by Stephen Findlater
Dominik Kotulski is hopeful that a youthful Poland side can carry the “winning spirit” from the Under-21 EuroHockey Junior Championships II in July through to the “biggest stage” of their career to date. The 20-year-old is part of a new generation with seven players making their major tournament debut earlier this year at Hockey World League Round 2 in Belfast, Ireland, all of whom went on to play at Under-21 level in St Petersburg. HWL2 was a rough tournament for the new side with half a dozen players entering the competition with five caps or less, ending with a sixth place finish, ending their World Cup hopes.
“It was not easy for us as a team to have those not experienced players in the squad for World League,” Kotulski said. “For seven of us, including me, it was our first big tournament. Of course, we learned a lot from it and now we are stepping up to the new challenges with some experience and bigger confidence. Now, it’s looking better. We are understanding our game plan, feeling better together on and off the field and we’ve learned everyone’s style of play which is also important.”
Since Belfast, a couple of experienced heads from WKS Grunwald Poznan – the country’s leading club – have returned to the panel like Michal Poltaszewski and Michal Kasprzyk. Their return is combined with the growing experience of the young players which should give the world number 20 side a greater chance of challenging the top sides. In St Petersburg, the Under-21s ran up four big wins to reach the final of the tournament and earn promotion. While France beat them to gold, Kotulski said it was an important week for the team.
“Before the tournament, we had clear goal which was promotion and we did it! It’s pretty good experience for us, especially because seven players, including me, are involved in men’s national preparation program. We can bring that winning spirit which can be really important because we all know that we have really good opponents in our group in Amsterdam.”
Finding a higher level is something Kotulski has always strived for, going outside his comfort zone to raise his game. It meant he actively pursued a move to the big leagues, posting an advertisement for his services on the Field Hockey Forum website. It led him initially to Rood-Wit in the Netherlands and then on to Wellington in the Belgian Audi Hockey League.
“We all know that Polish league is not that good as the Netherlands or Belgium. Personally, I really wanted to play on a higher level; I wanted to develop my skills and learn new styles of hockey and I’ve learned a lot . These two years helped me a lot. I’m smarter on the field; I’ve understood how to play top hockey more and have met lots of experienced players and coaches which helped me to put my hockey skills to a higher level and I’m really grateful for that.”
The European Championships promises to be another huge step up for him and his team mates and Kotulski is well aware that they will find it hard to make waves in a group that features Germany, Ireland and England. “It’s going to be really tough group for us and we know it. But when we step on the field, we always want to win; its sport and everything can happen. We respect our opponents but we will play with confidence and belief in our skills!”
He does feel that the tie against Ireland is the best chance that they can cause an upset. They lost to them 5-1 in March but Kotulski feels Poland have made major strides since then. “When we played Ireland at Hockey World League Round 2 in Belfast, we were not dangerous and not organised in defence. In training and test matches, we’ve focused on these aspects and it’s looking way better. If we stick to our game plan 100%, we can win this game. Our whole team is really excited and we are really looking forward to this big tournament. For most of us, it’s going to be the biggest stage in our careers so far. We are working hard and we are focusing on aspects which we have to improve to achieve our goals for this tournament.”