A Tale of Two Cracovias

Cracovia Hockey Blows Out Another Rival to String Together Eight Victories

While still playing before relatively sparse early-season crowds at their home on Siedleckiego, Cracovia hockey has made it clear that they are in it to win in this year’s Polish Championships, and with eight consecutive wins behind them, they will be heading to the Netherlands fired up to vie for the Continental Cup against top teams from Spain, Estonia, and the Netherlands.

The club’s most recent victory was an impressive 6-2 shooting spree against KH Zagłębie Sosnowiec, which started out looking fairly evenly matched, until the Cracovia offence dismantled the Sosnowiec game plan by simply out-skating and out-passing their opponents, leaving the Silesian side exhausted after the first stanza.

The Sosnowiec coach, Krzysztof Podsiadło, said after the match, “We only played the first 20 minutes. During that time, we carried out the tactical plan that we established before the match. In the second and third periods it stopped working. There is only one reason I can see – we ran out of energy. Why? We’ll be looking into that among our coaching staff.”

The Cracovia hockey squad is clearly firing on all cylinders, outscoring all opponents well over two to one, with 59 goals for and 24 against, with both totals the best of any team in the league. A huge advantage for Cracovia this year has been depth, as five players from their top two lines figure in the top 20 league points leaders, and all three lines are goal scoring threats.

That success will be put to the test this weekend, as the team travels to play in the second round of the IIHF continental cup against the home team, a tournament for the top ice hockey clubs outside of the best seven European leagues. Cracovia will be competing in group B for a shot at last year’s champs, the Salzburg Red Bulls. The other group B sides are the Tilburg Trappers (NED), Kohtla-Järve Viru Sputnik (EST), and CH Jaca (ESP). While the Dutch and Spanish squads are perennial contenders in their own leagues, the Estonian side has been playing in the Latvian league since the credit collapse devastated the Estonian economy and pushed the country’s rinks into bankruptcy.

Cracovia went down in the semi-finals of the Continental Cup last year to the eventual cup winners, and was defeated in the league finals after a dominating season by a tenacious but bankrupt Podhale side.

Four Points’ Worth of Wretched Football

For the football side, the time to bask in the glow of the opening of the brand spanking new stadium is over as the grim realities of the club’s position continue to worsen. After losing to Ruch Chorzów on Sunday, Cracovia has confirmed its position at the bottom of the Ekstraklasa table, already making a credible case for relegation at this early stage in the season. After showing a glimmer of progress in matches against Arka Gdynia and KGHM Zagłębie Lublin in the previous weeks, the Chorzów loss leaves them with a meagre four points to show for their work so far.

Coach Rafał Ulatowski pointed out that this was the third of four home matches in which they lost by conceding three goals with two to their credit. “We seem to be back to square one when it comes to defensive play. We all felt that our four last matches were steps in the right direction – we played with confidence on defence and as a result we had three clean sheets, and in the fourth (club friendly) match against TSV (1860 Munich), we shot in an own goal against ourselves. It turns out, however, that we are a team that gives up three goals to lose another match.”

With a record that is as dismal as the ice hockey squad’s is strong, KS Cracovia’s football side has some soul searching to do. This ugly outset for the fall season follows a summer in which Cracovia owner Janusz Filipiak poured a reported 4.5-5 million złoty into transfers, focusing heavily on foreign players. As a result, Cracovia brought in seven new faces, shuffling the squad and creating a team of mercenaries without chemistry. Filipiak had hailed the team’s retooled defence as the best in Poland, but they are still averaging two goals against per match, and leading the league in that dubious category with a total of 18 conceded goals.

Having risen back to the top tier after a year in the second division in 2004-2005, Cracovia performed unexceptionally until 2008-2009, despite being in the penultimate position when the season ended, when they were unexpectedly rescued from stepping down because the third-to-last club was sent down on corruption charges. The circumstances of the miraculous rescue are now under investigation.

The red-and-whites got off to a rough start last year as well, with only one win in the first 14 rounds, and an unexpected 1-0 victory against eventual champions Lech Poznań in round four. By the winter break, however, they reversed their fortunes and ended the season well out of the relegation zone.

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