We can all wait for some moments. After two years of covid cancellations, the Men’s Senior team finally returned to the Worlds and won gold. Part of me really does believe that the three years it technically took to get back in Group A makes it all the sweeter. Unfortunately for other age levels, two canceled years means players aged out of eligibility and didn’t have a chance to finish what they started. Poland had no returners from their 2019 squad that earned a promotion to Division 1, it was now up to an entirely new roster to try and stay in the division, but could they do it?
Poland quickly saw the reality they faced in game one when offensive powerhouse Ukraine beat them 6-1. Ukraine would score 5 or more goals, including 12 against Austria, against every opponent besides one. Next up was Poland’s eternal hockey rival Hungary, who saw off Poland pretty quickly, 5-2. Hopefully, it would have been more smooth sailing for Poland with the top two teams in the tournament out of the way. In a back and forth contest against Itlay, Poland would fall 8-5 in the best chance to grab points. Poland would close the tournament with a 5-2 loss to Austria and then a 6-1 defeat against Slovenia.
A Rough Week in Net
You saw the scores, so let us address it right away. It was a very rough tournament for Poland’s goaltending, particularly for starting goalie Jakub Ciucka. While there were a couple own goals and some significant defensive lapses at times. This was a rough tournament, and there were some plays where all you can say is “oof’. Ciucka finished with a .820 save percentage, while his backup Maksymilian Kura finished with a .762. sv%. Especially in the game against Italy, Poland could have won. They scored five goals and still lost by three.
While Poland was the inferior team in each game. They were not actually as bad as the scores portray. Usually, when you see blowout scores, you also expect a similar disadvantage in the shots. Only in one game was Poland killed in the shot department as they were outshot 45-15 against Austria. Poland outshot Italy 28-27 while losing the shot battle by less than five against Ukraine. They also were tied with Austria in goals for at the tournaments. Poland did their best. It wasn’t enough. As the team improves, I see them staying in Division 1 as a very likely outcome. They mostly looked like they belonged. Not saying I’m expecting them to win a medal yet, but fourth and fifth place finishes should be on the table.
In 2022, Poland only had 10 players in Czech junior leagues at the U17 level and above. That is down from the 16 that Poland had during the 2021 season. Five of the 2022 players made Poland U18. Of Poland’s top five skaters in points, four of them played in the Czechia junior system. Krzysztof Macias finished first with 7 points (2G-5A-7PTS), Dominik Kolat second with 6 points (4G-2A-6PTS), Michal Kusak was third with 3 points (2G-1A-3PTS), and then tied for fifth was Adrian Gromadzki with 2 points (0G-2A-2PTS). The top line of Kolat, Kusak, and Macias was one of the best lines in the tournament. Even when Kusak was moved down for Gromadzki to join the top line, Kolat and Macias didn’t miss a beat with their Czech junior league counterpart.
I usually don’t want to use two thoughts on one player in an article, but Krzysztof Macias deserves his own closer look. Macias was involved in seven goals on a team that scored 11 total goals. His 7 points were also tied for fifth in the tournament. Given that Hungary and Ukraine scored a combined 49 goals him cracking the top five is significant, in my opinion. The Polish captain also fired off 19 shots, about 20% of Poland’s total shots on goal, and tied for the fourth-most in the tournament. Given he only scored twice on those 19 shots, I believe he got a bit unlucky on his goal amount. Macias proved that he is Poland’s best U18 prospect and maybe even the best U20 prospect. A reminder, his two assists on Poland U20 put him second in scoring and tied for the lead in assists.
The Expected Result. Now What?
I saw some people a bit stunned about the results of the Polish team. Particularly about the result versus Ukraine. Poland’s junior system is inferior and years behind almost all top European countries. Poland is one of only a few countries in Division 1 to not have a fully dedicated U20 league. Ukraine especially has been impressive in its youth development. They even defeated Austria with a score of 12-4. Poland being relegated was the expected result, even if Poland’s performance in their own end didn’t help.
Poland will be relegated to Division 2 Group A next year. Their opponents will be Estonia, Great Britain, Lithuania, Romania, and Croatia. Poland often faces a familiar list of teams in Division 1 at the Senior World Championships. It will not be a cakewalk for the U18 squad, especially as they will be returning only 4 skaters. The good news is two of them are their top defenders in, Blazej Chodor and Karol Sobecki, while Finnish junior league forward Krystian Lisowski will also return. The most significant addition the team will have is goaltender Igor Tyczynski. Tyczynski was very impressive in nine MHL games and had an outstanding performance at recent U16 events.
– Karol Sobecki showed off really well at this tournament. The 16-year-old was easily Poland’s best defender in the five-game showing.
– Another defender I liked was Blazej Chodor. He has ideal size and wasn’t afraid to get physical. But it did put his team in some rough places at times. As he gains more experience, his awareness will improve and he’ll pick better times to step up for the big hit.
– While the team was led mainly by the Czech stars on the offensive end, Paweł Pisula put in a great tournament on the forward side. His two-assist placed him tied for fifth in points.
– In his IIHF coaching debut, I thought Łukasz Sokół put in a good performance. The team stayed competitive, maybe a bit too hesitant to switch goalies at times. Based on how Kura did play in his limited minutes, I can’t blame him for that.
– This tournament will make a significant impact on my rankings for the year, while only five games. These are the five best opponents I will see most players play against all year.