Poland powers to promotion
by Andy Potts|05 MAY 2023
Team Poland celebrates after securing promotion from World Championship Division IA with a 6-2 victory over Romania.
photo: Karl Denham
The fairytale gets its happy ending. Poland wrapped up promotion from Division IA with a 6-2 victory over Romania. Robert Kalaber’s team completed its climb from Division IB to the elite pool in successive seasons, ending a long wait for a return to the top table.

"It's awesome," said forward Alan Lyszczarczyk. "I've been working for this my whole life, we all have. Now the dream has come true for everyone."

Like any good fairytale, though, this had its anxious moments before our heroes could live happily ever after. Poland lost first choice goalie John Murray to a groin injury during the warm-up. That meant a World Championship debut for 22-year-old Maciej Miarka, thrown into his country’s biggest game in two decades after playing just four times for GKS Katowice in the Polish Ekstraliga this season.

"I tried to do everything for the team," the youngster said of his whirlwind debut. "I was always prepared to come in and play. I've worked my whole career to play for my country."

Miarka’s lack of game time was exposed midway through the first period when he was beaten by the first Romanian shot on goal. Pavlo Borysenko came round the back, attracting the attention of the Polish defence. That left Balazs Peter unguarded on the slot to open the scoring after nine minutes.

Now Poland faced the prospect of waiting and hoping for a GB victory over Italy in the final game to secure promotion. But there was still time to save the situation and the Poles enjoyed a clear advantage in first-period possession and shots on goal (11-2). However, the fluent Polish offence we saw earlier in the tournament was disrupted by a hard-working Romanian defence. Amid some near misses, there were also signs of nerves affecting Poland’s play.

"We played a heck of 20 minutes in that first period," said Romania's captain Alper Sallo. "But then we got a penalty at the start of the second and that was really rough for us. We wanted to play five-on-five, that's our strength.

"After that, we made too many mistakes and the game got away from us."

That all changed at the start of the middle frame. When Hugo Gecse handed Poland the first power play of the game, the tying goal was not long in coming. Grzegorz Pasiut fired in a shot from the right-hand dot and, under pressure from Krystian Dziubinski, Toke let the puck through his pads. The Romanian goalie made a big pad save moments later to deny Filip Starzynski, but midway through the frame Poland got in front. Dziubinski brought the puck out of the corner and set up Bartlomiej Jeziorski for a snipe over Toke’s shoulder.

Now the Poles were in control, and when Bartosz Fraszko converted the rebound from a Pasiut shot it was hard to see a way back for Romania. That didn’t stop the outsider from trying to save the game. However, a two-on-zero rush saw Miarka close the door on Peter and then claim an assist after Dziubinski jumped on the loose puck and released Alan Lyszczarczyk. He held off the attentions of Hubor Bors to make it 4-1 at the second intermission.

The third period saw Poland's fans start the promotion party. The team's support has been impressive all week, boosted by the Polish community in England's East Midlands. It's a fair bet they will bring a party atmosphere to Czechia in 2024, not least because Ostrava, one of the host cities, is just 15 km from the Polish border. Not even a second Romanian goal - Balasz Gajdo redirecting a Zoltan Molnar shot with five to play - could subdue the fervent following in red and white.

And those fans had more to cheer in final moments when an empty net goal made it 5-2. Fittingly, captain Dziubinski was the scorer, moving him to a tournament leading 11 (6+5) points in Nottingham. The final word went to rising star Kamil Walega, who completed the scoring in the last minute.

"It's really amazing," said Dziubinski. "Like a bunch of our players, I've been waiting [for Poland to go back to the top division] since I was a kid. "We have some guys on the team who knew it might be their last chance to get us promoted to the top division.

"Now we're going there, and we're going to be ready."

Both teams have reason to pay attention to Friday's remaining games. Romania will hope that Korea can take at least a point from Lithuania and send the Baltic nation down to Division IB. Meanwhile, the Poles would add gold medals to their promotion if Italy defeats Great Britain in tonight's battle for the other promotion spot.
Poland vs Romania - 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A