Opening day victories for Poland and Ukraine
by Henrik MANNINEN|08 FEB 2024
photo: © Michal Chwieduk / Polish Ice Hockey Federation / IIHF
Poland and Ukraine both blanked their respective opponents 4-0 during the first day of the 2023 Men’s Olympic Ice Hockey Qualification Round 3, Group J in Sosnowiec, Poland.

In the penultimate round of qualifiers for the 2026 Olympics in Milan-Cortina, tomorrow will see Estonia take on Korea while Poland will entertain Ukraine.

POLAND 4 ESTONIA 0 (0-0, 2-0, 2-0)

Filip Komorski and Mateusz Michalski set the tone for Poland with a goal each in the middle frame. Dominik Pas and Jakub Wanacki then added another couple for Robert Kalaber´s men to send the pre-tournament favourites to a victorious start on home ice.

With Poland stamping their authority on the game throughout the first period, Estonia´s Villem-Henrik Koitmaa had to be at his best stopping all 15 shots he faced in the opening 20 minutes.

But with Poland upping the tempo in the middle frame they were rewarded for the offensive endeavour at 27:35. Born five months after Poland most recently skated at the Winter Olympics in Albertville 1992, Michalski picked out Komorski with a back-door pass as Poland went ahead. The Warsaw-born forward who missed out on Poland´s promotion campaign to the 2024 World Championship last spring, needed two attempts to beat Koitmaa.

At the other end, Poland´s netminder David Zabolotny enjoyed a fine game in his Olympic qualifying debut saving all Estonia´s 11 shots. Following daredevil defensive play by captain Krystian Dziubinski, he had to be at his best when Estonian Nikita Puzakov´s one-timer in the slot forced a fine save from the 29-year-old. Poland then charged ahead to double their lead. The initial shot from Mateusz Zielinski was saved by Koitmaa before Michalski reacted ahead of Estonia´s Nikita Fedorovits to double the lead at 31:02.

Estonia who had breezed through the previous qualification round in Iceland´s Reykjavik, had added nine new members to their roster for the third round. Two of those combined as Estonia went close just before the buzzer went for the second frame. On a two-on-one breakaway, Morten Jurgens charged down the left and picked out Rooba forcing a save from Zabolotny.

Poland stretched their lead at 41:22 when an Oskar Jaskiewicz drive from the point was tipped home by Pas for 3-0. With Poland now firmly in control, Poland added a fourth of the afternoon when from right dot, Wanacki zipped a wrister high on the blocker side past Koitmaa with 53 seconds left.
photo: © Michal Chwieduk / Polish Ice Hockey Federation / IIHF

KOREA 0 UKRAINE 4 (0-1, 0-1, 0-2)

Despite being six places below their opponents on the 2023 World Ranking, Ukraine upset Korea on a memorable night in Sosnowiec.

Vadym Mazur, Olexi Vorona, Andri Denyskin and Danil Trakht all tallied for Ukraine. Eduard Zakharchenko enjoyed an inspiring display and a shutout blocking 31 shots.

It also marks a winning start for one of Ukraine´s finest players, Dmytro Khrystych in his debut as head coach of the national team.

At 14:10, Ukraine drew first blood. Vadym Mazur poached on a crack in the Korean rearguard. Charging towards Korea´s net from the left, he held off Seungjae Lee to cooly slot home a backhand finish.

Six years after hosting the 2018 Olympic Winter Games, five players remain on the current Korean roster skating in Poland.

But reliving those heady days appears to become an uphill struggle. Ukraine went two goals in front early in the second frame. Outmuscled by its opponent, Korea failed to get the puck out of its own zone. Denys Borodai held off his opponents along the left boards and fed Vorona in the slot with plenty of time to cooly dispatch Ukraine´s second at 22:10. 

Korea´s netminder Yeonseung Lee made his debut in Olympic qualification at the age of 28. At 33:24 he kept Korea in the game when saving Olexander Peresunko's penalty shot with a fine left pad save after captain Igor Merezhko had been hooked when clear through on the net.

Winning the shots 31-22, Korea lacked the cutting edge in front of the Ukrainian net. At 49:31 Ukraine showed how it is done. A Pylyp Pangelov-Yuldashev shot from the point saw the burly Denyskin dispatch a rebound at 49:31 for 3-0.

Danil Trakht added further gloss to the win with his powerplay wrister with ten minutes remaining. followed by Lee in Korea´s net being replaced by debutant Jung Ho Ha.