Tag: Poland U18

One Big Thrill. 2023 Men’s Division 1 Group B U18s 5 Thoughts

The Polish U18 squad was given a second chance at Division 1 after initially being relegated last year. This is due to the IIHF suspensions of Belarus and Russia. A new head coach was installed to lead the U18 squad as longtime PHL and Belarus national team coach Andrei Gusov took the reins just before the hockey season began. Last year felt like a golden opportunity to make some noise with so many good young stars who played abroad, but that team failed to gain any traction defensively or in net. Now the 2023 squad was almost 100% talent playing with Polish clubs. Could this new combination find a way to melt together and keep Poland in Division 1?

Poland started off the tournament with a strong foe in gold contender Austria. Poland played very well in this game, and I was more than impressed as they took down Austria with a final score of 3-1. Austria was the much better team on paper, but Poland played the game perfectly to cause the upset. They drove their opponent to take bad-angle shots and not give them much up in middle. On offense, Poland could draw penalties, capitalize on the powerplay, and generate a few odd-man rushes for scoring chances. Simply put, if Poland wanted to do well in the tournament, it would come down to their ability to do just what they did against Austria. Poland instead went out and did almost the opposite in their next few games. Slovenia overmatched and dispatched them with a 6-2 final score. A strong performance versus Italy only resulted in a 1-0 shutout loss. Then against the two opponents promoted from Division 2, Poland played their worst with another 6-2 loss, this time to South Korea, before ending the tournament with late heartbreak and a 2-1 loss to Estonia. They started the tournament with one big thrill, but it was all downhill from there.

Inconsistent Performances

The games against Austria and Slovenia are very similar on paper. In both games, Poland scored 3 goals while allowing exactly 42 shots. The big difference between the two is the opponent’s goal total. Austria scored once, while Slovenia scored six times. Was one game just a great start from Tyczyński, and the other a dud from him?

There are the two shot charts back-to-back. Austria is on the left, and the Slovenia game is on the right. In the game against Austria, Poland forced a lot more bad angle or far-away shots that were much easier to save. Against Slovenia, the opposing team could just do whatever they wanted in front of the net. I’m not sure how Poland played these two games back-to-back so differently. Especially in the end, Austria was the team that took home gold.

The Italian Game

The game against Italy is a really interesting piece of hockey to me. On the surface, it is easy to say Poland was the better team and just couldn’t finish. They controlled the puck more and led in the shot department by a decent margin of ten shots, 33-23 total. Poland just ran into the brick wall that is Italian goalie and NHL draft prospect Damain Clara. I think it paints the larger issue this group had thought-out the tournament with their inability to finish and generate high dangerous scoring chances. They had a large reliance on the powerplay, and odd-man rushes for goals, which is a lot of hockey. But against weaker opponents, you want to see their ability to gain the zone, cycle the puck, and produce on five-on-five. Poland was the worst scoring team at the tournament shooting just 7.2% on 125 shots. I think this is the result of Poland not developing many dynamic or creative offensive players.

Must-See Tyczynski

Undoubtedly, the MVP of the tournament for Poland was goaltender Igor Tyczyński. In his first IIHF appearance, he carried team Poland and was a stud in the net. His 41-save performance against Austria was head-turning. He carried that strong play throughout the tournament and finished with a .918 save percentage. He followed this up with great matches against Italy and Estonia. Now there was the matter of the Slovenia and South Korea games, where Poland allowed 8 goals between the two with him in the net. I don’t put that on him in the Slovenia game, as Poland gave him no help, and Slovenia could just walk to the front of the net whenever they wanted. Versus South Korea, he did let in two quick goals and got the early pull after less than 10 minutes of action. They were not great goals to let in, but Poland didn’t offer him much help in the lead-up. Overall, the young goalie was a bright spot for Poland in a dark tournament. He has quickly become Poland’s top goaltending prospect, in my opinion.

Maksymilian on the Map

Poland’s best forward in the tournament to me was Maksymilian Dawid. He led the team in points with four. He was especially effective in the game against Austria, where he was named player of the game, scoring twice and assisting on one. He later had a nice goal in the game versus Slovenia. He showed a lot of confidence with the puck and a good ability to rush up the ice. His play in the neutral zone was especially impressive, and he gained the offensive zone pretty easily. He had a lot of chemistry with the Hofmann brothers. There were a few defensive lapses, but overall, it was a great tournament.

What is next?

This was the first year under Gusov, and it’s a mixed bag for a grade. The team is being relegated to Division 2 and will have to fight its way back up. It will be interesting to see if Poland retains Gusov for the following season. We saw both the high of what Gusov and his style can do and the team’s larger problems. The U18 squad desperately needs some stability, and it takes over a year to build it up. The Austria game was one of the strongest games I have seen a Polish team play at any level. Italy and Estonia were solid games as well, despite the lack of finishing. The Slovenia and South Korea games were beyond ugly, and the team appeared to have fallen apart. This was a veteran team, and 12 players were born in 2005 and will be aged off the roster. The only major returning player is Igor Tyczynski. There could be reinforcements, with Hubert Szarzynski, Matthew McGovern, and Patryk Zubek all being eligible.

Quick Thoughts

  • Jakub Hofman had a good tourney and was great with Dawid. He led the squad with 14 shots, recording a goal and two assists. He got unlucky with some shots I thought were sure goals.
  • Karol Sobecki had a really solid tournament and worked well as the leading defenseman on the powerplay.
  • Poland allowed 30 goals at the tournament last year, which was cut down to just 16 this year. They also somehow scored two fewer goals, finishing with nine after scoring 11 in 2022.
  • Krystian Lisowski showed a lot of good flashes in this tournament, but I was hoping to see more. He finished second on the team in shots with 13.
  • Former PHL defensemen and current Toruń assistant coach Łukasz Podsiadło made his IIHF coaching debut serving in the same role.

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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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