The Miracle of Katowice
The Miracle of Katowice
Jobczyk scored hat trick vs. Soviets at 1976 Worlds
The win didn’t come in an exhibition game. It didn’t come against the Soviets’ reserve team. It was this month 40 years ago when the then new and futuristic arena in Katowice hosted the 1976 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship and Poland opened the tournament against the then best national team in the world.
The arena opened just five years earlier and Poland got the event because the original host Vienna, Austria, offered to withdraw since Innsbruck filled in for Denver to host the 1972 Olympics.
The Soviet “Red Machine” was virtually unbeatable and won Olympic gold for the fourth time in a row just two months earlier. One of the results en route to gold: a 16-1 win against Poland. The Soviets had won 12 of the 13 last World Championships and starred players like Vladislav Tretiak, Valeri Kharlamov, Boris Mikhailov, Helmuts Balderis, Alexander Yakushev and Alexander Maltsev to name just a few. Poland’s closest score against the Soviets up to that day was an 8-3 loss.
Hockey experts expected nothing else than another loss if not a slaughter and due to the disastrous result two months earlier the Polish authorities decided not to broadcast the game since an embarrassing score against the Soviets was not what they wanted to show on the opening day and they were afraid it could prevent fans from coming to the arena. But 8th April 1976 was set to become the day of a 22-year-old World Championship rookie from local club team Baildon Katowice, Wieslaw Jobczyk, up to that day a relatively unknown forward in international hockey. But that changed in 60 minutes of play.
“Recently many people talked with me about this game,” he said while standing behind the ice of the arena where he wrote history. “It’s been such a long time ago. But I’m happy when with my colleagues I see the game on TV. We really played well. We didn’t shoot a lot on the net but almost every shot went in. The coach told us we should play 0-0 as long as possible. Nobody believed we could win the game. I believe that was in nobody’s head.”
The native of Siedlce 100 kilometres from Warsaw only started to play hockey when he was 12 at a school championship. He fell in love with the sport and joined the local junior team that played in the highest league. He later joined the junior national team and played at the U18 European Championship B-Pool in the Netherlands. After that he was signed by Baildon Katowice to become a professional player.
On 8th April the Polish crowd of 10,000 fans at the Spodek arena went wild when Miczyslaw Jaskierski and Ryszard Nowinski gave Poland a 2-0 first-period lead. The Soviet Red Machine started to run and Mikhailov cut the lead early in the second period. But in Katowice it was the Poles who played in red and like winners. Just two minutes later Jobczyk scored the 3-1 goal in the game of his life. 16 seconds later Jaskierski netted his second goal for the 4-1 lead after 23 minutes of play. But it was still a long time until the end.
“The atmosphere at the arena was fantastic. The Russians always dictated how things have to be in Poland. That’s why people were happier than ever. It was so politic. Many people even thought we were not allowed to win against this team otherwise they would shoot us. But that was not true,” he said with a smile.
With the 4-1 lead the Soviets felt seriously threatened. Coach Boris Kulagin took out number-two goalie Alexander Sidelnikov and brought in Tretiak. Yakushev scored two minutes later but one-and-a-half minutes later Jobczyk made it a 5-2 second-period lead with his second marker of the night.
Only with seven minutes left in regulation time did Kharlamov score the third goal for the Soviets. Like Jobczyk also goalie Andrzej Tkacz had the game of his life and kept the dream alive.
“The moment I always remember is when less than one minute before the end of the game I scored the 6-3 goal and finally we believed that we could win the game. We knew the Soviets are so strong that they could still score three goals in a minute but then it was so late in the game,” he said on his third goal and his second against Tretiak.
“I had luck and good team mates,” he replied immediately on his hat trick. “There was Leszek Kokoszka, who was a fantastic centre and a great skater, Andrzej Zabawa, who was also my teammate for ten years at club level.”
Wieslaw Jobczyk (left) celebrates his team’s final goal during Poland’s astonishing 6-4 victory over the Soviets (and goalie Vladislav Tretiak) in the 1976 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship. Photo: Bengt Dobrin / Kamerareportage
That Kharlamov scored with five seconds left was just a side note while the Polish fans celebrated the biggest win in Polish history up to this day.
The Soviets didn’t recover and had to settle for silver behind Czechoslovakia. Poland had a respectable fifth-place finish in the preliminary round but the ending of the tournament had a sour note since they had to go to the relegation round. Tied in points with Finland and West Germany they were the odd team out and suffered relegation together with East Germany. But also this looks more like a side note four decades later in a tournament that started with the biggest win ever for the Polish national team and a game that remains unforgettable for Polish hockey.
Jobczyk continued to play in Katowice and when the club had financial problems he moved to play for Zaglebie Sosnowiec.
“There was a group that paid the players and I won five championships with them until 1985,” he said. Then he left. In Poland there was a rule that allowed players to leave the country after 13 seasons. “Like that we could finally earn some money. The money we got in Poland was just to survive. It was so little and the inflation was so high that the money was worth half after three months. I signed a two-year contract with Duisburg in Germany and later played in Ratingen and other teams before returning to Poland,” he said.
His six years in Germany helped him for his life after his career as a player since he started to represent a German company for the Polish market. For the last 25 years he has been a businessman representing various industrial component suppliers from all over the world in Poland.
Beside his job he’s also working for Polish broadcaster TVP at hockey games. “It’s more fun than a job for me. Like that I’m still involved with my beloved hockey as an expert or co-commentator,” said Jobczyk, who now lives in Katowice.
Jobczyk, who played in three Olympics and seven World Championships (two in the top division), enjoys seeing the upward trend in Polish hockey.
“For the last two-and-a-half years we could see that the Polish national team has improved. That makes us happy. Last year in Krakow it was really good and we had the possibility to earn promotion. We didn’t manage but we hope we do so this year,” he said.
Now he’s back at the Spodek arena and while hockey fans in 1976 were not able to see him live on TV and could hardly believe their eyes when they saw the score in the newspaper, they can now follow him live commenting on Poland’s opening game against Italy.
“A lot is similar at the arena,” the 62-year-old said while having a look around. “The biggest difference is the big video cube that we of course didn’t have in those days. It’s a miracle that we had such a fantastic building here 40 years ago in Poland as a socialist country.”
It’s no secret that Jobczyk would be more than happy to see the team play in the top division next year in Germany and France, for the first time since 2002.
“Austria is very strong, Slovenia too,” he said about Poland’s opponents at the 2016 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A. “I hope that Poland will beat all the other teams but against Austria and Slovenia it will be very difficult.”
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