Poland relegated following final loss
by Chris Jurewicz|20 MAY 2024
photo: © International Ice Hockey Federation / Matt Zambonin

Poland couldn’t generate enough of a push. Entering the third period tied 1-1 against Kazakhstan and needing a regulation win to avoid relegation from the IIHF World Championship, the Poles simply didn’t do enough to put the Kazakhs on their heels in the final frame.

On the other side, Kazakhstan scored a pair of goals to take control and avoid relegation. Goals by Valeriy Orekhov and Roman Starchenko in the final frame gave Kazakhstan a 3-1 win over Poland. The result means Poland will be relegated down to the Division 1 World Championship in 2025.

The two Kazakh goals came within four minutes. At 10:20, Orekhov walked in from the left point and hammered home the puck top shelf with a screen in front of Polish goaltender John Murray to make it 2-1.

Then, at 14:25, Kazakhstan made it 3-1 with a breakaway goal by Starchenkov, whp was playing in his 50th career game at the Worlds for the Kazakhs.

"We stuck to our game and we knew the goals would come if we played the right way," said Kazakh defender Tamirlan Gaitamirov. "We stuck to our game and did what the coaches said. Thanks to our goalie, thanks to Andrey, if not for him, it wouldn’t have been possible. It’s a big win for us, finally."

Poland generated a late push to try and cut into the lead. With four minutes to play and on a powerplay, Murray came out of the net to give his team a 6-on-4 advantage and the Poles some fight. The Kazakhs killed the penalty but Poland kept the pressure on during a 6-on-5 advantage and almost scored, but Patryk Wronka fanned on a bouncing puck with an empty net to shoot at.

Somehow, an exhausted Kazakhstan side held off Poland’s late, but relentless, attack. With the win, Kazakhstan finishes with six points, currently good for sixth place in Group B but, most importantly, enough to stick in  the top division for another year.

The result will sting for a Polish team that showed fight and resiliency throughout its seven preliminary-round games at this year’s Worlds but couldn’t find enough offence to stick around for another year. This, after the Poles returned to the main tournament for the first time since 2002.

Poland got off to a dream start in the game, taking advantage of a powerplay midway through the first. Coming into the game mired in a 0-for-18 slump with the man advantage, Kamil Walega broke the ugly streak when he got inside position on the Kazakhstan defence and slammed the puck past Andrey Shutov after a nice pass from teammate Alan Lyszczarczyk.

The goal almost blew the lid off Ostrava Arena, with the vast majority of fans in attendance pulling for the Poles.

But it didn’t take long for Kazakhstan to quiet down the crowd. At 12:35, right off a centre ice faceoff win, Nikita Mikhailis rushed into the Polish zone on his off wing, beat a defender and snapped the puck under the blocker of John Murray to make it 1-1. 

"We got the lead and we started the way we like to. The first 10 minutes was good," said Polish captain Krystian Dziubinski. "Then, we were disappointed when we gave up an easy goal. We didn’t really come back from that one.
"It’s very hard. We have an older team and the one generation is coming to an end. But for all these players, this meant everything for us."

Neither team could score in the second period but it was an eventful 20 minutes nonetheless, with both teams getting good looks in close on the goaltenders.

Murray had a rough middle frame as he was run over in two separate incidents by Kazakhstan players. Both plays gave Poland powerplays but it couldn’t convert on either. Murray seemed fine after the contact, though, making a couple of impressive glove saves later in the period.

Shutov, for his part, made two highlight-reel saves in the last minute of the frame to keep the score tied. Poland’s Krystian Dziubinski one-timed a puck that Shutov quickly reacted to and stopped and, on the rebound, Polish defender Maciej Kruczek unloaded a cannon from the point that Shutov kicked away.
Shots were 11-11 in the second with Poland holding a 16-15 edge over the first 40 minutes. Final shots were 24-22 for Poland.

Fighting back tears, Dziubinski sent a special message to the Polish supporters who travelled to neighbour Czechia throughout the Worlds.

"I want to thank all the fans who came all the way from different cities. They supported us," he said. "They keep us alive every game. We fight for them and we’re very happy. We brought new hockey fans to Poland and I really hope they come to every game in the Polish national league. We’re getting better and better and we give all the heart we have."