SANOK, Poland - Solid goaltending has played an integral part in the success of Polish hockey throughout the years. Although he couldn’t prevent the relegation of the U20 national team, David Zabolotny showed promise between the pipes.
"The Polish team has a lot of problems; skating, stick-handling and physical presence." That’s a frank assessment of the frailties of Poland's U20 team by none other than their head coach Andrei Parfenov. Four defeats and a penalty shot loss against Slovenia left recently promoted Poland at the bottom of the pile of the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship Division I Group A.
While the 2012 appointment of Igor Zakharkin and Vyacheslav Bykov at the helm of the Polish senior national team made many headlines, it is a third Russian recruit, Parfenov, who might well be passing on the longest lasting legacy for upcoming generations of Polish hockey players.
Having previously worked with Zakharkin and Bykov at both the Russian Hockey Federation and CSKA Moscow, he was handpicked in 2012 to oversee and lead Poland's development of junior players. Now in his second year in coaching both the Polish U18 and U20 team, Parfenov is also working for Szkola Mistrzostwa Sportowego (School of Sports Mastery), inaugurated in the southern Polish town of Sosnowiec back in 1994 and which over the years has been a conveyor belt for producing up-and-coming Polish hockey players.
One recent graduate from Sosnowiec is 19-year-old goaltender David Zabolotny. Having already played an integral part when Poland’s U20 team last year sealed promotion from a tight Division I Group B in Donetsk, Ukraine, Zabolotny is now hoping to one day be able to follow in the footsteps of Polish goalies that over the years performed heroics while wearing the white eagle on its chest.
Between the years 1972-92 when Poland featured in seven straight Olympic Winter Games as well as eight top division world championships, where goalies such as Andrzej Tkacz, Gabriel Samolej and Andrzej Hanisz had to be on the top of their game. But while those three aforementioned Polish goalie legends regularly honed their skills being up against the world's top players, the situation for the next generation of goalies has mostly been fighting a losing battle in getting Poland back towards the heights of yesteryears.
"Zabolotny is a very important player in our team, but he is at this age where he needs more experience and more games," says Marek Batkiewicz, assistant coach of Poland's U20 and former national team goalkeeper in the 1990s.
Following this summer's graduation, Zabolotny signed for Polish vice-champion Jastrzebie where the 19-year-old has found games hard to come by while currently being understudy to Poland's first choice goaltender, Przemyslaw Odrobny.
"Since I haven't played a lot this season, it took me a few games to get used to it, but I think my form is ok now," said Zabolotny about his performances while he’s also harbouring hopes to one day continue his career in German or Swiss hockey.
Zabolotny’s heroics were not enough for Poland to stay up since the team also lost the deciding last game against Austria, 4-1.