Poland pushes host nation all the way
by Andy Potts|30 APR 2023
Goalscorers Pawel Zygmunt (Poland) and Cade Neilson (Great Britain) battle for possession in World Championship Division IA action in Nottingham, Great Britain.
photo: Karl Denham
Great Britain had to dig deep to see off a huge performance from newly-promoted Poland. Down 1-3 at the second intermission, the Poles tied the game with five minutes to play. Then, after Mike Hammond restored the British lead with 90 seconds on the clock, Poland did it again thanks to a last-minute Bartosz Fraszko goal, awarded after a video review.

That Polish revival was silenced in overtime as GB secured a nerve-jangling 5-4 verdict. Ben Lake finally took Britain one step beyond the Poles, lifting the puck into the net on 62:35. The goal came after good work from Liam Kirk and Nathanael Halbert to exploit the extra space on the power play following Polish goalie John Murray’s trip on Halbert moments earlier.

Pawel Zygmunt, whose goal early in the third period kick-started Poland's fightback, was left with mixed feelings as his team earned the plaudits, but not the points.

"It's nice to hear good things [about our game], but we only have one point," he said. "It would be better if we had three."

In the British camp, goalie Ben Bowns admitted that his team made hard work of it. But he saw plenty of positives from the way the host nation ground out the win.

"It's a sign of a great team when you don't play anywhere near your best but you still win," he said. "That's a huge positive for us, but we have to stay grounded, learn from our mistakes and move on to the next game."

Much like the Korea game, Britain made a fast start. Inside two minutes, the home team had the lead when veteran captain Jonathan Phillips got on the end of Robert Lachowicz’s rush to lift the puck over John Murray’s shoulder.

However, unlike Saturday’s action, an early goal was not a fast track to a straightforward win. Poland showed in its opening game that it boasts some serious firepower of its own. Despite being limited to counterattacks, the Poles showed plenty of menace when they got the puck into the British zone.

An early power play invited Poland to do exactly that, with Bartosz Fraszko and Grzegorz Pasiut producing early testers from Ben Bowns in the British net. And midway through the opening frame, Dominik Pas tied the game when a quick breakaway caught the defence flat-footed. Pasiut threaded the puck between two opponents to find Pas between the hash marks. He advanced on Bowns and picked out the top shelf.

Moments later, Pas had a similar chance to put Poland in front. Bowns denied that one and in the follow up Pawel Dronia took a tripping minor. On the power play, Britain came close to regaining the lead. Murray had to deal with an almighty scramble in front of his net, with Ben Lake prominent, but the experienced goalie did enough to keep the teams deadlocked at the first intermission.

The second period was full of incident. Cade Neilson restored Britain’s lead in the 24th minute with an instinctive snipe to convert Liam Kirk’s feed from the boards. Poland almost hit back immediately when Fraszko made an interception on the blue line and sped down the ice. Josh Tetlow slid in to block the shot, but almost wrong-footed Bowns. The British goalie recovered at the last moment to deny Fraszko on the follow-up.

Polish goalscorer Pas was ejected from the game for boarding after a big hit on Ben O’Connor. Britain turned the major penalty into another goal when Neilson went around the back to return the favour for Kirk to score. That’s the third time those two have combined on GB goals so far in the tournament.

However, while the Brits continued to press on the power play, Poland held firm – and then got a PP chance of its own. Kamil Walega saw his shot come back off the piping and a huge scramble saw Bowns, Ollie Betteridge and David Phillips sprawled across the crease in an effort to keep Poland’s forwards at bay.

"We talked about how we needed to get an early goal," Zygmunt said of Poland's locker room during the second intermission. "We knew that would give us a chance. We got that early goal, but we couldn’t get in front and then in overtime they scored."

The final stanza began with two more Polish power plays. Britain lived dangerously while killing the first and ran out of answers as O’Connor sat out the second. Bartlomiej Jeziorski got the puck to the danger zone, where Walega and Zygmunt had several attempts before stuffing it into the net.

Heavily outshot for two periods, Poland now brought its offence into the game. And those efforts were rewarded on 54:23 when Bartosz Cuira’s break down the left ended with Walega poking the puck home from close range. Tetlow may feel that the forward was able to get to the loose puck too easily as Poland tied the game.

"After they got to 3-3 we just had a lot of positive energy on the bench," Waller said. "In games like that, guys can maybe grip their sticks a bit. So we wanted to stay calm, stay relaxed. We know we've got so many skilled guys who can make the plays." 

That set up a frantic finish between two teams with vocal support in Nottingham. Jeziorski was inching away from putting the Poles ahead when he fired across the face of an open net, but just as the sizeable Polish contingent in the crowd scented an upset win, a British power play changed the momentum of the game.

Mike Hammond grabbed a go-ahead goal from GB on that power play, leaving Poland with 90 seconds to save the game. And Robert Kalabar’s team did just that, with Fraszko’s shot lopping into the net off Bowns’ shoulder to make it 4-4 in the last minute.

However, GB has plenty of experience of last-gasp drama in recent years. "A lot of the guys in that room have dealt with this before," Waller said. "It's nothing new for them, but it shows the character we have, the guys come together and stick together in these situations. We fought through in the end."
Great Britain vs Poland - 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A