Winning start for host
by Andy Potts|26 APR 2022
Team Poland forward Kamil Walega fires in a shot during the Division IB meeting with Estonia.
photo: Michal Chwieduk
Host nation Poland got off to a winning start in Division IB in Tychy, but had to outlast a hard-working Estonian team that led the shot count 36-27 but was unable to find a goal in a 3-0 scoreline.

Although satisfied with the victory, the Polish camp believes there is more to come in this tournament after an opening game that saw goalie John Murray deservedly take the plaudits.

"It was very important to win our first game, but we were so nervous at the start," said Poland's head coach Robert Kalaber. "The first goal settled us, made things a bit easier, but even so I am not satisfied with today's game.

"We made too many mistakes and our goalie was definitely our best player."

After seeing Japan produce a blow-out win in game one, the raucous home crowd was expecting something similar from Poland in the evening game. But Estonia’s 2022 roster is buoyed with KHL experience from forwards Robert Roobe and Kristjan Kombe, and Jussi Tupamaki’s team is hoping to reach new heights at this tournament. The Baltic state has never played in Division IA since the World Championship was restructured in 2012, but after five seasons at this level it’s shaken off its old status as an elevator team.

Poland, meanwhile, has been waiting for this championship. Katowice was due to host Division IB back in 2020, just after the national team delivered a stirring triumph in an Olympic qualification group in Kazakhstan. However, the pandemic robbed the Poles of the chance to build on that success and only now is the Polish eagle able to take off in search of a return to Division IA.

"We have waited a long time for this," said goalscorer Pawel Zygmunt. "I think we deserve to play at a higher level so now we need to go out and win this tournament."
Poland vs Estonia - 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group B
POL EST 27 APR 2022
The early stages proved rather more even than many of the Polish fans might have expected with the teams trading opportunities. Indeed, Robert Arrak came close to giving Estonia the lead; the forward, who plays in the Polish Ekstraliga with HC Torun, fired a dangerous shot through the legs of Mateusz Bryk but goaltender Murray got right behind his effort.

However, the home fans got what they wanted in the 13th minute when Poland took the lead. The play started with a neat interchange of passes through centre ice by Kamil Gorny and Alan Lyszczarczyk but got bogged down in the Estonian defence. However, Andre Linde found himself in a tangle, coughing up possession for Kamil Walega to score from between the hash marks. Walega, who plays his club hockey in the Zimowy Stadion for GKS Tychy, was a popular choice to break the deadlock.

Even after that, Estonia hung around. Stout defence at one end was backed up by a threat of a counter attack at the other. The puck even ended up in Murray’s net midway through the second period, although Aleksei Sibirtsev was evidently offside when he collected Nikita Puzakov’s pass and the whistle went long before he slipped the puck past a static goalie.

At the other end, Poland came close to doubling its advantage when Oskar Jaskiewicz’s point shot was deflected onto the outside of the post. Soon after, though, a well-worked goal made it 2-0. Dominik Pas sent the puck behind the net, where Patryk Wronka produced a delicate no-look pass for Pawel Zygmunt, who had got free of the defence and was at liberty to pick his spot and beat Villem-Henrik Koitmaa.

Like his coach, Zygmunt feels there is more to come from Poland in this tournament. "We can play better," he said. "We are a better team. Today we could have scored more goals, but it was a great job for our goalie. He really saved us."

That goal eased the tension in the building, and when Filip Komorski unleashed a devastating one-timer from the blue line in the 46th minute, the result was beyond doubt. Komorski’s chance was created by Patryk Wadja’s feed and his blast found the tightest of gaps between Koitmaa’s skate and his far post.
Estonia continued to press and had two power play chances in the closing stages. However, Murray was in uncompromising mood as he backstopped the Poles to a crowd-pleasing opening day victory.

"The atmosphere was good today," added Zygmunt. "But it can be even better. If we play better, we will get more noise."

And head coach Kalaber is looking ahead to the next test when Poland face Ukraine in what promises to be an emotional encounter on Thursday. "I believe we will get better with each game we play," he said. "We will have to see what happens against Ukraine, but I hope we will be better."
Poland vs Estonia - 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group B