How is this possible? A team that hasn’t been there for 22 years has qualified for the World Hockey Championship

By | May 11, 2024

The Polish national ice hockey team has demonstrated remarkable progress over the past two years, culminating in their promotion to the elite division for the 2024 World Championship, set to be held in Prague and Ostrava, Czech Republic. This feat was achieved through their successful performance at the previous year’s World Championship in Division I.

In the World Championship Division I, typically twelve national teams participate—nine from Europe and three from Asia. According to the tournament regulations, the twelve teams are split into two groups, A and B, each consisting of six national teams with varying objectives. The two strongest teams from Group A advance to the elite division the following year, while the last-place team moves down to Group B, and the winner of Group B moves up to take their place.

Poland’s rise began in 2022 when the team topped Group B of Division I, securing their place in Group A the following year. In Group A, Poland primarily competed against teams from Italy and Great Britain, both of whom had been relegated from the top division following the 2022 World Championship. Other contenders included teams from South Korea, Romania, and Lithuania, with the tournament being held in Nottingham, England.

Poland quickly distinguished themselves along with the British team. The pivotal match for the Polish team occurred on the third day of the tournament, where they defeated Italy 4-2. The following day, they recorded a resounding 7-0 victory over South Korea, and then clinched their advancement with a convincing 6-2 win against Romania. Ultimately, with 13 points from five matches and only one defeat to Great Britain (4-5 OT), Poland secured their place in the elite division for the 2024 World Championship from the second place in Group A, alongside Great Britain.

Key players and the head coach of the Polish team were instrumental in this achievement. The top scorer of the 2023 World Championship in Division I Group A was Polish forward Krystian Dziubinski, who scored 11 points (6 goals and 5 assists) in five matches. A veteran of the team, Dziubinski debuted in international play in 2008 and has mostly competed in the Polish league throughout his career, with a brief stint in Belarus playing for HC Neman Grodno in the 2020/2021 season.

Another standout player was 36-year-old forward Grzegorz Pasiut, who was the third top scorer and the leading assist provider of the tournament. Like Dziubinski, Pasiut’s career has been predominantly in Poland, with a brief period playing for HC Neman Grodno.

The main goaltender for Poland was another veteran, 36-year-old John Murray, who had undergone naturalization. Born in Lancaster, USA, Murray’s career peaked with a couple of matches at the AHL level, and he moved to Europe in 2013 to play in Poland.

The team’s promotion to the elite was orchestrated under the guidance of Slovak coach Kristian Kalaber, a 54-year-old who began his coaching career in Slovakia but moved to Poland in 2014. He first coached the Bulgarian national team from 2017 to 2019 before taking over the Polish team in 2020, leading them to their significant success three years later.

Poland’s ice hockey history includes notable achievements like a second place at the European Championship in 1929 and fourth places at the 1931 World Championship and the 1932 Olympics. The team has participated in the Olympic Games 13 times, the last being in 1992. Poland’s last participation in the elite division of the World Championship was in 2002, when they failed to win any of their preliminary round matches and were relegated to a lower division. The return to the top division in 2024 marks a significant achievement for Polish hockey, providing a rewarding culmination for the dedicated careers of players like Dziubinski and Pasiut.

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