For the third time in history, GKS Tychy have been crowned Polish champions. A nearly perfect regular and post season was completed with a 2-1 overtime win over GKS Katowice.
GKS Tychy been ever present in the restructured Polska Hokej Liga since it was formed in 2013 but won just one time the gold medal during this period.
The 2017/18 season erased anyone still questioning whether Tychy is able to withstand the pressure. Coming out of the regular season as winners with a 31-7 record, the team marched on with a 12-2 post season to cement its status as current top team in the Polish hockey echelons. Yet it’s probably too early to call it a dynasty.
A dynasty is all about trophies. When a team reaches the finals several years in a row, it’s a great accomplishment, however that by itself is not something that will be remembered in the history books.
GKS Tychy knew what to do in order to start a dynasty and started the playoff final series against Katowice with a blast. The team’s offence was firing on all cylinders and goaltender John Murray stood on his head registering a pair of shutouts in a game one (5-0) and two (6-0).
GKS Katowice was hurt but not yet ready to give up. Unable to mirror the depth of the GKS Tychy roster, Katowice needed time to recover from a hard-fought semi-final series against reigning champions Cracovia Krakow.
When the series moved back to Katowice, head coach Tom Coolen finally had his team enjoy a three-day time off and the Canadian coach used this time to regroup and come up with a new game plan.
It paid immediate dividends.
Nearly four minutes into game 3, Bartosz Fraszko was the first Katowice player to find a way to score against John Murray. Both teams exchanged goals before Tychy exploded with three unanswered goals. Gleb Klimenko tied the game midway the second period on a power play while Jakub Witecki and Alez Szczechura extended the lead to 4-2.
Despite a late Martin Vozdecky goal and outshooting Tychy 42-37, Katowice had to suffer defeat again and were facing a mountain to climb down 3-0 in the best-of-seven series.
The third game scoreline however did indicate this series did not have to be as one-sided as feared initially.
Boosted by the performance in the previous game, Katowice clung together in game four and took a commanding 4-0 lead halfway game 4. Jaroslaw Rzeszutko scored a brace but other than that Tychy’s comeback efforts fell short. In the final stages of the game Dusan Devecka scored his second to settle the first Katowice win.
The series moved back to Tychy where a capacity crowd of 2,700 spectators saw a close game develop.
Radoslaw Galant got the home fans on their feet when he opened the scoring after six minutes but despite having the best of play, Tychy was unable to crack down a tight Katowice defence.
Midway the game it was the visitors who silenced the crowd when Marek Strzyzowski connected on a feed of Andrej Themar for the 1-1 equalizer.
With the clock counting down the minutes, the tension in the Mosir Arena in Tychy was rising the opposite direction. Not just on the stands but also on the ice.
“My hands and legs were trembling as of the later stages of the third period,” said Tychy forward Filip Komorowski. “We knew that any mistake could be fatal and mean we would have to go back to Katowice for another game. “
When nerves start to act up, players tend to turn to apply basic instincts. It were exactly those that concluded the series.
Six minutes into overtime, Bartlomiej Pochieca picked up the puck behind his own net and slowed down the play. He quickly looked up and sent a 40-metre pass across the full length of the ice that split the Katowice defence. Komorowksi picked up the feed on the opposition blue line and raced in clear on Katowice goaltender Shane Owen.
Realizing he had the championship winning shot on his stick, Komorowski relied on his signature shot and went five-hole to score the golden goal.
“I did not think but went on auto-pilot and used my instinct when I received Bartek’s pass,” the Tychy hero admitted. “When I was young, my grandfather told me the five-hole shot is the most difficult one for a goalie. I have always remembered and mastered this move. Today it allowed me to score the most important goal of my career.”
Back at the other end of the ice, Pochieca witnessed from afar. “To be honest I didn’t notice the puck hit the net but when the crowd exploded and Filip threw his equipment I realized we were Polish champions,” admitted the defenceman.
“Katowice certainly raised their game as the series progressed but we knew that we could wear them down in overtime,” he continued. “The depth of our squad was decisive in the end.”
The golden team has been a resultant of several solid acquisitions over the summer and just before the playoffs.
Tychy CEO Grzegorz Bednarski was clearly not happy with his team finishing second two seasons in a row so realized something had to change in order to reach the next level.
“We chose a certain path and built a solid core team,” he explained. “Together with sports manager Wojciech Matczak and head coach Andrei Gusow we made the right players decisions. Especially the late additions proved to be really making our team stronger despite some people doubting our selections.”
Despite losing the final, the silver medal does feel rewarding for Katowice. The team wasn’t complete just prior to the first game of the season but Tom Coolen and his squad performed above expectations finishing second after both the regular and post season.
“We did a fantastic job, fighting until the very end and I’m sure there is not a player on the team with anything left in the tank,” veteran forward Mikolaj Lopuski commented after the finals.
“Of course we would have liked to be champions but it wasn’t to be as Tychy was better. I’m looking forward to seeing what next season brings. This is a special group with a special coach.”
Before next season starts though, many players that faced each other in the final will bond together when the national team takes on Slovenia, Italy, Kazakhstan, Hungary and Great Britain in the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group B hosted in Hungary between 22-28 April.
GKS Tychy will debut in the 2018/19 Champions Hockey League and will be representing Poland on the international stage.