While these two nations have the chance to get a second win for their country, Cracovia Krakow would write history for Poland by winning the tournament.
Coming in as lowest seed, Cracovia’s chances have significantly risen after yesterday’s 2-1 win against Kazakh champion Saryarka Karaganda. The Poles are actually just one victory or two points away from winning it all when they play host Aalborg Pirates this evening at 19:00 (live stream available via nordjyske.dk).
Cracovia Krakow represents a long tradition not only in ice hockey. The once royal city was for centuries the capital of Poland and of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth until 1596. The old town and the castle attract many tourists including hockey fans when the city hosted the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A with up to 12,632 spectators at the arena.
Cracovia Krakow is one of the oldest sport clubs in Poland founded in 1906. The ice hockey section of the club was founded in 1923 and brought home 12 Polish championships – all of them either between 1937 and 1949 or between 2006 and 2017.
While Polish ice hockey isn’t top level anymore internationally, the club has also been looking for players and coaches abroad including Czechia with the countries’ border just about an hour’s journey away.
“It’s good for me there. There are a lot of Czech guys, a Czech coach and the Polish language is not too different. It’s a similar mentality. Everything is great in Krakow,” says Jiri Gula, who scored the 2-1 game-winning goal against Saryarka.
It was revenge for the loss on home ice in the preliminary round at the best possible time. “The game wasn’t that different, it felt kind of the same just that we scored one goal more than them. That’s all,” he comments. “It felt nice to score the goal but most important was the win. It’s great for us to get the first win and then we will see.”
Gula is one of eight Czech players on the roster of head coach Rudolf Rohacek, who hails from nearby Czech city Ostrava. The roster also includes – of course – a big fraction of Poles as well as Russians.
For Gula it was a move after having spent his junior and most of his pro career back home at HC Litvinov before looking abroad in 2018 in a journey that brought him to Sheffield (GBR), Trencin (SVK) and eventually Krakow where he’s in his third season.
“I was in Litvinov for a long time, maybe almost too many years. I needed an impulse, a new city, new guys, so I went to Britain. It was good but there were some problems. I played then in Slovakia and then moved to Krakow. It was a good decision. I’m so happy in Krakow,” says Gula, who in his free time likes to have a walk in the city, be outside, relax or visit cafes with his teammates.
Can Cracovia win it all in Denmark? At the last Continental Cup Final two years ago the Poles also played in Denmark where they lost 3-1 to home team SonderjyskE Vojens, which won the tournament thanks to that win.
“We haven’t studied [the Aalborg Pirates] yet but maybe tomorrow,” Gula said last evening. “We played against a Danish club two years ago. I think it will be similar. A tough and fast game.”