The NHL Players Who Played In Poland. Part 1

The National Hockey League is the premier hockey league of the world. A height that almost all hockey players strive to reach, with the hope of playing at least one NHL game. The Polska Hokej Liga is far far away from the NHL. They are at two opposite ends of the hockey spectrum. Only three players have appeared in Poland and then made it to the NHL. For them, it is an honor and a massive sign of their career reaching a possible peak. On the opposite end, there are quite a few more players that soaked in the NHL life before having to ride the bus across Poland in the twilight of their career. Today we take a look at the NHL players who played in Poland. 

The Polish prince Mariusz Czerkawski was the first ever to have the honor of playing in both leagues. As a junior, he played with GKS Tychy in the PHL. His junior career in Poland included a 24 game 40 point season that resulted in the Boston Bruins drafting him in the fifth round of the 1991 NHL entry draft. He would spend the next three years in Sweden before making the jump to North America at the end of 1994, making an immediate impact by posting three points in the first four games. The playmaking winger then added six more points in thirteen playoff games. Czerkawski would play 787 NHL games recording 223 goals and 227 assists for the Boston Bruins, Montreal Canadiens, New York Islanders, and Toronto Maples Leafs. After leaving the NHL, he would spend two years in Switzerland’s National League with the Rapperswil-Jona Lakers. The Polish prince would play one last game in Poland for GKS Tychy during the 2008 season before retiring. Since then, he has served as a team manager for the Polish national team while also working as a TVP Sports commentator. 

In 1990 Poland had their only two NHL players, both playing in the PHL. Both Oliwa and Czerkawski suited up in that year. After Czerkawski left for the NHL, Krzysztof Oliwa left the NHL prospect sized whole in the GKS Tychy lineup. The 6’5 physical forward left Poland the following year to play for the Welland Cougars in Canada. His performance got him quite a bit of attention, and he was drafted in the third round of the 1993 draft by the New Jersey Devils. Following the draft, he would jump straight to the professional ranks. Oliwa would fight his way around the minors until 1996 when he made his NHL debut. He became a full-time NHL player the following year. He would win a Stanley Cup in 2000 with the Devils, being the only Polish player to win a cup. During the 2005 NHL lockout, Oliwa returned to Poland, playing in two playoff games for Nowy Targ. He returned to the Devils following the lockout, playing three games before being sent down to the minors, where he chose not to report and retired instead. In total, the Polish Hammer played in 442 NHL games, recording 19 goals, 28 assists, 1,494 penalty minutes, and 180 fights. Since retiring, he has coached both in Poland and junior hockey in the United States. 

Tomáš Jelínek was a pretty distinguished player in the Czech Republic. He played most of his career in the Tipsport Extraliga and made sporadic appearances for the Czechoslovakia national team. In 1991, he went to Finland and recorded above a point per game season, later heading to Switzerland’s second league playoffs to double his game total in points for HC Sierre. This got him noticed by the Ottawa Senators, who would draft him in the 11th round of the 1992 draft. The Czech winger would head right over and appear in 49 games, putting up thirteen points (7G-6A-13PTS) as a 30-year-old NHL rookie. He would return to the Senator’s system the following year, playing for their AHL affiliate in a couple of games but return to Europe shortly afterward. After a couple more years in the Czech Republic, he found himself on the SMS I Warszawa roster for a pre-season tournament. His only hockey action in Poland. Following the tournament, he played in the Czech third league for what would be his final season. He was the first to go all the way from the NHL’s bright lights to Poland. Since retiring, he has worked behind the scenes, including as a scout for the Calgary Flames. 

Tomáš Jelínek’s Upper Deck card from his lone NHL in 1992-1993

SMS I Warszawa was just looking for all the big-name talent they could get for this preseason tournament as their goalie for it was Milan Hnilička. Hnilička was already a solid starting goalie in the Czech Republic at 17 years-old. This led to the New York Islanders taking him in the fourth round of the 1991 NHL draft. The young goalie went over to America for a couple of years in the Western Hockey League and minors but would return to the Czech Republic in 1996. Once again, he established himself as one of the best goalies in the league. The Litomerice native led the league for save percentage in 1998, the same year he won an Olympic gold medal. His success made the NHL come calling, and in 1999 he signed with the New York Rangers. Before he could do that, he had to do something more meaningful. Play a PHL pre-season qualification tournament for  SMS I Warszawa. Cracovia Krakow qualified over them. Despite his failure to help Warszawa advance, the New York Rangers still brought him to the big leagues. His success came with him as he won a Calder Cup for their AHL franchise in year one. Hnilička would play 121 NHL games with the Atlanta Thrashers, Los Angeles Kings, and New York Rangers. He would return to dominating the Czech League in 2004 and did so until he retired in 2010. His trophy case was pretty full with one Olympic gold, three World Championship golds, one world silver, one Olympic bronze, and three world bronze medals at the end of his career. He also won champions in the AHL, Russia, and the Western Hockey League. He has worked behind the hockey scenes as the general manager for various Czech national teams after retiring. 

It wouldn’t be till four years later when the next former NHLer appeared. This happened when Podhale added Jason Lafrenière for a short cup of kawa plujka. Lafrenière was a second-round draft pick of the Quebec Nordiques in 1985. A standout in the Ontario Hockey League, he had made the NHL jump after one more season the juniors. He recorded 29 points in 40 points. Despite strong offensive production, he would mostly spend a lot of time in the International Hockey League. After 1994, Lafrenière would start to become a journeyman player with multiple stops in Germany and the United Kingdom. He had one-offs or even just a couple of games in Austria, Central Hockey League, Italy, Netherlands, Spain,  and the West Coast Hockey League. That would lead to him signing in Poland with Podhale Nowy Targ for the 2004 season. He would play two games, recording one assist and one penalty, then promptly retire.

Lafrenière would be the last time a former NHL player would step foot in the PHL until Czerkawski and Oliwa came to play their final PHL games before retiring. It is a weird group of former NHL players compared to the next decade. Two of them are the most influential and prominent players in Polish hockey history. While the other three combined for at most eight games. The next five years would bring more former NHL players into Poland, some fresh out of the NHL even. 

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One Young Player To Watch on Every PHL Team

The PHL season is fully underway. With plenty of teams facing a COVID-19 related cut to their roster. This left plenty of roster spaces open for young players to earn. COVID-19 also caused PZHL U23 to be left out of the plans for the hockey year. It also left many players without a way to play a sizable amount of games in the PHL, which is an excellent development experience. If a player were going to get meaningful minutes in the PHL, they would have to prove it to their clubs’ coach that they are ready to contribute in the league.

I think those conditions make it the perfect time to check in on the young talent for each PHL club. I also am setting a goal to pick players that are not as traditionally regarded as a top player. Sure Dominik Pas is a great young player, but he has also been in the PHL for years now. So I am setting a rule of less than 50 PHL games coming into the year.

Cracovia KrakowPatryk Gosztyla. In the past couple of years, Krakow started to make an apparent effort in bringing in young talent. Gosztyla was part of that initial group. The 6’2 defensemen got a bit lost in the shuffle in 2019 after returning to Poland from the Slovak junior system. This year though, he has cemented himself as part of the Krakow defensemen lineup, already topping his games played total from last year. The 20-year-old also has posted five points (1G-4A-5PTS) in six games in the Polish second league. Honorable Mention: Igor Augustyniak

GKS Tychy – Kacper Gruźla. Gruźla had a breakout year last year in the Polish second league. This earned him a long term spot with PZHL U23 and an appointment to the Polish U20 squad. This year he has run with it playing in six games for GKS Tychy. Since then, he has already impacted the boxscore, recording two goals and two assists. If the 6’1 forward continues his upward trend, he could find himself with a larger PHL and national team role. Honorable Mention: Jan Krzyżek

JKH GKS Jastrzębie – Dawid Wróblewski. Jastrzebie has the most young talent of any team in Poland. With that, a lot of the talent has already played more than 50 games, as a lot of the talent has long been promoted to the PHL. Wróblewski saw a lot of action across different Polish junior teams putting up solid production wherever he went. This year, with Jastrzębie not having a team in Poland’s second league, the 6’4 forward was loaned to Polonia Bytom. There he has put up six goals and six assists in eight games. He should be able to start trying to force his way into the Jastrzebie roster. Honorable Mention: Marcin Płachetka

KH GKS Katowice – Maciej Miarka. Miarka joined the Katowice squad after seeing the logjam of goalies in Jastrzebie. In Katowice, the former Poland U18 and U20 goalie should play quite a few games in the PHL this year. In Katowice, the Łódź native will be backing up veteran Slovakian goalie Juraj Šimboch. So far, in two PHL games this season, the 6’1 goalie has a .912 SV%. Including stopping all seven shots, he faced in relief against defending champs GKS Tychy. Honorable Mention: Marcin Wyśnik

KH Energa Toruń – Oskar Bajwenko. Before we knew if this hockey year would go on at all, Toruń had a team mostly of junior players with a few imports and returning veterans. One of the few junior players from that group to earn a contract was Oskar Bajwenko. Bajwenko is a smaller defenseman but not afraid to go into the corners and get physical. He has received a small amount of junior national team consideration. He is a project. He could develop into a tremendous physical defenseman with two-way abilities. He has only played in one game so far in the PHL, but with the start the club has had this season, it is understandable they may not want to change up the lineup. Honorable Mention; Filip Mazurkiewicz

Podhale Nowy Targ – Ernest Bochnak. Nowy Targ came into this season, emphasizing finding new Polish talent and has already tried out quite a few new young players. This includes Ernest Bochnak. Bochnak comes over after time in the Czech and Finnish junior systems. Last year he played most in the third level of Czech hockey, recording two goals and four assists in twenty-two games. Bochnak has long been one of the best Polish junior players. He now has a chance to show that in Podhale. Through eight games, he has two points notching both a goal and an assist. Honorable Mention: Fabian Kapica

Stoczniowiec Gdansk – Michał Zając. I have many feelings about the club and how they will be as a place for developing young talent. The team will undoubtedly provide a lot of value to young players in terms of ice time. Zając is taking advantage of that, playing in each of the team’s games so far. In those ten matches, he has recorded one goal and three assists. This matches his production from last year with PZHL U23 but in a much smaller role. He is making the most of his opportunities. The 6’1 forward would have easily made the Polish U20 squad if not for COVID. Honorable Mention: Bartosz Wołoszyk

STS Sanok – Jakub Bukowski. Sanok is one of the youngest teams in the PHL, leaving many options for this choice. For their pick, I went with Jabuk Bukowski as he is probably the most pro hockey ready. He showed up well in the pre-season and has done well so far in the regular season. He has three goals and one assist. His point total is tied for third on Sanok. The talented forward showed a lot of potential in smaller Czech and Swiss leagues and now has a great chance to show his skills in Poland. He has been given many top line chances in Sanok, giving him an excellent opportunity to develop further. Honorable Mention: Maciej Witan

Unia Oswiecim – Sebastian Lipiński. While I tried to pick less known players for this list, the gap between Lipiński and the rest of the Oswiecim roster was too big. Lipiński is one of the best young goaltenders Poland has seen in a long time, with few rarely even able to play the amount of PHL games he has at his age. So far, in his lone game this season, he posted a 15 save shutout vs. Gdansk. Honorable Mention: Patryk Kusak

Zaglebie Sosnowiec – Marcel Kotuła. Sosnowiec is another team packed with a lot of young talent, but most of their young talent are seasoned veterans of the PHL. As mentioned in Lipinski’s paragraph, young goalies don’t get those chances in the PHL. This season Marcel Kotuła will compete with 24-year-old Michal Czernik for reps. Last year Kotuła led all goalies in save percentage for the Polish first league. So far through four games between the PHL and Polish first league, he has a .917 SV% along with one shutout. Honorable Mention: Szymon Luszniak

Taking A Closer Look At Poland’s 2020-21 EWHL Roster

Last year Poland made their debut in the European Women’s Hockey League as the Silesia Brackens. This was a great chance to grow women’s hockey in Poland and improve both established and young national team members. The way the team functions also allows for plenty of players to get chances. Last year 26 players suited up in at least one of the team’s 18 games. The Brackens finished sixth in the league. Just a couple wins out of the playoffs. Now in 2020, after a COVID delay, Poland’s top women team kicks off play with two games this weekend. The team comes into the year with a new name as Metropolis Katowice, and a new coach in Tomasz Marznica. Former head coach, Ivan Bednar is staying on as an assistant and advisor to the national team. Marznica has named his initial roster for the year, so with that let us take a look.

2020-21 Metropolis Katowice Roster

This team can be considered a potential national team roster. While we didn’t get to see last year how many players from the EWHL squad would play for the national team. The team does mostly include the national team and u18 squad regulars. Plus, this is an excellent chance for Tomasz Marznica to scout new talent with the same national team coaching staff.

Forwards

Alicja Kopciara (17). Kopciara had a down year on both the international and PLHK level. She remains a strong contender to be a key producer in Poland’s future. Her goal-scoring prowess would be a massive help to team Poland and Metropolis Katowice. She ranked 24th on our top 30 U20 list.

Alicja Mota (16). Despite being only 15 at the time, Mota made her second U18 appearance this year. She has a lot of potential to be a great forward for Poland. She needs to keep growing but would have been a massive contributor to the U18 squad this year. It will be interesting to see how she performs in a stronger competition like the EWHL. She was ranked 23rd on our top 30 U20 list.

Alicja Siejka (20). The Gdansk forward had one of the best years in the PLHK last year, recording 26 points. She also made her EWHL debut playing two games. Siejka’s ceiling is likely a middle-six forward for Poland but is already a pretty well-established part of the national team forward group at just 20-years-old.

Ewelina Czarnecka (30). One of Poland’s most reliable veterans on the offensive end. Czarnecka is likey to split her time between the EWHL and the top league in Slovakia. Last year she posted two goals and nine assists in thirteen EWHL games.

Ida Talanda (17). Talanda was going to be one of the most crucial players to the Polish U18 squad. Last year, she only played in one EWHL game. I expect that total to increase by a lot this year. She had a great rookie year in the PLHK and missed being a point per game player by one point. The Krynica native was ranked thirteenth on our top 30 U20 list.

Iga Schramm (18). Schramm had one of the most impressive outings at the U18s. Add in a solid season for Poznań, and she was rewarded with a deal in the top Swiss league, the SWHL A. Her deal in Switzerland will probably mean her EWHL games are pretty limited, but either club will be fantastic for her development.

Joanna Orawska (22). Orawska continues to prove herself on larger stages. Last year she played in the top women’s league in Slovakia and with Poland in the EWHL. In the two leagues combined, she posted 22 points (13G, 9A, 22 PTS) in 29 games. Her 11 EWHL points were second on the Brackens. Orawska is a considerable part of Poland’s offense for the future.

Joanna Strzelecka (23). Strzelecka was a reliable center last year for both UKHK Unia Oświęcim and the Silesia Brackens. In 14 EWHL games the previous year, she posted five assists—a quality center for Poland’s third line.

Kamila Wieczorek (23). Wieczorek is one of the best Polish players of all time at just 23. With that, she won’t be appearing much in the EWHL. She plays in the top Swiss Leauge, the SWHL A.. Especially with COVID-19 appearing in two large groups and travel like that will be pretty uncommon.

Karolina Baran (18). Baran is coming off a great season with Cracovia in the PLHK B, where her 27 points doubled her 14 games. A strong international season as well for Poland at the U18s. This will be her EWHL debut. She was ranked ninth in our top 30 U20 rankings.

Karolina Churas (21). Churas has continued to grow into a solid play with Tychy. This resulted in her playing 13 games with the Brackens, where she recorded two assists. Her ceiling is most likely on the bottom lines for Poland.

Karolina Późniewska (28). Późniewska is easily the best female Polish player of all time. She has 30 more points for Poland than any other player at the World Championships. Before last year, the Polonia Bytom legend had only played a handful of games outside of Poland. In her first EWHL season, she recorded 13 goals and 13 assists in 16 games. This was tied for eighth in the league overall.

Katarzyna Wybiral (20). Wybiral appeared in 14 matches last year for the Brackens registering two assists. Both in the EWHL and PLHK A, she hasn’t shown much offensive potential. She remains a reliable bottom-six option though

Klaudia Kaleja (20). Kaleja has somewhat fallen off after a breakout five-goal performance at the 2018 U18s. Last year, she did post one goal in three EWHL games. The power forward remains a force in the offensive zone but needs to gain consistency.

Maja Błaszków (16). Błaszków is already a very talented forward with a lot of potential. She would have been an essential part of the U18 squad this year, which has lost a lot of talent. This will be her EWHL debut. She was ranked tenth in our top 30 U20 rankings.

Malgorzata Synowiec (20). Synowiec was among the players to only play a handful of games for the Brackens, appearing in two matches. Her PLHK B year, leading the league in points per game with 26 points in 8 games. She ranked 14th in our top 30 U20 list.

Olivia Tomczok (21). Tomczok is one of Poland’s best and most underrated forwards. She was one of the couple of forwards to have EWHL experience previously before Poland joined the league. The young forward posted nine points (4G-5A-9PTS) in 16 games. This was tied for fourth on the team in points. Tomczok is easily one of the most valuable forwards to Metropolis Katowice and a first liner.

Sylwia Łaskawska (22). Poland has a weird thing with developing forwards where there is a considerable gap between the top forwards and the rest of the roster. No in-between. Łaskawska has a high ceiling, but right now, she is already in that in-between place that Poland needs. In 16 EWHL games last year, she posted two goals and four assists.

Tetiana Onyshchenko (20). Onyshchenko is the first non-Polish player to play for the Polish squad in the EWHL. The Ukrainian forward is on her way to acquiring Polish citizenship though. She has been a star for Gdańsk, recording 42 points (25G, 17A, 42PTS), which was third in the PLHK. She previously played with Karlskrona HK in Sweden’s division one league.

Wiktoria Dziwok (20). When looking at the forwards critical to Poland’s future, Dziwok doesn’t come up a lot. She may never be a top-line player, but she can more than handle her own. Dziwok will be great for Poland’s middle six in the future. She recorded two goals and two assists last year in sixteen EWHL matches.

Wiktoria Sikorska (17). Sikorska is one of the best forwards in Poland. This season, she will mostly be playing with Göteborg HC in Sweden’s top league, the Svenska damhockeyligan. With that, she probably won’t play much in the EWHL if at all. Last year with the Brackens, she recorded thee assists in five games. She ranked number one in our top 30 U20 list.

Zuzanna Baran (18). Baran had a great season in Slovakia, leading all U18 players in points in Slovakia’s top women’s league. While she will be returning to play in Slovakia, she would be a solid contributor in a few EWHL games this year. Zuzanna Baran was our fourth-ranked player in the top 30 U20 rankings.

Defense

Alicja Wcisło (20). A two-way defender with great passing ability. She fits perfectly into Poland’s top four. There is a lot of reason to be excited about Poland’s future on defense, and Wcislo is a big reason why. The three-time PLHK A champion, with Polonia Bytom, posted two goals and four assists in 14 EWHL games last year.

Aneta Cygan (23). Cygan, a strong two-way defenseman, only played 11 games last year between the Brackens and Polonia Bytom but made a strong impact as usual. One of the most underrated defenders in Poland.

Anna Kot (16). One of the younger defensemen on the Polish U18 squad, Kot showed improvement last season at the U18 as part of an overall strong defensive core. These EWHL games will be a significant test and experience for her. She was ranked 17th in our top 30 U20 rankings.

Dominika Korkuz (23). Korkuz continues to be a solid defenseman for Poland. Last year she was a mainstay on the Brackens defense, playing in 12 games and recording a goal and two assists.

Klaudia Chrapek (24). One of Poland’s best defensemen, Chrapek, finished third on the Brackens in points with 10, and thirteenth among all defensemen. A treasured part of team Poland, with a young roster, her two-way play is crucial to their success.

Julia Zaborowska (17). Zaborowska made her U18 debut last year, not making an enormous impact. Never making any big mistakes either though. With limited PLHK experience, this is a big chance for the Polonia Bytom defense’s young part.

Julia Zielińska (16). Zielińska is the future of defense for Poland. She already can make a claim for the best Polish defensemen of all time, as she has reached heights not reached by any other Polish defender. As she will appear in the Liiga and Metsis for Kiekko-Espoo, we will likely not see here in any EWHL matches this year.

Natalia Kaminska (20). Kaminska was one of the best POLISH U18 defensemen making the Polish U18 squad four times. She has already established herself on the senior team as well. As the Łódź native continues to gain more experience, she will work her way up the senior depth chart.

Patrycja Sfora (26). The veteran Sfora was able to play outside of Poland really for the first time last year. She posted five points (3G, 2A, 5 PTS) in 16 games. She was one of the most consistent defenders on the team, playing her role well.

Sandra Kosakowska (26). Kosakowska made her return to hockey since after not playing since 2017. The veteran defenseman was a national team regular before taking a hiatus. She only played three games with the Brackens, along with two games in the PLHK. Her return is excellent for the national team’s defensive depth.

Wiktoria Gogoc (20). Gogoc has shown many flashes of potential to be a top defensemen for Poland but hasn’t reached that level yet. Her offensive side has been slower to develop than her play in her own zone. Still, Gogoc currently really helps round out Poland’s defense.

Vanessa Patla (18). Patla made her EWHL debut last year playing a single game. She had an impressive performance at the U18s for team Poland. There she recorded one goal and eight shots. Add in another reliable performance for Vanessa Patla, and it appears in a couple years, Patla will be another excellent defenseman for Poland. She was ranked 11th on our top 30 U20 list.

Goalies

Agata Kosińska (31). The veteran goalie returns after split starting with the Sass last year. The national team goalie has been apart of the senior national squad since 2012. In 7 games with the Brackens last year, she posted a .873 SV%.

Helena Grzybowska (18). While Sass has the goaltending position on lock if ever needed, Grzybowska proved that she is more than ready to start if required. She had a breakout performance at the U18s and posted a .893 SV% in two EWHL games. She was ranked sixth overall in our top 30 U20 rankings.

Katarzyna Kurek (24). Kurek had an outstanding performance at the 2014 U18s but hasn’t seen much of a national team impact since then. She has continued to grow and is now the starter for the PLHK champion Polonia Bytom. It will be interesting to see what her future holds. These EWHL games could be a huge stepping stone.

Martyna Sass (19). Sass is an unbelievably talented goalie. The best that Poland has ever seen and may ever see for decades. She dominates the Slovak league. She has led the top Slovak league in goals-against average, save percentage, shutouts, and wins in back to back seasons. She only proved her skills more after posting a .934 SV% in 7 EWHL games. Sass can steal any game for Poland. She was ranked second in our top 30 U20 rankings.

Additions

Before the first games, the team announced additional appointments to the team. Many of the players added to this new group are players under the age of 15, including standouts Julia Skręt (14) and Magdalena Łąpieś (14), whom both have posted high PLHK production beyond their years. Also included are U18 squad members Justyna Żyła (14) and Katarzyna Zaborska (17). The other players added to the roster were Lena Zięba (14), Maja Brzezińska (15), Maja Twardy (14), Nikola Wencel (14), and Patrycja Wójcik (14). None of these players were listed on the rosters for the two games this weekend.

If you want to keep up with all the Polish hockey action, make sure to follow us on Twitter @PolandHockey, like our Facebook page, and add us on Instagram @PolishPuck_.

The Three NHL Draft Prospects with a Connection to Poland

Polish fans have become accustomed to the lack of Polish names being called at the NHL entry draft. Every year the draft had come and gone without a Polish player being selected since the fifth round of the 2003 NHL draft when the Minnesota Wild selected Marcin Kolusz after his rookie year in Nowy Targ. In the past couple of drafts, the lack of a Polish appearance has stung slightly more as Alan Łyszczarczyk failed to have his name selected. Poland once again has a chance to see a national team member reach the goal of every junior players’ dreams with Jakub Lewandowski. Lewandowski’s draft chances don’t seem that high, but even if he doesn’t, we will likely hear a Polish name selected, even if they don’t play for Poland. 

Adam Borzęcki was one of the last Polish players to make a large impact in North America. The physical stay-at-home defensemen was a strong presence in the Quebec Major Junior League. This eventually led to professional seasons in the American Hockey Leauge (AHL) and East Coast Hockey League. The team he spent the most time with in America was the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL. Reaching the AHL’s heights was not the only notable achievement during his time in Syracuse, as his son Jakub Borzęcki was born in January of 2002. 

Jakub Borzęcki didn’t stay in America for long as his family followed were ever his dad’s playing career went. Starting in 2005, Adam Borzęcki played the rest of his career in Germany for various teams. The young Jakub sometimes swapped junior teams depending on what professional team his father played for. This included his dad’s final stop with the Bietigheim Steelers, where Jakub played for their U16 squad. In 2017 the elder Borzęcki would play his last hockey season while Jakub moved on to the Kölner EC junior system. He would only play a year for Kölner, before moving on to the Austrian super junior team RB Hockey Akademie. Jakub would play in the top Czechia junior league and make his IIHF debut for Germany at the U18s, winning the Division 1 Group A gold medal. 

Team Germany saw a lot in the young forward. He has been named the captain for both the U17 and U18 squad. He continued to improve on his performance in the Czech Republic as well. His performance on the International stage and with  RB Hockey Akademie earned him the 64th spot on NHL’s central scouting list for European skaters. COVID-19 canceled the U18s, where Borzęcki would have likely served as captain and enormously improved his draft stock. This upcoming season, the 6’1 forward has already appeared with the Germany U20 squad. He will also be making his professional debut for RB Hockey Juniors in the Alps Hockey League.  The Dubuque Fighting Saints saw enough to take Borzęcki in the sixth round of the 2020 USHL Draft. Something that could have also improved his draft stock if not for COVID-19. Jakub Borzęcki certainly shares some of his dad’s traits, with a strong two-way game while not afraid to get physical. His development could take some time, but he might develop into an excellent power forward for a team. Draft regardless, his future shows a lot of potential for a long professional career just like his father. 

Another promising RB Hockey Juniors player is Maksymilian Szuber. Szuber was born in Opole but left Poland at a very young age. He first gained attention playing for the Germany Selects U13 squad. He has spent most of his junior career with the RB Hockey Akademie, playing with the team since 2016.  Szuber is a talented defenseman with a lot of offensive flair. This skill was shown during his stint in the top Austrian U18 league, where he posted 29 points in 16 games, helping the RB Hockey Akademie to an EBJL championship. 

The following year, he would play full time to the RB hockey squad in Czech top junior leagues. He would be a vital part of team Germany winning gold at the 2018 division 1 group A U18s after posting five assists in five games. The 6’2 defensemen made his U20 debut this year in three non-IIHF games. He will also be getting his first taste of professional hockey playing in the Alps Hockey Leauge for the RB Hockey Juniors. Szuber has the size and offensive talent that scouts love, but his game still needs a lot of work. He has yet to appear on many draft boards. 

Florian Bugl, Filip Varejka, Jakub Borzecki, JJ Peterka and Maksymilian Szuber at the U18s

For the final player, we head to Sweden for Mateusz Szurowski. More people in Polish hockey may be more familiar with Damian Szurowski. Damian Szurowski has played in Poland since 2017, playing in 120 games between Cracovia Krakow and PKH Gdansk. The Szurowski brothers were both born in Sweden to Polish parents. They would visit Poland at least once a year growing up to see family. In Sweden, both showed potential for more while playing in the Bålsta HC system. For Damian, this was moving to Poland to start a strong professional career. For his younger brother, this meant joining the Linköping HC junior system in 2017. Linköping HC was a constant playoff team in the Swedish Hockey Leauge at the time. Recent high NHL draft picks, Calle Dahlström and Jakub Vrána passed through their system. 

In the Linköping HC system, Mateusz Szurowski flourished, posting above a point per game seasons with both of their U16 squads. He also made his first appearances for this Swedish U16 squad scoring one goal in three games. The following year would be pretty similar, another level up and now point per game seasons at the U18 level. He would make his debut for the Sweden U17 team at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, putting up one assist in six games. This past season, he spent most of his time with the Linköping HC J20 in the top Swedish U20 league. There he posted eight goals and eight assists in 36 games. He also notched another international achievement by making the Swedish U18 squad. He would have had a chance to make his IIHF U18 debut this season, if not for COVID. 

Of the group, Szurowski stands the highest probability of being drafted, earning quite a few high rankings. Number 50 on the NHL Central Scouting European skater list, #123 by McKeen’s Hockey, and #264 by Future Considerations. Szurowksi is a strong skater, always pushing for the puck on his stick to create unique scoring chances. His offensive vision has gotten him this far, but his overall game will need to continue to develop fast. 

These three players all stand a chance of hearing their name called in one of the most unique NHL drafts of all time. Especially as they have all have had a few more handful of games to improve their stock and a year older, both Borzęcki and Szuber were able to make their U20 squad debuts for Germany. In contrast, Szurowski has added a couple of goals in Sweden’s top junior league. There is no connection between these players and Polish hockey growth, but Polish fans will undoubtedly take pride in them just like they do Wojtek Wolski. They’ll do that with the hope that a player wearing red and white with an eagle on his chest joins them one day.

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Polish Puck’s 2020-21 PHL Predictions: The Champions

We have reached the number one spot in our predictions. The shame in making a list in this format is that the champion has already somewhat been revealed if you followed closely enough. The reign of GKS Tychy is over. All hail the new king. 

1. Re-Plast Unia Oświęcim

2019-20 Finish: Second

What a season it was for Unia Oświęcim last year. Their initial head coach left after just a couple weeks to coach in Slovakia. The team hired a new head coach that might be one of the best hires in PHL history. Former Slovenian national team coach Nik Zupančič took over the team. He combined strong Polish talent with quite a few strong imports from his past. The team’s style clicked right off the bat, and the team only got better as the season went on. This resulted in them making it to the semi-finals and a possible chance at dethroning GKS Tychy. Then COVID-19 hit, and all of that went away.

Every PHL team fought or succumbed to the virus, with various cuts and departures that were pretty much out of their control. While the Oświęcim squad saw some critical departures in Andrej Themár, Dariusz Wanat, and Jakub Šaur. These were more regular departures who were replaced by quite a few new stars. In net, the team retained both their goalies. Clarke Saunders was fantastic in the regular season posting a .923 save percentage and somehow was even better in his one playoff series. Behind him, Sebastian Lipiński continues to develop into a future starter for both Oświęcim and the Polish national team. 

On the defense, the team once again retained most of their core, while making a few new substantial additions. On the import side, they are the strongest. Miroslav Zatko is back for his 13th season in the PHL, which has to be some kind of record among imports. Peter Bezuška returned for his sixth season with the club, playing in over 200 matches for the blue and white while bringing a strong two-way presence. Slovenian Klemen Pretnar brought a similar presence and finished tied for second among goals by defensemen last year. The team also added Finnish defensemen Lassi Raitanen, who has yet to debut due to injury. He posted 32 points in 40 Metsis games the previous year. He should help provide offense on the back-end. To replace him during his injury, the team added veteran Canadian defensemen, Ryan Glenn. The 40-year-old defenseman has looked impressive so far, recording seven points in six games. Jakub Wanacki is the Polish leader on this defense and one of the league’s top Polish defensemen. While Patryk Noworyta still has a lot left in the tank. Miłosz Noworyta has a pretty bright future, and his development this year should be fun to watch. 

Offensively you see a club that is rejuvenated completely. They are so exciting and dangerous to watch. The offense didn’t need an overhaul in players, just a bit of tinkering. Alexei Trandin is a guaranteed point per game player, as seen in the past three years in the PHL. Polish veteran Sebastian Kowalówka remains a strong producer. Simultaneously, Slovenia duo Gregor Koblar and Luka Kalan should again post strong production and two-way play. Russians Daniil Orekhin and Semyon Garshin both look to return to their KH Torun production highs, after up and down last years. Martin Przygodzki is still a great offensive addition to any team, with a chance to break out huge numbers if he is consistent. I still believe Łukasz Krzemień has a lot of potential and can show more than he did last year. 

There are a handful of new forwards to the squad as well. Teddy Da Costa has joined the team from GKS Katowice, and the France national team forward remains one of the top players in Poland. The team also added young Finnish winger Jere Helenius, who posted 36 points in the Metsis last year. Patryk Kusak also returns from the Czechia juniors, continuing to help shore up the youth talent in Oświęcim.

The most significant addition was Eliezer Sherbatov. Sherbatov is just pure charisma on the ice. The 5’9 forward is easily one of the most entertaining players in European hockey. He is also Jewish and an Israeli native that is playing in Oświęcim. Many people may know the city better by its German name, Auschwitz, where Germany ran the concentration camp with the highest death total during World War 2. One of the darkest places in human history. Due to this, some felt Sherbatov signing with the team did not feel right. I understand where they are coming from, but for Sherbatov, this is a chance to be a hero in the city and take back the town. The modern-day Oświęcim is not the place it was in World War Two. His play has already made him a fan-favorite in the town, as he attempts highlight-reel moves that are just woven casually into his game. The rest of the PHL and Polish hockey scene also immediately welcomed him to the league and offered their support. 

I think the top three clubs’ skill level is all pretty similar in terms of who is the best. Sometimes having a bit better goaltending or worse defense, but overall it levels out. So why Unia Oświęcim the champions? It comes down to two main reasons. The first is the depth they have. I think, especially on defense. They’re just able to outmatch any team. While some teams may have bigger stars at the top. Up and down every line, Oświęcim is my pick as the best squad. The second reason why is they are more of a cohesive unit than other teams. The team bought into Nik Zupančič’s system last year and only swapped out five players. This is a team built to win, and they don’t have the longest window. I would like to see younger talent featured in the lineup, but it is hard to take away a spot from their roster’s talent. This was a championship-caliber roster last year, and they only improved on it during the offseason. That is why from the start, they were my championship pick.

Role: The Top Dogs

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Polish Puck’s 2020-21 PHL Predictions: Bronze and Silver

The PHL continues, and so do our PHL predictions. We are now at the final three teams that all earn a nice shiny medal. Depending on how you look at it, these medals can be a huge disappointment. The silver meaning you finished second just a couple wins away from winning it all. While a bronze win means you didn’t even make the championship. For our rankings, that Bronze is a step back.

3. GKS Tychy

2019-20 Finish: 1st

The PHL will have a new champion, and it feels insane to be predicting that. On paper, the offseason went as good as it could. They retained the three-headed North American monster of Alex Szczechura, Christian Mroczkowski, and Mike Cichy. Goaltender John Murray once again is holding down the fort in net. While the team added further Canadians in Jason Seed and Jean Dupuy. Ladislav Havlík and Szymon Marzec also joined after solid years in Gdansk. The most significant addition though, was one of the best Polish players on the planet in Patryk Wronka.

So why am I not repeating them as the champions. Because those significant additions are about all that is left on a team that has become a bit stale. They’re not bad by any means, but everyone keeps getting better and better. While GKS Tychy has just slightly altered their roster year by year, sometimes a little better, sometimes a little worse. Murray is a great goalie but beatable, as seen by his beginning five-game stretch to start this PHL season. Their defense is not that good still. It is more offensive focused, but they lost three critical defensemen from last year, and I would say they only replaced two of them.

On the offensive side, they have the big North American trio, Wronka, and Koromski. After that, depth is a bit dry. Jean Dupuy is an interesting import. He struggled in the EIHL but excelled in the Ligue Magnus. Something that doesn’t bold well based on past imports. Bartłomiej Jeziorski and Mateusz Gościński still really haven’t taken the next step in their hockey development, leaving a bit to be desired on the production end. Szymon Marzec is coming off a career year in Gdansk, but I would bet he doesn’t match that production.

On the bright side, there is a wealth of young talent in the GKS Tychy system. This is something that hasn’t been common in past years. In net, both Kamil Lewartowski and Jakub Zawalski have a lot of potential. Each of them has a chance to be a starter in the PHL eventually. Olaf Bizacki has been on my favorite defensive prospects for a bit now. His short stature is always going to limit his ceiling a bit. He has a strong way two-game, and if the offensive side keeps improving, he will find himself on the national team radar. Kacper Gruźla, Jan Krzyżek, and Mateusz Ubowski all appear to be close to being PHL regulars. Ubowski shows a lot of promise to be a great PHL player.

The team is at the top of the PHL mountain, there is no higher to climb, but that just means other teams are climbing and approaching the top of the mountain.

Role: The King Must Fall

2. JKH GKS Jastrzebie

2019-20 Finish: 4th

JKH GKS Jastrzebie is one of the teams that felt like it hasn’t experienced that many shake-ups in recent years. This year though, the team had a major shakeup, and it appears to put them in an excellent position to win a PHL championship finally. Artem Iossafov, Henrich Jabornik, Jesse Rohtla, and Ondrej Raszka all departed the club. Losing Raszka had to be the hardest as he is one of the best goalies the PHL has seen in a long time. The team responded to these losses with some of the most significant transactions, possibly in PHL history.

The first was bringing home Polish national team defensemen Mateusz Bryk after a few years in GKS Tychy. Bryk is the perfect piece to solidify a strong defensive presence in the team’s top 4. The team filled their void in net with former longtime EBEL starter Patrik Nechvatal. Marek Hovorka was the next to join on a two-year pact. Hovorka has been a great player in both the top leagues of Czechia and Slovakia. A highly respected player, his signing was some pretty positive attention for the PHL. Following Hovorka was another Slovak, Roman Rác, having shown a lot of production potential in Czechia.

Just before the season started, they made two more big additions. Jiří Klimíček was first added to shore up the defensive end. He represented the Czech Republic at the U18s and has been a solid player in France the past couple of years. Next was former Minnesota Wild 2011 NHL first-round pick, Zack Phillips. Phillips had a couple of decent years to start his AHL career but never seemed to take well to North American pro hockey. He has shown much more potential in smaller European leagues. He currently is an early pick to take the PHL scoring title.

JKH GKS Jastrzebie is the team that all PHL clubs should strive to be, and no one is ever going to come close to matching their young talent. The time for them to strike is now, as that young talent maybe soon leaving for larger leagues. The defense remains one of the best in the league, which should help some small uncertainties in the net. The offense is going to be so exciting this year. Phillips already has nine points in four games. The young talent is all there and healthy. I’m excited to see how Jan Soltys does in his return after missing most of last year.

So why second place? There is no reason for them to be in second place. They have the depth that only one other PHL club has or can outmatch. I have small concerns about the goaltending situations, but I think they will be more than adequate in net based on early performances. If it isn’t this year, JKH GKS Jastrzebie will win the title soon. Even if they lose a couple of young players, they have more waiting for their shot.

Role: Perennial Contenders

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Polish Puck’s 2020-21 PHL Predictions: Middle of the Pack

Just a few games into the PHL season and I already feel a bit uneasy about my predictions. KH Torun is now undefeated and leading the league while shutting out their opponents twice already. I haven’t changed my predictions though. The five remaining teams all hold a solid chance of winning the PHL championship. Everyone is going all out this season in the hopes of ending GKS Tychy’s reign of terror.

5. Comarch Cracovia Krakow

2019-20 Finish: 5th

This is my hottest take and the ranking I feel I am most wrong about. You just can never count out Krakow. The offseason was rough for the team as they had to say goodbye to basically every non-young Polish player on their roster. In fact of the nine non-U23 Polish players on the team’s roster from last season only two, Filip Drzewiecki and Robert Kowalówka, are returning. The team is solely made up of imports and young Polish talent.

On the Polish side, all the young Polish players are in for larger roles with the holes in the line-up. Dawid Musioł already made his senior national team debut. Łukasz Kamiński and Sebastian Brynkus really needed more time to further their development. Igor Augustyniak, Mateusz Bezwinski, and Patryk Gosztyla all have great chances to earn full-time spots in the PHL.

Now the imports, they have a major Czech flavor with ten of the eleven imports being from Czechia. Five of them are defensemen. Aleš Ježek and Jiří Gula return to the team after solid seasons in the red and white. Michal Gutwald is a big defenseman at 6’3 and spent the last three years in the Elite Ice Hockey League in the UK. Jakub Šaur joins after quite a few strong years with Unia Oswiecim, including finishing fourth in points among defensemen for the 2019 season. Martin Dudáš returns for a third stint in Krakow. Dudáš has been named captain of the team. In net Michael Petrásek will hold down the fort after posting a .918 SV% in the Chance Liga.

On the forward end, five imports join Filip Drzewiecki and Krakow’s young talent. Erik Němec joins after spending a year between the top two Czech leagues, but posted 70 points in 103 EBEL games. Richard Nejezchleb is a former New York Rangers fourth-round pick in 2014, and spent last year in the second Czechia league. Štěpán Csamangó returns to Krakow after spending last year in the Erste Liga. Csamangó previously posted 41 points (22G, 19A, 41 PTS) in 42 regular games during the 2019 PHL season. Tomáš Franek posted a point per game regular season last year with Podhale Nowy Targ. The lone Finnish import is Taavi Tiala, who posted a .40 point per game average in 322 Mestis games.

Damian Szurowski was the only non-import player to join Krakow from another Polish club. Imports can be very hit in and miss in the PHL. Sometimes you get players that are top scorers and key players easily. Other times you get players that don’t even hold up after a few games and are quickly released. That is the risk Krakow is taking, and they don’t have the depth to make up for the handful of players that won’t live up to what the team hoped. But it feels weird counting them out, even after early struggles.

Role: The New England Patriots

4. GKS Katowice

2019-20 Finish: 6th

Every year GKS Katowice has championship expectations but comes up short. Each year this has resulted in quite a few massive roster changes. This year is no exception to that as the team saw quite a few Polish stars like Marcin Kolusz and Oskar Jaskiewicz head abroad. Top imports like Robin Rahm and Teddy Da Costa also departed. There was a lot of talent coming in though.

On the Polish side Bartosz Fraszko, Maciej Kruczek, and Mateusz Zielinski all joined from rival PHL clubs. Polish players were not the only ones jumping ship to GKS Katowice. As the team signed Filip Stoklasa and Matej Cunik from Zaglebie Sosnowiec, while also bringing back Jesse Rohtla after a year with JKH GKS Jastrzebie. The team made their new goalie, former HK Nitra starter, Juraj Šimboch.

Patryk Krezolek is really poised to be a star on this team. The club also made sure to retain key pieces like Grzegorz Pasiut, Mateusz Michalski, and Patryk Wajda. GKS Katowice has a lot of talent. It is also really nice to see how much of the team is Polish national team talent. This roster is one of the top in the PHL, but not one that I can see taking down the teams I have ranked ahead of them in a best of seven series.

Role: Reloading

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Polish Puck’s 2020-21 PHL Predictions: The Bottom Five

Another PHL season is here with the first game day already in the books. The league has a different shape this year as due to COVID-19, there is no PZHL U23. Add in both Stoczniowiec Gdańsk and STS Stanok joining the battle, while PKH Gdansk and Janow departing it. The league is a different world and feels a lot more open than in recent years. Of course, there are still favorites, but it feels like someone might finally dethrone the three-peat champions* GKS Tychy.

10. GKH Stoczniowiec Gdańsk

2019-20 Finish: NA (New to PHL)

Every year the PHL has a team that can only be described as the thing everyone in the world just hates and does nothing but rightfully beat with no mercy. This year that role belongs to GKH Stoczniowiec Gdańsk. This Gdańsk club took the spot of beloved Gdańsk club, Lotos PKH Gdańsk. I wrote more about the disaster that is the Stoczniowiec Gdańsk management staff here.

In the end this team will go as far as their few veteran players can take them. Josef Vítek, Mateusz Rompkowski, and Michał Kieler are really all the team has to offer, besides a few younger players stuck in a rough place.

Role: WASTE OF TIME

9. Zagłębie Sosnowiec

2019-20 Finish: 9th

Zagłębie Sosnowiec is probably going to lose a lot this year. COVID-19 has hit the team very hard. The team lost many key veterans like Filip Stoklasa and Rafal Radziszewski. They may have some of the best young talent in Poland though. Eleven players on their roster were ranked inside our top 50 men’s U23 player list. That is the most in the entire PHL. That eleven includes the huge additions of Igor Smal and Michał Naróg from PKH Gdańsk.

Sosnowiec will need those young players to all take substantial jumps if they want to compete. As most of their imports are not going to be impact players. The exceptions are Danil Kulikov, Maksim Tsitok, and Mikhail Syroezhkin; whom all had shown potential or excelled in the PHL previously. Dominik Nahunko is their best Polish forward right now. Retaining him during the off-season was the club’s biggest priority. The biggest challenge the young team faces is in their youthful goal-tending tandem of Michal Czernik (24) and Marcel Kotula (19) Both goalies have high ceilings, but are not ready to steal any games yet. This whole squad is love-able underdogs.

Role: Young loveable underdogs

8. Ciarko STS Sanok

2019-20 Finish: NA (New to PHL)

This one was really hard to place. STS Sanok returns to the PHL after a few years away. The Sanok roster is pretty similar to the one seen recently in a the third tier of Slovak hockey. That group does include great young players like Karol Bilas, Konrad Filipek, Maciej Witan and Szymon Dobosz. Along with some veterans who had success in the PHL like Marek Strzyżowski. Marek Ziętara then brought promising young players Jakub Bukowski and Tomasz Skokan back to Sanok.. The squad is pretty light on imports, but Sanok did add a solid trio of Finnish imports and former KH Toruń star Patrik Spesny.

They’re the second youngest team in the PHL. This year is the start of something bigger for Sanok hopefully. 2020 is year one of that journey and it is hard to predict them doing well. I am willing to bet they will be a competitive team. I mean in their first game back, Sanok only lost to GKS Tychy by one goal.

Role: The comeback team

7. KH Energa Toruń

2019-20 Finish: 8th

Toruń had an up and down off-season, as per usual for a club that relies strongly on imports. The bad came in the form of losing Bartosz Fraszko, Mateusz Zielinski, and Patrik Spesny. There were further departures when quite a few long time Toruń players retired . The good came in bringing home Kamil Kalinowski, adding back Łukasz Podsiadło, while also grabbing Yegor Rozhkov from Gdańsk.

The Torun team is in usual form with a lot of imports from smaller leagues around Europe. They did bring back quite a few from last year like Denis Sergushkin, Dmitri Kozlov, and Yegor Feofanov, whom were among the team leader in points. Some of the new interesting imports include Swedish goalie Anton Svensson, who has big shoes to fill but has done good so far in early outings. Gleb Bondaruk has a chance to be offensive leader after coming off a point per game season in the Ukraine. While Finnish forward Ville Saloranta is an easy pick to be a star in the PHL, after a solid career in the Mestis. It is hard to predict how high Toruń will go. They could lose one game 7-0, but then beat the league leader the next day. A true wildcard.

Role: The wildcard

6. Tauron Podhale Nowy Targ

2019-20 Finish: 3rd

I believe there are six teams with a true chance to take the PHL championship this year, which makes ranking them so hard. Podhale doesn’t make it in the top five though, by a very thin margin. The biggest thing for me that causes doubt with Podhale is on the defensive end. Their defense has a lot of solid players no doubt, and Ričards Birziņš could be a top import in Poland. I also hope to see Damian Tomasik play a larger role again. I just don’t really see any star power on it though. The club’s defense is going to play rough and make it hell for opponents, but they’re beatable. At least behind them Przemyslaw Odrobny is still a brick wall.

They really rebuilt their offense this year and it looks fantastic. Top scorers Alexander Pettersson and Bartlomiej Neupauer were brought back. Then they brought in a lot from Krakow, Polish national team fowards Kasper Bryniczka and Mateusz Bepierszcz both came aboard, as well as Czech import Michal Vachovec. Vachovec has posted back to back above point per game seasons in the PHL. Former KHL player Andrei Ankudinov and Latvian winger Lauris Rancevs both have the potential to make an impact as well. Podhale also seemingly addressed their lack of younger Polish talent in recent years. The yellow squad returned Ernest Bochnak and Fabian Kapica home to Poland from strong junior leagues in Czechia and Germany. Their biggest signing though happen right before their first game, as top Polish player Alan Łyszczarczyk joined the team, while he waits for the ECHL to start back up.

Role: Not expected to win, but wouldn’t be shocked.

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Iga Schramm Signs in Top Swiss League

One of Poland’s best young forwards Iga Schramm has signed in the
Swiss Women’s League (SWHLA), the top level of women’s hockey in Switzerland. Schramm is joining the Neuchâtel Hockey Academy Dames (NHA) per swisshockeynews.ch. NHA finished third last year in the SWHLA. The team made it to the finals, but they were cancelled due to COVID-19.

Schramm had a standout performance at the U18s this last season. She always seemed to around the puck and making a play when she had possession of it. She posted four points (2G-2A-4PTS) in five games, which was tied with Wiktoria Sikorska for the lead on team Poland. She also managed 21 shots in the tournament, her shot total was second on team Poland. She also had a solid showing at the Olympic Hopes tournament, scoring vs Hungary.

Iga Schramm will be only the second Polish player to play in the league. Kamila Wieczorek made her debut in the league last year for EV Bomo Thun.

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What Happen to The Last Polish U20 Team to Earn Promotion?

When a junior squad wins IIHF gold and thus promotion to the next level, it can be the start of something great for a national team. It could be a sign that their development system is starting to work, they have the core of their next national team, or they just got lucky.

Luck plays a big part in a team getting promoted as the biggest obstacle to getting promoted is the team that was relegated from the higher division the previous year. For Poland this has been their achilles heel at times. As seen when, one of the best Polish U20 teams in a long time felt short to Norway. It is amazing that teams with players like Alan Lyszczarczyk, Dominik Pas, Jan Soltys, and Patryk Wronka failed to earn promotion.

Poland recently released their first roster of the year for an upcoming grouping in Warsaw, this team features a lot of new players for the initial camp.  These fresh faces may be the key to Poland finally earning promotion after so many silver medals. With that in mind, today I decided to look back at the team that last moved Poland up to Group A. Did Poland get their future core, or did they just get lucky.

Goalies

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Dawid Zabolotny – The starting goalie was Polish-German Dawid Zabolotny. In five games, he recorded a .933 SV%. Zabolotny served as a starter and split starter over the next four years with JKH GKS Jastrzebie. He would eventually be pushed out of the role by the Ondrej Raszka and Tomas Fucik pairing. The 5’11 goalie has served as a starting goalie for various German teams in the Oberliga since 2017. He also continues to make sporadic national team appearances usually in a back-up role. He remains a large part of the national team’s future.

Mateusz Skrabalak – The back up goalie made two IIHF rosters, but never played a game. He had show flashes of potential with Sanok, but was always way too inconsistent. He did not play anywhere in 2020, after spending the last two seasons with KH 58 Sanok in the third Slovak league.

Defensemen

Arkadiusz Kostek – One of the finest player from Opole made his first appearance for the Polish U20 squad at 2013 tournament. He would play the next six years with Opole, until financial reasons eventually made him leave the club. Since joining JKH GKS Jastrzebie, he has gained a lot of momentum. He is now starting to make consistent national team appearances, including at the past Olympic qualifiers.

Dariusz Gaczoł – A product of the Podhale system, he made his only U20 appearance in 2013. He played one year with the senior club in 2014. Gaczoł retired in 2016, after two years with PPWSZ Podhale Nowy Targ.

Jakub Gimiński – The 5’11 defensemen made his second appearance for the U20 squad. He would captain the U20 team the following season. He bounced around between Krynica and Torun before setting in nicely with Jastrzebie. Jastrzebie has been his home for the last five seasons, and he has re-signed for the 2021 season. The stay at home defensemen has made a few senior team appearances at non-IIHF events.

Łukasz Bułanowski – The big 6-5 Warsaw native seemed to have a bright future. He had the size and was developing a strong two-way game. Early in the 2016 season, he was given a doping suspension that ended his year. Upon his return to training in 2017, he suffered major injury and retired from hockey.

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Łukasz Sznotala – Another Opole product that made the squad, which seems so weird  to say in 2020. Sznotala had switched over to Cracovia Krakow playing full time in the PHL. This led to a three assist performance at the U20s, which was enough to lead Polish defensemen in points. He would later return to Opole in 2015 and played there until 2019, when he retired.

Marcin Kołodziej – This was the Zaglebie Sosnowiec’s product first appearance for Poland U20, and his last as he would retire after the season.

Piotr Huzarski – The Torun born defensemen was making his second appearance for the Polish team recording a goal and assist at the tournament. He later would help Torun earn promotion to the PHL. He played one season with KS Torun in the PHL, but then mostly left hockey besides a handful of games with Ponzan in the second league from 2016 to 2018.

Forwards

Adam Domogala – The Polish forward with German heritage appeared to have quite the ceiling. He had 41 points with 47 games in Germany’s third league the Oberliga as a 19-year-old. He finished tied for second on team Poland in points with eight. Since then the forward has yet to reach his potential, but spent two years in the DEL2, along with five years with Cracovia Krakow. He would win two PHL championships with Krakow. He made his senior IIHF debut at last year’s World Championships recording two goals.

Damian Zarotynski – Zarotynski was making his second appearance on the U20 squad and did quite well recording five points. He followed this up with a 24 point 2014 PHL season with Podhale, but retired after the srong year.

Dawid Majoch – The Zaglebie Sosnowiec forward was making his second appearance for the Polish U20 squad. He recorded one point in five games. Since then he bounced around the PHL in bottom six roles. He spent the 2019 season in the Slovak third league, but didn’t play anywhere in 2020.

Filip Starzyński – Another of the big three forward trio, Starzyński was the team’s captain and coming off a strong rookie year in the NAHL. He recorded eight points at the tournament. The following year he doubled his NAHL point total. and committed to the University of Alabama-Huntsville. He ended up transferring to Northern Michigan. In three years at Northern Michigan, he posted 12 points in 101 games. He returned to Poland after college, and played with GKS Katowice the past couple years. He is solid in the face off circle and defensively, but his offensive skill set just isn’t there. He was a member of team Poland at the 2019 World Championships, and at last year’s Olympic qualifiers.

Filip Stopiński – Stopiński has remained a polarizing player to this day. This was his first U20 appreance. The following year, he would play in Germany’s Oberliga and with Opole. He served as the U20 team’s assisant captain when the team was relegated from division 1A. He would spend the next four seasons with Opole. He was really putting together a break out 2018 season til a injury ended it. He returned to the Oberliga the following season and has played there since, besides one game for Janow in the PHL. This year with ERC Sonthofen he recorded 40 points in 46 games. I still believe Stopiński could be a late developer, but injuries and inconsistency have hampered him a lot.

Jakub Stasiewicz – Stasiewicz made his one and only apperance for the U20 team recording an assist. Since the the tournament, he has bounced around the bottom lines for a few PHL teams, mostly staying close to Gdansk. He spent last year with Lotos PKH Gdansk recording 12 points in 44 games. He is one of the few players from PKH Gdansk to sign with Stoczniowiec Gdansk for the 2021 season.

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Kacper Guzik – Guzik is the final part of the big three forward trio on the team that never really reached their expected ceiling. He spent most of his career in American junior leagues, even reaching the NAHL. He went professional right away after returning to Poland. He became a key part of GKS Tychy over the next two seasons, including a point per game regular season. He led team Poland at the event with 11 points. Since then Guzuk has always struggled with injuries and inconsistency. He spent the 2020 season in Podhale, recording two goals and an assist in 14 games.

Karol Szaniawski – Szaniawski served as the assistant captain for the U20 squad in his second run with the team. He would retire in 2015 after a couple of seasons with Legia Warszawa.

Łukasz Nalewajka and Radosław Nalewajka – The Jastrzebie twins are both a valuable part of JKH GKS Jastrzebie playing crucial roles in the line up at times, along with both serving as captain for the team. Both have received sporadic national team chances since their U20 team days, but neither have developed into top PHL players.

Martin Pawelski – Pawelski has spent his entire career in Slovakia with HK 32 Liptovsky Mikulas. He still plays for their B team. The B team currently plays in the fourth level of Slovak hockey.

Michał Kalinowski – Kalinowski is the one of the best players recently to come out of Torun. In 2013, he played for Katowice, Polonia, and Tourn. He also recorded three points at U20s.  Since the 2013 season, he has spent six of the seven seasons with KH Torun. He also has recorded three 20 goal seasons in the PHL during that time, including a career-high 25 goal season last year. This was second among all Polish players in the PHL.

Patryk Malicki – Malicki was one of the youngest players on team and making his first of three appearances for the U20 squad. A strong two-way game and decent size made him an intriguing prospect. The 24-year-old has spent his entire career with Unia Oswiecim, besides a short loan to Janow. He remains a valuable part of the team’s bottom six forward group contributing around just over ten points a year.

The Conclusion

It is not a great sign for the future when you can only call a couple players on this team national team regulars. There is kinda a shocking amount of them who no longer play hockey at all. I did some quick checking around for similar teams and country, and while quite a few players do retire young each time. This Polish squad definitely had quite a few above the average.

For Poland, this class of young players didn’t live up to their potential. There is also still a lot of time for players in the class to make or break it. Arkadiusz Kostek, Adam Domogala, David Zabolotny, Filip Starzyński, Filip Stopiński, Jakub Gimiński, and Michał Kalinowski all appear to at least be great national team depth or have a chance to be a solid contributor to Poland. The team had a lot of players in junior and pro leagues that young Polish players struggle to get into now. They also are the only Polish team to win gold and promotion to Group A. With that amount of talent and accomplishment, you would have hoped to get a few key national pieces.

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