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Poland goes perfect in IIHF Women's Debut

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There are some positives in the women's hockey world to speak of this year, as three countries made their IIHF debut last week in the Women's World Championships Division 5 tournament.  It's the first ever time the WWC format has been extended to six different tournaments, now matching the amount of IIHF run senior men's tournaments (although with less teams participating).  

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this tournament was the simple fact that none of the participants had ever won a game at an IIHF World Championship or Olympic Qualifying tournament before.  Turkey had participated in two previous Division IV tournaments (2007, 2008) and lost every game in both years.  Bulgaria infamously made their international debut by being allowed to participate at the lowest Olympic Qualifying tournament, which was essentially a Division II level tournament.  They scored only one goal in that tournament and gave up an embarassing 192, including an 82-0 thrashing at the hands of eventual Olympic participant Slovakia.  So in all the tournaments that the teams had participated in, they had only received the minimum amount of points the IIHF were handing out for their World Ranking.  

Usually, in a tournament like this, there will be one team that goes without a win in the tournament, so unfortunately not everyone can now boast of an international win, but it did seem important to add this level of participation.  If the levels are kept to five teams, the costs of hosting a tournament (an issue in the past) are kept to a minimum and the possibility of blowouts is similarly reduced.  But this year, the possibility for blowouts was very real, as none of the teams had played each other in international competition before.  

Poland's international debut was probably long overdue.  According to the 2010 IIHF Survey of Players, Poland had 374 registered female hockey players, which put them ahead of nations like Russia and Slovakia who were at the Olympics in terms of total players, and a good 114 more than Turkey who were second most at this Division V tournament (Spain had 63, Ireland 39, and host Bulgaria just 27).  Much like Kyrgyzstan did at the recent Asia Winter Games Premier Division tournament, Poland rolled over the countries in their first ever tournament.  They won their first international match 23-0 over Ireland, followed by beating Bulgaria 19-0, and finishing with a 14-0 win over Turkey.  The one game that mattered most was apparently Spain, who also had an easy tournament with three shutout wins.  Poland needed overtime to beat Spain, despite outshooting them 37-25 for the game, and 19 year old Karolina Pozniewska supplied the heroics with her second goal and third point of the game on eight shots.  

Youth was another factor for Poland at this tournament:  their oldest players were late 1985 birthdates, meaning their entire team ranged in age from 18-25.  Pozniewska was named the tournament's top forward, so the pool of talent for Poland looks encouraging as they move up to Division IV next year.  Its unknown how large of a format they will make the Olympic Qualification tournament for next year, but if Poland shows they are superior to the Division IV competition they might be worthy of consideration for participation in that tournament.  As long as participation continues to increase and their national federation provides the financial support to see it through, there is no reason why Poland can't make the quick gains that Slovakia has seen in their women's program.

Women's hockey is ripe for the taking in Europe.  With proper investment and promotion of the sport at a grassroots level, any of these five countries could experience rapid growth.  For now, Spain will have to wait a year for likely promotion to Division IV, while Bulgaria will have to be satisfied with their first IIHF win (2-1 over Turkey) as well as Turkey (3-0 over Ireland).  Ireland will just have to work harder to improve:  they finished the tournament without scoring a goal and allowing 43 in four losses.  

Here's the IIHF's tournament recap and tournament home page.