Aiming high
by Andy Potts|01 MAY 2022
Team Poland enjoys its shoot-out win over Ukraine in Division IB. Will there be bigger celebrations to come after Sunday's decider against Japan?
photo: Michal Chwieduk
Poland expects. After suffering relegation to Division IB in 2018, life has been frustrating for the national team.

Hopes of an immediate return were halted by surprise package Romania in 2019 and, despite some encouraging performances in Olympic qualification, a two-year delay due to COVID robbed the Poles of a chance to return to the second tier.

Now, though, everything is in the team’s hands. Victory over Japan on home ice in Tychy guarantees top spot in the 2022 Division IB tournament and lifts Poland back to the higher division.

Forward Filip Komorski, who potted a hat-trick in Friday’s 10-2 demolition of Serbia, is expecting a tough test against Japan. However, the 30-year-old is encouraged by signs of all-round progress for Polish hockey.
“Things are improving,” he said. “We’ve had good results in Olympic qualifying, we’re starting to get wins in Champions League games. I think the level of Polish hockey is going up and up. Now I hope that our young players could go somewhere else and play in a better league. That could be just the thing to take our national team higher and higher.”

Komorski is leading by example: he played in Czechia this season, following Aron Chmielewski to Ocelari Trinec. While Chmielewski is set to join the Polish roster for Sunday’s game after helping Ocelari secure the Czech title, Komorski – along with compatriots Bartosz Ciura and Alan Lyszczarczyk – spent the bulk of the season on loan at Frydek-Mystek and were available for international action from the start of this tournament. There’s some acclimatization needed before earning a regular slot alongside Ocelari’s Olympic medalists Martin Marincin or Marko Dano.

Chmielewski followed a similar path when he first arrived in Trinec before establishing himself on two championship teams in 2019 and 2022. It’s a journey that highlights the gap between Poland’s national championship and Europe’s strongest countries.

Meanwhile, Lyszczarczyk, 24, is reaping the rewards of a globetrotting career. Starting in the youth ranks at his hometown Podhale Nowy Targ, the skilful forward played junior hockey in Chomutov, Czechia, before getting a shot at the OHL. Four seasons there brought him 205 points in 251 games, and there were two more years in the ECHL before returning to Europe. He’s a rising star with team Poland and had an impressive 7-point haul in that mauling of Serbia.

Like Komorski, he believes that travel broadens the hockey mind. “For sure, playing overseas has helped me,” he said. “I played a faster game in Canada and in the U.S. and when I came back to Europe I found I had more time on puck. Now I’m trying to use that to help my game.”

Since the heartache of silver in Tallinn in 2019, Poland has scored notable victories in international play, defeating Kazakhstan and Belarus in Olympic qualifiers. Its clubs are also making waves, with GKS Tychy getting the country’s first wins in Champions Hockey League action and Cracowia becoming the nation’s first IIHF Continental Cup winner.

Now Komorski believes that promotion can push Poland to new heights in club and international competition.

“We just want to play against better teams, like Austria or Hungary,” he said. “When you play with teams like that it pushes you, your level goes higher, higher, higher. That’s what we want to do.

“When we lost against Romania it was really disappointing. I felt at that time the higher division was not as strong as in previous years. If we had been promoted then, maybe we would have been more competitive than five or six years ago.”

So far in Tychy, the promotion push is on track. But Lyszczarczyk is determined to get the job done before thinking about the implications of life at a higher level.

“Promotion is important but we all know that the last game is always the hardest,” he said. “Right now, we have to be ready for that.”