipline and structure in the U20 squad. I don’t know how it was even worse this year. Poland was doing things that would be not accepted at the U14 level, let alone the U20 level. There are serious issues when it comes to junior coaching in Poland. Polish defenders looked lost on the ice and had no idea how to recover when the slightest things would go wrong. Players would just collide with each other like little kids. It was so frustrating to watch. Let alone the lack of any defensive awareness was Poland just being stupid and letting their emotions get the best of them. Poland took 29 penalties in the tournament, tied for the second most. A lot of these came at crucial times as well. The worst part was with poor defensive play; Poland couldn’t recover from their mistakes and finished with the second worst penalty kill by penalty killing percentage and was tied for first in goals allowed shorthanded. Poland desperately needs to fix these issues. As if this continues, it is a bad sign for the future of the national team and PHL.
Who is Next in Net?
Given everything said in the last part, it should not be surprising that Polish goalies didn’t have the greatest tournament. Mikołaj Szczepkowski was the team’s primary starter, and I believe he had a better tournament than his stats say. He recorded a .883 save percentage in 3.66 games and faced the third most shots in the tournament. There were quite a few goals were there was nothing he could do, as the Polish defense left an opposing forward wide-open. Szymon Klimowski saw limited action in the tournament, starting one game and finishing the game against South Korea. He struggled at times when in, especially with a rough early start versus Ukraine. These were not performances that sparked much hope about the position’s future in Poland.
It should be no surprise that Poland’s offensive leader in the tournament was Krzysztof Macias. The Nowy Targ native finished with seven goals and three assists for ten points. His ten points tied for first, with Japan’s Kotaro Murase, for the lead in the tournament. He led all players in goals by two with his seven. He also easily led Poland in the shot department with 25, eight more than the next Polish skater. All of this combined to earn him the best player of team Poland honors as selected by the coaches. While it was impressive, it also came in mainly two games. Against South Korea, Macias scored four goals and assisted on three; he also had a two-goal performance against Estonia. Macias only managed a lone goal against Italy and was held pointless versus Japan and Ukraine. The 18-year-old will still be eligible for Poland next season, and I hope to see his scoring against Estonia and Korea versus Poland’s top opponents.
Patryk Kusak was a forward I did not expect much of in this tournament. He was penciled in on the third line coming in and had not been having the best club season in the top Czech junior level. Kusak blew past my expectations and was one of Poland’s most impactful and hardest-working forwards. He managed the third most points on the team with five (3G-2A-5PTS). This included two goals and one assist against Japan. That three-point performance earned him player of the game honors for Poland. He had a really solid showing for Poland at the tournament, no matter the opponent’s strength.
What is Next?
Poland was tied for the third oldest team at the tournament. 13 players will not be eligible for next year’s squad. They had one of the oldest squads and still came up short. Poland went from four straight silver medals and battling with the likes of France, Norway, and Slovenia for the promotion to fighting to stay in Division 1 against Estonia and South Korea. For Poland to stay in Division 1, they had to beat a team with only two regulation wins in the previous year’s Division 2 tournament. The last three team’s performances are more than concerning for Poland, which paints a grim future for the national team. While there have been some significant forward prospects, goaltending and defense have looked bare. Poland can either get a new coach to coach up the talent, or they need to revamp the junior system to bring up the talent level as a whole.
- Defensemen Kacper Macias served as captain and was Poland’s best defender in the tournament and second-leading scorer. He recorded an impressive seven assists at the tournament. Five of the assists came in the match against South Korea, where he earned player of the game honors.
- The Super Macias Brothers, Kacper and Krzysztof Macias, were first and second on team Poland in scoring. The elder brother often assisting on his younger brother’s goals
- Kurnicki would be my pick for Poland’s second-best defender. He stood out on quite a few penalty kill shifts, where he was not afraid to put his body on the line.
- Adrian Gromadzki had a solid tournament and is another player that will be a key player next year.
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