Playing in a city built to house workers at Lithuania’s largest power station, Poland’s electric attacking play simply overloaded the opposition. Under the guidance of head coach Tomasz Demkowicz, who played for Poland in the country’s last top-division World Championship appearance in 2002, the team was a class above everyone else.
Poland began with a 3-1 success over Romania, the team demoted into this section last year. Jakub Blanik snapped a 1-1 tie at the start of the third, Marcin Plachetka scored a short-handed effort two minutes from the hooter and the Poles were up and running. A 7-1 thumping of host nation Lithuania, led by two goals apiece for Maciej Witan and Mateusz Bezwinski, confirmed that this team was a force to be reckoned with. The same two players shared three more goals in a 5-0 win over Korea as Poland opened up a lead at the top of the table after three games.
Following the rest day, the Poles kept on scoring goals. Estonia was still in with a chance of gold until three goals in the first 10 minutes put Poland on its way to a crushing 8-2 victory. Then came that drubbing of relegated Spain to finish. Witan signed off with a hat-trick and Sebastian Brinkus scored 2+3 on the night to finish on top of the scoring charts. Demkowicz could celebrate a flawless campaign in his first experience as head coach of a Polish national team.
Second place went to the host nation Lithuania, which matched last season’s result. Estonia, fifth last year, rebounded to claim third and will be back for a fourth successive season at this level. That’s the best spell in the country’s history of U18 World Championship play.
At the end of the table, newly-promoted Spain found life tough. As well as stepping up a level, this was a young roster – the average age was barely 16-and-a-half – and many of the key players from last year’s champions were now too old to compete. Despite a difficult week, Spain managed to pick up a point from a 4-5 overtime loss against Romania. The Romanians took fourth place ahead of Korea.
Not surprisingly, Poland’s players also dominated the individual scoring charts. The team had four youngsters who scored 10+ points with Cracovia Krakow forward Sebastian Brynkus leading the way on 16 (4+12). Brynkus has seen his development accelerate this season, playing 36 times in Poland’s national championship and also representing the country’s U20s before coming to Lithuania as an assistant captain in his second U18 campaign. Dominant this year, 12 months ago he featured in just two games and did not manage a single point.
Maciej Witan, who plays his club hockey for KH Sanok, a Polish team in Slovakia’s third tier, was the tournament’s leading goal scorer with six goals. He built on a promising campaign last year, improving from 9 (5+4) points to today’s 15 (6+9). Michal Narog (2+10) was the most productive defenceman at the event following a productive season in Poland’s second tier with Sokoly Torun. His club teammate Mateusz Bezwinski (5+5) also reached double figures in his rookie international campaign. Two Estonians, Kirill Lodeikin (5+6) and Nikita Puzakov (4+6), were the only others in Elektrenai to get 10 or more points. Lodeikin was named the leading forward of the tournament, with Poland’s Szymon Bieniek getting the top defenceman nomination. Lithuania’s Nikita Kuzminov, who plays his club hockey in the Austrian-based cross-border EBJL with Okanagan HC Europe, was chosen as top goalie with a save percentage of 92.13.
Next season, Lithuania, Estonia, Romania and Korea will be joined by Serbia, promoted from Division IIB. The last team in the section will be determined next week in Hungary where the Division IB starts today in Szekesfehervar.