In a wild game on the final day of Group H in Bytom, host Poland trailed 2-0 in halfway through the third period before scoring three times in a span of 1:45 to turn the game on its head. With the 3-2 victory, Poland advances to the Final Olympic Qualification Round next month.
“The only thing that changed is that we finally started burring our chances,” said Polish head coach Ivan Bednar. “At the start, we were the better team. We could have been up 3-0 in the first period but we missed some of our chances. And then we fell behind by a couple of goals but we just kept battling and eventually it paid off.”
Klaudia Chrapek scored the winning goal while Karolina Pozniewska and Wiktoria Sikorska each had two points for Poland. The Netherlands outshot Poland 25-22 in the game.
“It’s too bad because I don’t think they were a better team than us, but just a bit luckier,” said Dutch head coach Joep Franke. “We were up 2-0, then we made some mistakes. If we play that game on a different day, maybe we win, but that’s hockey. They scored three goals and we scored two.”
In an overall evenly-played first period, Poland outshot the Netherlands 11-10.
With a boisterous crowd behind them, Poland came out of the gate more aggressively and the Dutch had to weather a bit of a storm, but gradually started to turn the flow in their favour and got the game’s first power play. Poland got two breakaways against the run of play – in the fourth minute it was Oliwia Tomczok, who shot high, and then on the PK in the eighth minute it was Pozniewska, who tried to slide the puck through the pads of Eline Gabriele but the Dutch goalie wouldn’t be beaten.
The Poles then had the Dutch back on their heels for the last five minutes of the first period and first few minutes of the second thanks to four straight power plays, which included two stretches of 5-on-3 hockey, but couldn’t open the scoring.
“They came out flying in the first period and we had to be careful but it stayed scoreless,” said Franke. “Then we got a few penalties but we killed them off, so no harm done, and in the second period we really started to play better as a team.”
The Netherlands opening the scoring on their second power play, with Isabelle Schollaardt perfectly re-directing Zoe Barbier’s centring pass through the legs of Martyna Sass at 24:31.
As the stakes in the game rose, so did the intensity on the ice, with each team getting power-play chances and Poland very nearly tying the game late in the second period, with Tomczok’s pass to Sikorska at the far post just failing to connect.
“You could feel it on the ice that this was a big game and both teams wanted it,” said Dutch defender Michelle Noe. “It was so intense and we were battling very hard.”
“It was a very intense game because they play really physical,” said forward Kamila Wieczorek. “That’s something we knew from the past and it’s a part of our game that we’ve gotten better at. That’s why we were better against them than in the World Championship and it’s one of the reasons we won.”
Early in the third period, Julie Zwarthoed had a chance to extend the Dutch lead on a shorthanded rush, but Sass made a big blocker save. Later on the same Polish power play, Tomczok’s one-timer sailed just high with the near side open.
Just past the midpoint of the final period, the Dutch were pressing deep in the Polish zone and Esther de Jong backhanded a pass in front to Maree Dijkema, whose shot went off the back crossbar and out so quickly that video replay was needed to confirm it.
“I was really glad to see that go in,” said Noe. “We were feeling good and playing good at that time. It’s just too bad what happened after that. It’s a hard feeling now but we played as a team and never quit, and that’s something we can all be proud of anyway.”
Poland wasn’t finished and with 7:13 to play, finally got on the scoreboard as Wieczorek found Pozniewska at the far side, and the Polish captain made no mistake.
“I got a pass from Wika Sikorska, then I took a step forward and I saw Karolina, so I passed to her,” Wieczorek described. “She was in a better position to score because I was on my backhand.”
Then just 2:27 later it was tied. Wiktoria Gogoc kept the puck in at the point with two Dutch players pressuring her, and Sikorska’s wrister went off a Dutch stick and over the left shoulder of Gabriele.
With momentum squarely on their side, the Poles connected for a third time in less than two minutes. Ewelina Czarnecka won an attacking-zone faceoff back to Chrapek, who sailed a wrist shot through a crowd in front and over the shoulder of a screened Gabriele, who didn’t move.
Now it was the Netherlands’ turn to desperately press hard, and play stayed in the Polish end for much of the last three minutes. With a minute to go, Gabriele was pulled for a sixth attacker and it became 6-on-4 when Chrapek went off for hooking with 47 seconds to go.
“At the end I think we were nervous because we got a penalty and we were stuck in our zone, but we cleared our heads and played simple hockey and just trying to get every puck out,” said Wieczorek.
But the Dutch just couldn’t break through as the front of the net was kept relatively clear. As the final horn sounded, the Polish players stormed off the bench and mobbed Sass, as the home fans went wild.
“It’s an amazing feeling to gain this promotion,” said Wieczorek. “In the next round, the teams are going to be stronger than us, for sure, but we’ll just try to show them that Poland just keeps on fighting.”