Poland stuns Italy
by Andy Potts|02 MAY 2023
Poland's players celebrate a goal during their World Championship Division IA victory over Italy in Nottingham, Great Britain.
photo: Karl Denham
We have a three-horse race for promotion! Newly promoted Poland pulled off a huge upset win against top seed Italy to blow the battle at the top of World Championship Division IA wide open.

Tuesday’s 4-2 victory lifts the Poles to seven points, with Italy on six. Great Britain has five, but would jump to the top of the standings with a win over Lithuania this evening. With two game days to come, it all adds up to a thrilling conclusion - especially with Italy to play GB in the final game.

But Poland's head coach Robert Kalaber is refusing to get over-excited. "We still have a lot of work to do," he said after the game. "We have two more games, starting tomorrow. We know Korea is a very good team and we still have to finish the job."

Italy's Alex Petan is also relishing the upcoming challenge. "This is the best part of sport," he said. "We have some work to do, but it makes it a lot of fun for us and for the spectators."

After coming so close to upsetting GB on Sunday, Poland continued to ruffle feathers against top seed Italy on Tuesday. Robert Kalaber’s team continued with its aggressive forechecking style in a bid to throw the Italian offence off its game.

The Italians, impressive in their opening games against the group’s outsiders, faced a different challenge against Poland’s physical game. On this occasion, the Azzurri could not generate the blistering start that blew away Romania and Korea. The first shifts saw plenty of Italian possession but the Poles always looked testing on the counter.

And Poland’s willingness to battle for every puck brought the opening goal in the sixth minute. Radoslaw Galant chased Gregorio Gios into the corner and came back with possession. Getting to the net, he picked out a smart pass to Mateusz Michalski who snapped a shot through traffic to beat Justin Fazio.

"We started very well," Polish captain Krystian Dziubinski said. "We learned from the GB game. We showed Britain too much respect but here we were aggressive and we got close to our opponent."

That was just what the game needed to set up a fascinating contest. Italy, stung, responded quickly. Daniel Mantenuto’s face-off win sent the puck back for Alex Trivellato to rip a bullet of a one-timer into the top corner before John Murray could react.

However, table-topping Italy was unable to build on that goal. And Italian frustration bubbled over at the end of the frame when Tommaso Traversa got himself ejected from the game after aiming a head butt at Bartosz Fraszko after an incident in front of the Polish bench.

"I thought that five minute penalty ruined the flow of our game," said  Petan. "I thought we came out pretty well, we had a lot of energy, but that hurt us."

Dziubinski, meanwhile, is excited by Poland's power play. "What can I say, I love it!" he said. "I have great team-mates, they handle the puck well and that's why we have so many goals on the power play in this tournament."

That power play saw Poland regain the lead with a play straight out of Kalaber’s playbook. Grzegorz Pasiut got the puck to Patryk Wronka on the doorstep and he steered it back to the crease for Dziubinski to score on 22:10.

Italy killed the rest of the major penalty without sustaining further damage and, back at full strength, soon tied the game. Angelo Miceli burst down the left and got the puck back to Alex Petan. He threaded a pass towards Daniel Tedesco, who jumped into the gap between two defenders to slide it past Murray.

But Poland wasn’t done. The teams continued to trade chances and an Italian defensive lapse handed the Poles a chance to go in front for a third time. A wayward clearance from behind the net saw Dziubinski get the puck back to the slot. But this was all about rock-solid play from centre Bartlomiej Jeziorski who stood firm under Thomas Larkin’s attempts to dislodge him from the danger zone. Larkin bounced off the forward, who redirected the puck beyond Fazio to make it 3-2 at the second intermission.

In the third period, Poland had to absorb long spells of Italian pressure. However, Murray remained solid between the piping and not even a penalty on Alan Lyszczarczyk midway through the final stanza could open a path through the Polish rearguard.

Then, with five to play, Dante Honnoun took a tripping penalty to hand Poland a power play chance. Grzegorz Pasiut took full advantage, getting free at the far post to fire an angled shot past Fazio and make it 4-2 with three minutes on the clock.

Italy replaced Fazio with an extra skater 87 seconds before the hooter, but Poland defended in depth to close out a memorable victory - and one that could be the springboard towards back-to-back promotions.

"We're still in the game," Dziubinski concluded.