The Polish women have their sights on advancing to the final Olympic qualifying round and got off to a good start on home ice in Bytom, defeating Turkey 12-0. Wiktoria Sikorska led the offence with six points and captain Karolina Pozniewska recorded a hat trick.
“There was only one option, and that was to win, but more important for us today than the result was the way we played,” said Pozniewska, the Polish women’s national team’s all-time leading scorer and a veteran of nine World Championships and two previous Olympic qualification attempts.
While the Poles have their sights firmly set on the final qualification round, this is unchartered territory for the Turkish women, who have never been beyond the first qualification round and know they will be overmatched by at least two of their opponents this weekend.
“We were pretty anxious,” Turkish captain Basak Demirko said about the lead up to the game. “We knew this was a big chance that might never happen again, and we weren’t so worried about the score but the coach always told us, ‘I want to see a system,’ and I think we showed them that we can play in a system.”
It took just 64 seconds for Poland to strike first on a nice individual effort from Julia Zielinska, who beat two opponents to the puck along the boards, cut in front of the net and beat Merve Karatas over the glove on the near side.
Poland was relentless on the forecheck in the opening minutes, causing several mad scrambles in front of the Turkish net. That’s how they made it 2-0 at 4:23 when Ida Talanda was the last player to touch it before the puck squibbled over the goal line.
A nifty give-and-go between Sikorska and Kamila Wieczorek made it 3-0 before the period was half old, and in the 12th minute, tallies by Ewelina Czarnecka and Wieczorek 14 seconds apart extended the Polish lead to five.
“It was a good game but we can play better,” said Polish coach Ivan Bednar. “Not all of our players were at their best, but most importantly, we want to change the history of Polish women’s hockey.”
It certainly could have been worse if not for Karatas, who was outshot 22-0 in the opening frame and 57-1 in the game. The Turkish goalie made an unbelievable save on a 2-on-0 break with five minutes to go in the first period, as Pozniewski slid the puck to Magdelena Lapies for the one-timer toward the open side, only to see Karatnas’ stick come out and knock it away. Then three minutes into the second period, Karatas made a huge blocker save off a one-timer from point blank by Talanda.
“She’s not so experienced and she was a bit nervous before,” Demirko said about the 21-year-old netminder. “She’s so young but she has a great big heart and she’s so brave. She never gave up and she should be very proud of herself because we all are.”
The Poles were just as dominant in the second period, putting another 22 shots on goal and scoring five more times: three from Pozniewska and one each from Wiktoria Sikorska and Wiktoria Dziwok. The Turks got their lone power play of the game when Wieczorek was sent off for interference at 35:15, but even that was unable to generate a shot on Agata Kosinska and yielded a shorthanded goal.
Turkey had some hope in the dying seconds of the middle frame when Didem Bagci blocked a shot in her own zone, then chased down the puck and found nobody between herself and the Polish goalie, but defender Korkuz caught up to her to deny a shot just before the horn sounded.
“The Turkish team was only trying to defend, but we have a good goalkeeper and we are confident that we are prepared for more difficult games,” said Bednar.
With the game firmly in their grasp, the Poles were more concerned with defence in the third period, and did that by keeping the puck on the Turkish half of the ice for most of the time, but didn’t generate as many dangerous scoring chances. Hatice Tuzgen Dagli did manage to break through and finally get a shot on net for Turkey, and Kosinka was equal to the task. Oliwia Tomczok scored twice in the final 5:30 to round out the scoring.
Poland will again be heavy favourites tomorrow against Mexico and, likewise, Turkey will be big underdogs against the Netherlands. Both teams are looking ahead to evenly matched games on Sunday, which will be real tests.
“We worked hard, we learned a lot and we had fun,” said Demirkol. “We want to see those things again tomorrow and in the last game against Mexico, we want to be more assertive.”
“Every game is different and the Netherlands will be the most difficult opponent, but we know how to play against them and we will be ready,” said Pozniewska.