Tatar's tricks tame Poles
by Chris Jurewicz|15 MAY 2024

You have to think Poland is getting tired of being close in games but unable to generate much offence.

Following a crucial 4-2 loss to France on Tuesday, Poland was the underdog on Wednesday against Slovakia and dropped another tight one, this time by a 4-0 score. The game was 2-0 until a pair of late Slovakian strikes on a worn-down Polish team.

Moral victories are welcome now and then but Poland would rather just have an actual victory. With one point in four games, the Poles sit dead last in Group B, two points behind Kazakhstan with a game between those two teams coming up on 20 May. The result there could determine which of the two teams face relegation.

"It was a pretty hard first period, it was pretty fast," said Polish captain Krystian Dziubinski. "They play a good level of hockey and we backed off a little. It was 2-0 but, in the second, we were a little bit better, we came out with some chances, but their goalie was pretty good. Third period, we took some risks and we gave up two goals."

With the win, Slovakia vaults past Germany and Latvia into second place in the group with eight points, one behind Sweden.

Tomas Tatar had his fingerprints all over a dominant opening period by the Slovaks. Two minutes in, Lukas Cingel took advantage of a missed deke by Tatar, who drove the net beautifully but lost the handle when he tried to shoot. The puck went right to Cingel who scored on a wide-open net with Polish goaltender Tomas Fucik out of position on the broken play.

With 12 minutes left, Tatar, playing in his seventh World Championship, sped in on a breakaway and got a nice snap shot off that Fucik fought off, one of his 14 saves in the period. Fucik also kicked away a slot shot from Slovakia’s Martin Pospisil for one of his better saves in the first.

Midway through the period, Tatar got his first goal and second point of the game when he re-directed a pass from Simon Nemec on a perfect back-door play. Nemec held onto the puck, drew the attention of several Polish players, and then sent a pass to a wide-open Tatar at the side of the net.

"It’s been great," said Tatar. "We have been working hard and we have a lot of fun together. I’m very happy. It was a team effort and I couldn’t be more grateful for it."

Down two goals, Poland got a powerplay early in the third but, as has been the case throughout Worlds, Poland couldn’t take advantage. With a powerplay mark of 0-for-13, Poland is the only team without a goal on the man advantage.

Hockey pundits will often refer to 2-0 as the worst lead in hockey but, in this case, you never got the feeling Poland could mount a comeback. Slovakia was in control throughout the game, outshooting its opponent 44-20. Samuel Hlavaj stopped everything that came his way for the shutout.

"We played great," said Poland's Marcin Kolusz. "It's always amazing to play a team of this quality. It was a great experience. We need to play up more and get used to the level of play, the higher tempo. We're learning fast, though, and hopefully we'll be a bit better next game."

Fucik had to leave the game at 11:03 of the third when he stopped a hard Peter Cehlarik slapshot and then scrambled to also stop the rebound off the stick of Cingel, staying down for a couple of minutes in obvious pain. David Zabolotny came into the Polish net in relief.

Slovakia sealed the win with goals 12 seconds apart late in the third. First, Cehlarik made it 3-0 when he slid the puck under a diving Zabolotny at 17:22 and, then, Cingel scored his second of the game with a shot through Zabolotny’s five-hole. Tatar had an assist on the goal for this third point of the game.

Slovakia opened Worlds with a disappointing 6-4 loss to Germany and has since rattled off three consecutive victories, including one in overtime over Team USA. Tatar acknowledged the pro-Slovakian crowd on Wednesday in Ostrava.

"It’s amazing. They’re creating a homestand for us, it’s great to play in front of great fans like that," he said. "So many of them came here to support us, all the way from Slovakia, from different cities. It’s been a great experience and I hope they’re enjoying this as much as we do."

Slovakia vs Poland - 2024 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship