Poles close to promotion dream
by Andy Potts|03 MAY 2023
Poland's Bartlomiej Jeziorski celebrates after scoring his team's second goal on Korea in World Championship Division IA action.
photo: Adam Gouldson
Poland’s fairytale tournament continues – and after victory over Korea, the Division IA newcomer is one win away from a happy ending to its promotion campaign.

Two goals from Grzegorz Jeziorski and a four-point game from Alan Lyszczarczyk (1+3) paced a 7-0 verdict for the Poles in Wednesday’s early game. Krystian Dziubinski (two), Kamil Walega and Marcin Kolusz also found the back of the Korean net. With promotion rivals Great Britain and Italy set to meet on Friday, a Polish win over Romania would secure back-to-back promotions for Robert Kalaber’s team and seal a place in next year's top division. That would be the first time in the elite since 2002.

Despite a comfortable final score, Kolusz dismissed any suggestion that this was a routine victory. "We used up a lot of energy yesterday and then Korea played well in the first period," he said. "They had lots of chances to score. But then after we got a couple of goals we started to play better."

Korea came into this game lifted by its victory over Romania on Tuesday. That result gives the Asian nation a great chance of retaining its place in this division as it continues its transition to a post-PyeongChang generation. Against Poland, that also meant a competitive start from a team playing under less pressure than at the start of the tournament.

However, while the Koreans can move the puck prettily and at pace, they often lack a cutting edge. Poland did not quite reproduce the high-octane forecheck that disrupted Italy less than 24 hours earlier, but enjoyed a physical advantage and took a more direct route to goal.

That saw Lyszczarczyk break the deadlock midway through the first period. He exchanged passes with Pawel Zygmunt, turned sharply to wrong-foot defender Hyoseok Jee, then wired in a wrister from the top of the circle to beat Matt Dalton.

Korea's problems increased when Young Jun Lee fell heavily into the boards after a collision with Dominik Pas. He was helped off the ice and after the game team-mate Hyeongcheol Song suggested he had suffered a fracture in the incident.

Things got even better for the promotion-chasing Poles in the last minute of the opening frame. Korea lost possession in its own zone, Dziubinski dished the puck of to Bartosz Ciura and his shot cannoned off the back boards for Jeziorski to shoot home the second goal.

In the second period, penalty trouble saw Korea fall away. Midway through the session, Seungjae Lee got a double minor for high sticking and saw Poland score two. The first came on a tic-tac-toe play, with Walega and Pawel Zygmunt combining to set up Jeziorski’s second of the game. Then Walega’s snipe made it 4-0 and took the game away from Korea.

Although Korea isn’t usually noted as a physical team, rising frustration saw Don Ku Lee grappling on the floor with Filip Starzynski, ushering in more penalty trouble late in the middle frame. He was back on the ice, but his place in the box was taken by Ingyo Oh and Dziubinski claimed another power play goal when his feed for Zygmunt was deflected into the net by a Korean defender.

"We took too many penalties and that's a big reason why we lost," Song reflected. "But it's gone now and we have to prepare for the next game."

The Poland power play has been devastating in Nottingham, producing 10 goals with a conversion rate of 62.5%. Lyszczarczyk, who was a constant threat on the Polish offence, emphasized that a no-frills approach was the key. "We play simple," he said. "We try to shoot from everywhere. That's a plan that's worked for us, and we'll stick with it."

At the start of the third period, Korea sent goalie Yeonseung Lee into the game in place of Matt Dalton. For the 28-year-old, it was the first time on World Championship ice after serving as an unused back-up in 2018 and 2019.

Lee was beaten twice, by Kolusz in the 53rd minute and a Dziubinski penalty shot with six minutes to play. At the other end, Korea went in search of a consolation goal or two. Jin Hui Ahn went close to redirecting the puck beyond Murray midway through the session, but the Polish goalie finished with 20 saves for his second shut-out in four games here.

While Poland prepares for one last promotion push when it faces Romania on Friday, Korea’s survival is in its own hands. Anything better than a regulation time loss to Lithuania on the final day will preserve Division IA status, while even a defeat may not be fatal depending on other results.
Korea vs Poland - 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A