Second success for Poland
by Andy Potts|07 FEB 2020
Day two in Kazakhstan began with a battle between two neighbouring nations. Poland and Ukraine both have experience of playing at the Olympics and in the Elite Pool at the World Championship, but in recent seasons both have been forced to regroup lower down the international hockey ladder in search of a return to past achievements.

In the context of the tournament, the game was a must-win for Ukraine if it was to maintain an outside hope of progress, while a Polish victory would likely set up a winner-takes-all showdown against Kazakhstan in the competition’s final game on Sunday evening.

Poland, buoyed by its 8-0 win over the Netherlands yesterday, made the more enterprising start. However, Ukraine learned lessons from both of Thursday’s games. First, unlike the Netherlands, it did not allow Poland many chances to get its power play into gear. Second, after its struggles to hold Kazakhstan’s fleet-footed offence, the Ukrainian D stepped up and did a good job of keeping Poland to the outside for much of the early stages.

Meanwhile, playing the same counter attacking game that generated a few dangerous moments against Kazakhstan, Ukraine grabbed an unexpected lead in the 16th minute. It was a typical play from Sergi Viter’s team; defence quickly moved to attack and this time the men in blue were able to recycle the puck and go back to the point for Volodymyr Alexyuk to start a second phase that ended with Pavlo Taran’s emphatic shot beating John Murray.

The Polish equalizer, seconds before the intermission, owed much to dogged perseverance. Captain Krystian Dziubinski led the rush and saw his initial shot padded away by Kyrylo Kucher. The Poles kept pressing, and Filip Starzynski got the puck back to his captain on the doorstep. Two more attempts from Dziubinski were blocked before he steered it back towards GKS Katowice forward Starzynski who stuffed it home from close range.

Dziubinski acknowledged that the first period was hard work. "We won it 6-1, but this was still a tough game," he said. "It was close, we had to battle hard. Ukraine played very well, but we got the important goals."

Having tied the game late in the first, Poland went on to establish a lead in the second. Early on, play was a bit scrappy and these two neighbours traded some hard hits in the opening minutes. The Ukrainian bench was particularly unhappy after a challenge on Alexyuk left the defenceman in a heap on the ice; shortly afterwards that frustration bubbled over and Igor Merezhko sat for interference.

The penalty proved costly. Although Ukraine managed to kill the two-minute tariff, the momentum tipped decisively in Poland’s favour. Just as Merezhko returned to the game, the Poles kept the puck in the Ukrainian end. Patryk Wajda fed Szymon Marzec down the channels; his pass across the face of the net found Martin Przygodzki at the back door to snap that 1-1 tie.

Then came a short-handed goal for the Poles. Arkadiusz Kostek sat for hooking but when Volodymyr Romanenko fumbled the puck on the blue line, Marzec nipped in and streaked down the ice. The Gdansk forward held off the attentions of Sergi Babynets and beat Kucher to the top shelf for 3-1. Poland then killed the remainder of the penalty with few alarms.

"That goal on our PK was the most important in this game," Dziubinski added. "That set us up for the win."

Goalscorer Marzec added: "This was a very good win for us. Maybe it wasn't a good start, but we found a very good finish. We knew that Ukraine is a hard opponent, so we had to prepare very well. Now the most important game is against Kazakhstan to win the group. That's our dream, and we want it to come true!"

Poland’s power play delivered its fifth goal of the tournament at the start of the third period, albeit in somewhat freakish fashion. Marcin Kolusz wound up a slap shot that was deflected into the glass and bounced back on to the roof of the net. As the puck dropped behind goalie Kucher, Taran desperately tried to get it clear of the danger zone but only succeeded in gloving it over the goal line.

That brought about a goaltending change, with Mykyta Hordiushin taking over from Kucher. The 21-year-old Kremenchuk prospect continues to gain useful international experience at this tournament. He was beaten by Damian Kapica  and Filip Komorski late in the game as Poland completed a 6-1 scoreline for its second victory in Kazakhstan.
Poland vs. Ukraine - 2020 Men's Olympic Qualification Group H