Tag: Poland U18

Andrei Gusov Is the Next Men’s U18 Coach. He Is Also the Best Choice.

After a couple weeks of rumors, Poland has announced Andrei Gusov as the next head coach of the Men’s U18 team. The Belarussian head coach is very familiar with Polish hockey, with six years as a player in the PHL and five years as a head coach. This was a hire that I have pitched a few times in articles dating back to 2019. In my opinion, Gusov was the best option Poland could realistically get to take over the men’s U18 squad.

Gusov is not just experienced with Polish hockey, but he also played for a long time in Belarus’ top league, along with the second and lower leagues of Russia. During his playing career, he also represented Belarus on the national team stage, representing his homeland at multiple World Championships and the 1998 Olympics. The 52-year-old had a long career that spanned the peak of Polish hockey and its decline. The Minsk native played in Poland from 1995 to 2000 for Cracovia Krakow, KTH Krynica, Podhale Nowy Targ, and SMS I Warszawa. During his club time in Poland, it was when the national team was at its best, and he knows what team Poland could possibly reach.

Right as his career ended in 2005, he went right into coaching. His first year of coaching was in the Belarus second league and as an assistant coach for the country’s U18 squad. He would serve as an assistant for the U18 team as well in 2006 and would take over as the head coach for 2007. In his one year as head coach, they would earn gold and promotion to the Elite U18 division of the IIHF. He would later become the head coach of Belarus’ U20 team and lead them to silver at the 2009 Division 1 Group U20 World Championships. He is a coach with junior IIHF experience in divisions well above where Poland is currently at. In five game tournament, you have less room for mistakes and less time to make choices. Having experience with tournament play can really help a coach.

While the junior IIHF experience is excellent, he has never really coached junior hockey. From 2006 to 2009, he was the head coach of Keramin Minsk. In 2010, he would reach his highest level as a head coach. He served as the head coach of Dynamo Minsk in the KHL after their initial head coach was let go in mid-October. After one year at the top level of Russia, he would return to Belarusian Extraleague and be in charge of Shakhter Soligorsk for seven years. During this time, he also served as an assistant coach on the Belarus Men’s senior World Championship team twice. Since 2018, Gusov has served as a head coach in PHL with GKS Tychy and Podhale Nowy Targ. While he is a well-decorated coach with two Belarusian Extraleague titles and one PHL championship. The lack of junior hockey coaching concerns me. He has become very familiar with junior Polish players in his last two PHL seasons. Nineteen U23 players appeared for Podhale Nowy Targ last season.

Gusov, to me, was the best coach Poland could get to take over the U18 squad. The biggest thing I wanted in a new coach was someone with experience in stronger hockey countries, and he has a lot of that from his time in Belarus. Gusov is going to hopefully be able to implement a new training and development system that will help U18 players grow. At the end of the day, the U18 and U20 tournaments are dress rehearsals for the senior team. Poland stays even with other countries at the youth level but starts to fall off in the most essential years once a player hits 16. Not to mention, with the U18 squad almost being relegated again, Gusov does have results in leading IIHF junior teams to medals. He knows Polish hockey, experience outside Poland, and has had success in the IIHF junior divisions. His resume checks all the boxes for me besides club junior hockey experience.

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The One-Line Team. 2022 Division 1 Group B U18 World Championships 5 Thoughts.

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.

Keeping Pace

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.

Czech Stars

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.

Master Macias

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.

Quick Thoughts

– 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.

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