As expected, Poland and the Netherlands have each won their first two games of the Women’s Olympic Pre-Qualification Group H in Bytom, setting up a single game to decide advancement on Sunday. That was confirmed following Poland’s 8-1 win over Mexico before a boisterous, drum-beating Friday night crowd.
“We got off to a good start, drew some penalties and mostly played a good game, and so we are satisfied,” said Polish head coach Ivan Bednar.
Urged on by the partisan fans, Poland pressed hard out of the gate and drew an early power play. Thanks in part to a fantastic kick save from goaltender Monica Renteria, Mexico killed that off but the Poles opened the scoring just shy of the four-minute mark when Joanna Strzelecka fired a low slapper through a screen and the legs of the Mexican goalie.
“It was a different kind of game than yesterday,” said Renteria, who was busy for the second night in a row. “Maybe Poland moves the puck faster but Holland took more shots, so I think that was the difference.”
Poland went up 2-0 exactly two minutes later on a play that started with a long pass from Oliwia Tomczok that set-up a 2-on-1 rush. Kamila Wieczorek slid a pass across to Wiktoria Sikorska who was streaking to the far post, and the 18-year-old potted her fourth goal of the tournament.
“I was very happy with my performance,” said Sikorska. “I tried to play together with my teammates and we played really well, I think. It’s really impressive how we can see the quality of the Polish national team going up all the time.”
Poland kept coming in waves, outshot Mexico 18-0 in the opening penalty and forced the Mexicans into taking three more penalties, which resulted in power-play goals by Wieczorek, Ewelina Czarnecka and Klaudia Chrapek to give Poland a 5-0 lead after one, for the second day in a row.
“The first period was a terrible one,” said Mexican head coach Diego de la Garma. “We weren’t mentally prepared for the speed of the Polish team, which is very good, so we gave up five goals and a lot of penalties and that really killed us. But after that, we made a great effort to get back into it.”
The second period was a different story as the Mexicans seemed a lot more composed, both defensively and offensively, and even forced the Poles to take a couple of penalties. They kept Poland from any further scoring until the last three minutes of the period, when Magdalena Lapies converted a rebound to make it 6-0.
But even then, the Mexicans didn’t quit. In the last minute of the middle frame, Giovanna Rojas blocked a shot and then led a rush up the ice. Her initial shot attempt was blocked by a defender, but captain Claudia Tellez picked up the loose puck and, on her backhand, slid it through the pads of Martyna Sass with 36 seconds left. For the second game in a row, Mexico had struck in the final minute of the second period.
The Mexicans would get no closer, however, as Wieczorek and Chrapek each added their second goals of the game in the third period to make it an 8-1 final.
The result sets up the matchup on Sunday afternoon that both teams have had one eye on since before the start: the Netherlands against Poland.
“We practice tomorrow, particularly for the goalkeepers because they need more shots,” said Bednar, “After that, we want to just relax, go to sleep and then win Sunday’s game.”
That will be followed by Mexico and Turkey, where one of them will earn their first win.
“We’ve got a day off and we’ve gotta recover, and then we’ve got to skate and compete and obviously, we want to win that game and go back home with a smile from winning,” said de la Garma. “Hopefully against Turkey we bring our A-game again, and not like the team that played the first period.”