One Last Chance For Marcin Kolusz

In the 2000s, Polish hockey started to go on a downswing. Many national team players that proved their worth with strong performances outside of Poland were beginning to retire. Poland still had NHL talents like Mariusz Czerkawski and Krzysztof Oliwa, but club duties saw their national team appearances few and far between. More and more talent now stayed in Poland. This trend would continue into the mid-2000s, and the talent well was starting to get dry. The lone bright spot in the prospect group was Marcin Kolusz.

The small town of Limanowa was devastated by World War two, with a large part of the population killed by Nazi forces. Since then the population of the town has stayed small with 15,000 residents. The city would be excused for not having a strong athletic background. The local soccer team plays in Poland’s third-tier league. While they have had a strong presence in the skiing world, thanks to their mountainside location. 2018 Olympic bronze medalist Maciej Kot is one of the national team skiers to come out of the town. An ice rink just ten kilometers away in the small village of Tymbark always left the ice hockey option open. 

Limanowa - Wikipedia
Limanowa, Poland

Only two players show up in the EliteProspects database as coming from Limanowa; Bartłomiej Gaj and Marcin Kolusz. Gaj just being one year younger than Kolusz.  Both would make the move to Nowy Targ to play for Podhale Nowy Targ, over an hour away from Limanowa, at the same time.

Kolusz immediately made an impact making his senior debut for Podhale in the second division at just 15-years-old. His debut made him the youngest rookie at the time in club history. The following year, he would make his Polska Hokej Liga debut while also playing for the Polish U18 squad. He would continue to earn a larger role with Podhale. 2003 was his real breakout year, where he played for both the U18 and U20 squads, while playing in the PHL full time. This put scouts on notice, including ones who don’t usually give Polish prospects the time of day. 

The 2003 NHL entry draft is underway. The first overall pick belongs to the Pittsburgh Penguins, who take franchise goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. Other selections include Dustin Brown, Eric Staal, Patrice Bergeron, and Marcin Kolusz. The Minnesota Wild took a chance on Kolusz 137th overall in the fifth round of the draft. John Mitchell, who went on to play over 500 NHL games, was selected by Toronto the pick after him. It was heavily rumored the Edmonton Oilers were interested in Kolusz at the time, but they took American forward David Rohlfs just a few picks earlier. From Hockey Futures, they wrote about the selection at the time. 

“Raised in a country that gets little hockey exposure, Kolusz hired the agent that brought Dominik Hasek to the NHL. He prides himself on hard work and good hockey sense. Wild scouts agreed, and have said he possesses good size very good skating ability. They liked him so much that they tried to move up in the draft to get him. Although unable to move up, the Wild were still able to select him at the 157th spot.” 

Hockey Futures

Kolusz was already on his way over to North America after being selected by the Vancouver Giants in the Canadian Hockey League import draft. He was the first-ever Polish player selected in the CHL import draft. Playing in the Western Hockey League (WHL) was the chance that Kolusz needed. He had his foot in the door, and a strong performance in the WHL would net him an entry league deal. A deal that would likely see him play in the North American minor system or even the NHL. 

Marcin Kolusz of the Minnesota Wild poses for a portrait on September...  News Photo - Getty Images
Marcin Kolusz NHL draft picture (2003)

His run in the WHL was not a success. In 68 games with the Giants, the young Polish forward recorded six-goal and twelve assists. He would add one more goal in six playoff games. The Giants’ year was disappointing considering some of their talents, with five players being future NHL players. The team would swap out both of their imports for the following year bringing in Czech goalie Marek Schwarz and future NHL defenseman Andrej Meszároš. The Giants released Marcin Kolusz to help make room for the new imports. 

Kolusz z numerem 14 | Dziennik Polski
Marcin Kolusz with Vancouver Giants of the WHL

There were no takers for Kolusz in North America, so he returned to Poland and Podhale Nowy Targ at 19-years-old. After one season back in Nowy Tag, he left once again, signing in the Czech Republic with HC Ocelari Trinec. The first year he spent more time in the Chance Liga, only playing a handful of games in the Tipsport Extraliga. He would spend the next two years with HC Ocelari Trinec full time in the top league but never impacted the score sheet. His total production was six goals and two assists in 86 regular-season games. The 2008 season was the end of his run in the Czech Republic. After Kolusz’s three-year tenure in Czechia, it put his hockey potential in question. 

Five years after being drafted, Kolusz was getting another chance in the much weaker Slovakian Tipsport Liga. The 6’1 center joined HK SKP Poprad in 2009 with the hope of jump-starting his professional career. While he produced better results, he only scored one goal and recorded thirteen assists in fifty-three games. Tenth in points among all forwards on the squad. Poprad had a poor season and would just be saved from relegation. 

Hokej portal - Hokejowe Karty - Polski hokej - Polska Hokej Liga
Marcin Kolusz signed HC Ocelari Trinec card (2007)

In 2009, Kolusz would return to Poland after just one year in Slovakia. Now back in Nowy Targ, Kolusz was back to producing around a point per game season. Both his career and the league were on a downfall. He established himself as one of the top forwards in Poland. From 2009 to 2015, only three players had more points than Kolusz. He also picked up three PHL championships and two Polish Cups with GKS Tychy, KH Sanok, and Podhale Nowy Targ.

Marcin Kolusz - Alchetron, The Free Social Encyclopedia
Marcin Kolusz during his lone season with 1928 KTH Krynica (2013)

He was not only a top player in the PHL but for the Polish national team as well. Kolusz has been a national team star since his time with the Vancouver Giants in the WHL. During the span, only Leszek Laszkiewicz had more games and points than Kolusz. He represented Poland at ten total world champions, four of which he served as team captain, two of them he served as an alternate. While he may not have lived up to the potential that was once thought of, he was no doubt one of the Polish players of the decade. Top players in Poland no longer played in the top leagues around Europe. They were mostly contained in Poland, with a few in lower clubs around Europe. 

Starting in 2016, Kolusz would begin to decline. His PHL season with Tychy was great, but his World Championship run was only two assists. His lowest output at the tournament since 2009, and the only time he didn’t put up a point per game numbers since then. The following season, he would record his worst PHL production since U20 years in the PHL and go pointless at both the World Championships and Olympic qualifiers. He would only record two goals in 15 other international games as well. This lead to plenty of people questioning his position on the national team. One person I talked to at the time referred to it as just paying for him to take a vacation. Kolusz would return to Podhale Nowy Targ after four years with GKS Tychy. Being back in Podhale didn’t change everything, but his production was better than the year before. 

The national team itself was going through a more considerable turmoil at the time. Ted Nolan did not work at all, and the team was relegated to division 1 group B. Enter Tomek Valtonen. Valtonen has his own controversial legacy in regards to the national team and the PHL.  While coaching Podhale Nowy Targ, Valtonen saw the potential that Kolusz has, especially his skating ability. The Finnish head coach made one significant change for Kolusz, as he switched the long time forward to defensemen. This switch wasn’t the first time he had played the position, but he had to do it full time for the first time. It was the spark that Kolusz badly needed. Despite battling injuries at the time, it was one of his best seasons to date, and he recorded six assists at the World Championship and ten assists in seven national team games. 

 In 2020 GKS Katowice load up on big name talent in offseason. This included Kolusz and well-regarded Finnish head coach Risto Dufva. The Finnish coach would leave halfway through the year, and the PHL season was eventually canceled due to COVID-19. It was another successful year for the new offensive defenseman though, as he helped Poland advance in the Olympic qualification.

While Dufva may have left Poland mid-season, it did not stop Marcin Kolusz from making a strong impression. Such a strong impression that Dufva brought Kolusz to Finland with him. Now at 35-years-old, Kolusz was receiving the most considerable chance of his hockey career as he signed a one-year deal with an option for another year with Vaasan Sport, who play in Finland’s top league the Liiga. It does include a two-month tryout to start. The most prominent level that a Polish player has played in recently, maybe only comparable to Alan Lyscarcyk playing in the ECHL and Ontario Hockey League. Kolusz is just one of the numerous Polish players that came into the season playing outside of Poland. Something odd for Polish hockey. 

Kolusz is the oldest player on Sport’s roster. He turns 36 in January. He is one of only 21 players who are 35 or older in the Liiga. It is not a stretch to say his career is nearing the end. Polish hockey has somewhat followed his career trajectory. Polish hockey was still at a high and had players in top leagues when Kolusz was drafted and played in the WHL and Tipsport Extraliga. At the same time, Polish hockey was on the decline and struggled when Kolusz was in the PHL. Polish hockey has a wealth of young talents, and players like Kolusz are now getting chances in stronger leagues outside of Poland. 

Marcin Kolusz with Vaasan Sport (2020)

The signing was both shocking to Polish fans and celebrated by them. This is the second-ever appearance by a Polish player in the Liiga; Mariusz Czerkawski made a seven-game appearance during the 1995 NHL lockout. The signing, while popular among Polish fans, was not as celebrated in Finland. For many, a team at the bottom of the Liiga signing a Polish player was not worth writing about. Juha Oionen of Jatkoaika, scoffed at the signing and claimed it underestimated the entire Liiga. 

“A couple of weeks ago, I already had the joy of the League’s attraction in the player market, but in addition to the rug, Sport’s activities also pulled the floorboards under their feet. It is pointless to dream of top players as long as the B-series national team legends are valid. A veteran player from the Polish main series sounds more like a Kummeli sketch than a thoughtful solution from a professional team. Interesting to see of whether Kolusz is in Finland for longer than Mr.Beginning.”

Juha Oionen – Jatkoaika

To some extent, I understand the points that he and some others in Finnish hockey had. It is odd for a 35-year-old, whom many had felt their career is on the decline. His switch to defense full-time made a huge difference, and he still hasn’t lost a touch of his skating. Things you don’t normally associate with a 35-year-old. It also didn’t help that Kolusz suffered an injury that would leave him out for the first nine games of the year. 

Kolusz would make his debut on November 13th on the top defensive pairing for Sport. He would record three shots in 23:22 TOI. This led his team in ice time. He would follow up that performance with six shots in just over 17 minutes of action. His team lost both games that weekend, 3-2 the first game, and 6-0 the second game. Crazy stat, Kolusz was not on the ice for a single goal against and finished with a 58.5 CF%. While it is only two games, that is the best corsi among all Sport players and 14th among all Liiga defensemen. He would then record his first assist on the powerplay in his third Liiga game.

Experts did not believe Kolusz would succeed in the League at all, but he has played flawlessly against at least two top teams, Kärppi and Ilves. 

Seppo Hautala – Keski Uusimaa

It is hard to describe Kolusz’s career as a disappointment. He is one of the best Polish players of all time. A five-time division 1 bronze medalist, four time-time division 1 silver medalist, four-time Polish Cup winner, three-time PHL champion, and one of only three Polish players to get drafted in the NHL. He has done a lot for Polish hockey. It has always felt like he could have done more. Him making it to Liiga at 35 shows that. His career is not let down, but more of a what could have been in some regards. He can write a lot of that off with his last chance in the Liiga.

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The NHL Players Who Played In Poland. Part 3

The PHL started to take a lot of strides in terms of skill growth. Import rules started to become laxer. Polish clubs began to regain a lot of credibility lost during a poor run in the 2000s. While this brought in players with more experience in top European leagues, it also saw the rise of players from the North American minor league system. This resulted in more players who reached the NHL for a handful of games signing in Poland.

Mike Danton

The first player did not take that path at all. Mike Danton was a standout in the OHL for his fast and aggressive play. This led to him being drafted in the fifth round of the 2000 NHL draft by the New Jersey Devils. His first NHL taste would come after his final junior season when he jumped up to the NHL for a couple of games after a 34 point 195 penalty minute AHL rookie season. Despite that on-ice success, Danton reportedly faced many demons relating to alcohol abuse and behavior issues. He would sit out the entire 2002 season and only played 17 games in 2003 due to injuries and team suspensions, including refusing to go down to the minors. He would also change his last name to Danton from Jefferson during the 2002 year due to an undisclosed issue with his family that left them estranged. 

He would find himself traded to the St Louis Blues during the 2003 NHL draft, with a third-round pick (Konstantin Zakharov), in exchange for a third-round pick (Ivan Khomutov) 8 slots higher in the draft. His career seemingly got back on track with the Blues. Two days after the Blue’s season had come to an end though, Mike Danton was arrested. Danton was arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit murder. The Blues’ player was in contact with whom he thought was a hitman but was a police dispatcher. The target reportedly was his agent David Frost, though it has been disrupted that target was Danton’s father. The full story of his arrest is very long and something I’m not fully qualified to cover. He pleaded guilty and received a seven and a half year sentence. 

The former professional hockey player would transfer to a Canadian prison toward the end of his sentence and begin to take college classes. At the end of his prison release, he would apply to get into  Saint Mary’s University. Once getting accepted, he joined their varsity hockey team. Later being named an Academic All-Canadian. Danton would resume his professional hockey career in Europe after two years with Saint Mary. This included stops in Czechia, Kazakhstan, Romania, Slovakia, and Sweden before signing in Poland to end the 2014 season. 

Danton had signed with STS Sanok, one of the top Polish clubs. In that 2014 season with Sanok, he posted five goals and eighteen assists in twenty-five games, helping them to a PHL championship. The Ontario native would return to Poland for two more seasons. He would even attempt to gain Polish citizenship to represent the Polish national team. He would represent Poland at two Euro Ice Hockey Challenges. Danton became well known among Polish fans for his physical and aggressive style of play. He recorded 133 PHL games, 38 goals, 93 assists, and 266 penalty minutes. He also led the PHL in penalty minutes with 166 during the 2015 season. His 133 PHL games are the most by any former NHL player in Poland.  

After the 2016 season, Danton would leave Poland. He signed in Canada in the semi-pro Ligue Nord-Américaine de Hockey. After one season back in Canada, he would retire. Danton currently coaches junior hockey and is working on a master’s degree. 

Roman Tvrdon

Roman Tvrdon would also join Poland halfway through the 2014 season. Tvrdon was a rare case being drafted out of the Slovak U20 league, with zero professional games under his belt. After representing Slovakia at the 1999 U18s, the 6’2 winger was drafted in the fifth round of the 1999 NHL draft by the Washington Capitals. He would jump to the Western Hockey League for the next few years before signing his three-year entry league deal with the Capitals. The Trencin native would spend most of the next three years with the Portland Pirates in the AHL. Although he did play nine games with the Capitals during the 2004 season, posting one assist. He would return to Europe the following year, playing mostly in Belarus and Slovakia. He joined Unia Oswiecim halfway through the 2014 season and posted a point per game regular season and ten points in fourteen playoff games. Tvrdon would leave Poland after one season and would play a few more years in lower European leagues. He retired in 2017. 

Anton Klementyev

The defensive-minded Anton Klementyev was the next player to arrive in Poland. The stay-at-home defenseman was never the most significant prospect, but after a few strong years in the Russian third league, he was drafted in the fifth round of the 2009 NHL draft. After being drafted, he signed his entry league deal and made the jump to North American professional hockey. He would represent Russia at the World Juniors, winning bronze, and play his only NHL game during the 2010 season. Halfway through the 2012 season, the Islanders placed him on waivers for the purpose of a buyout. He would return to Russia and play in the Russian lower leagues. In 2015 he moved to Poland to play for Naprzod Janow. He was one of Janow’s top players and posted his professional career-high of 20 points. He left Janow late in the year to join Sanok for their playoff push. In Sanok, he recorded four more assists in fourteen games. After one year, he left Poland to play six games back in the VHL before spending his final two years in Belarus. He retired in 2017 at 27-years-old. 

Zenon Konopka

Zenon Konopka has a journey that not many on the list can match. Konopka was born to a Polish father and an American mother in Ontario, Canada. During his junior career, he played the enforcer role but showed some decent offensive skills. He would go undrafted after four years with the Ottawa 67s. In 2002, Konopka went to the minors and lit up the ECHL posting 70 points and 231 penalty minutes in his rookie year. He would make the jump to the AHL for the following two years. His minors’ success led to him signing an entry deal with the Anaheim Ducks. He would make his NHL debut in 2005. He would bounce around NHL teams serving as their enforcer. In 2014, after the Wild placed him on waivers, he was claimed by the Buffalo Sabres and spent the rest of the year in blue and yellow. In the offseason, now a free agent, the NHL suspended Konopka for 20 games after testing positive for performance-enhancing drug dehydroepiandrosterone. He played 354 NHL games, recording 12 goals, 20 assists, and 1,084 penalty minutes. 

With his 20-game suspension, the decline of enforcers, and Konopka almost out of his mid-thirties, there were not many offers waiting for him. Towards the end of the 2015 season, Konokpa would join the Polska hockej Liga playing in his father’s old home country. The signing was one of the first few times Polish hockey got coverage from mainstream North American outlets. Konopka would play eleven games in Sanok, posting two goals and one assist, along with 39 penalty minutes. He took the chance in Poland to see if he could still play, not wanting his suspension to be the final note of his hockey career. While he never made it back to a higher league and retired following the short stint in Poland. Playing playoff games in the country of your heritage is a nice way to end your hockey career. 

Conclusion

Poland saw a couple of former NHL tough guys try their hands in the PHL, both making quite the impact in attention for the league. Danton is no doubt one of the most impactful imports to play in Poland this century. He was the most long term player of any former NHL player in Poland. Klementyev and Tvrdon were among the best players on their team for their lone season. That is a different change from the past imports, which would leave shortly after arriving, or where way too past their prime to make a sizable impact. The next part will see a continued trend of former NHL players providing teams a proper top-line veteran.

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Kaláber’s Winless Debut A Success for Poland.

We saw our first national team action of the year and, more importantly, the beginning of the Kaláber era. The last national team head coach’s circumstances were a lot different, but there are some similarities. Valtonen faced a national team with a lot of players striking. They were also facing the reserve teams of a lot of the better European national teams. Teams, I would consider the guard of staying in the Elite division. Beat them, and you remain in the top, lose, and you’re back down to division one. The team had to try out a lot of different and new players. The ice conditions were poor, and I’m sure I could dig up more excuses to lose, but instead, Valtonen and team Poland went out and stayed competitive. 

Kaláber saw plenty of top players not join the team as they had club commitments like Chmielewski and Zygmunt, while also being without all three of Poland’s best defensemen. Poland had a different beast to fight in Hungary. Poland’s biggest enemy and a country that is ready to take on the teams that guard the Elite division. This was a team Poland, much like the last, trying out many different and new players. They could have folded and broken and let Hungary just control the matches. They did not though. They fought until the end until Hungary finished them in a close fight. The parallels are there in the beginning, but will the ending be different? 

For Valtonen, it all went downhill right away, with his next set of games being devastating losses to Hungary. Hungary controlled the Polish squad and destroyed them. It showed how much of a difference there was between the two countries. The first of game 1 showed that same trend as Hungary went up 2-0 and had a comfortable lead. In the second, though, Poland came out as strong as possible and gave up one goal but got two back. The third period was a mix between the two initial periods, but it never felt like Poland was drowning. The final was 5-2, and there was only a five-shot difference in favor of Hungary. Much different from the games under Valtonen were the shot margins were in the forties and fifties. 

The next game was so much better. It was the first time in years we saw the team Poland that won medals in division 1 group A. The team that was on the cusp of making it to the elite. Poland didn’t even have starting goalie Murray in net, but Michal Kieler, who is maybe fourth or fifth on the depth chart. A whole two players in the lineup older than 30. The team got out to an early lead after Canadian import Mroczkowski looked natural sniping one past the Hungarian goaltender. Hungary responded early in the second, but Poland would react on the powerplay with GKS Tychy forward Jeziroski scoring. Hungary would take the game in the end 3-2, after two goals from István Sofron. The shot margin for this 26-25 for Hungary.

The defense is the most underdeveloped area of the Polish national team. The forward and goalie groups feel more than fine to stay competitive with the top teams of division 1. The defense though, is the Achilles heel of team Poland. Holding the Hungary team to 26 shots is a remarkable feat of shot suppression and kept Poland in the game. Allowing 48 shots in game one was their downfall, so game two was a much-welcomed surprise. It wasn’t a significant line-up change either, as only Szurowski swapped in for Horzelski on the bottom pairing. 

The young players all delivered on their end. For once, all the imports in the line up seemed like they were making the team better by being there, not just plugging a whole. The goaltending was steady, and made some great saves. The defense was shaky but had one of their best performances in years during game two. I think when you add some of the star power back into this lineup, they definitely will be promoted back to group A. Can they fight and win in group A is a different story. Many players in the line up are already well familiar with the Kaláber style and system, and we will learn down the road how effective that style will be on the international level.

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Swedish Defensemen Damian Szurowski Getting a Chance to Represent his Parents’ Home Country

When Robert Kalaber named his first Polish national team group, it became clear that the longtime JKH GKS Jastrzebie head coach would be trying out a lot of new names. Kalaber has been at the head of a Polska Hokej Liga team since 2014. His experience in the PHL allowed seeing most of the talent Poland has to offer pretty frequently. One of those players he has seen plenty of is Damian Szurowski. 

Damian Szurowski was born to Polish parents in Ö Husby, Sweden. A lot of his family remained in Poland, where he would often visit a couple of times a year. In Sweden, though, both he and his brother worked their way up the junior ranks. His younger brother Mateusz Szurowski is a top junior player for Linköping HC and just missed being drafted in the 2020 NHL draft. For Damian, he first developed in the Arlanda HC hockey program. At the same time that Vegas Golden Knights forward, William Karlsson played for the team. In 2011, Damian Zurowksi was named the Arlanda HC 18U team captain while also playing for their 20U squad. 

He moved the following season to Nynäshamns IF. With Nynäshamns IF, he played up and down their junior ranks and made his professional hockey debut in Sweden’s division one at the age of 17. The 6’0 defender earned more and more trust until spending most of his time with the Men’s team during the 2014 season, where he posted four goals and twelve assists in thirty-two games. 

The next year he moved to Bålsta HC in Sweden’s second division, the fourth tier of hockey. Bålsta HC gave him a chance to play a lot of minutes and full time against men. After a second year with Bålsta HC, he made another move, but this time was jumping back to division one. In thirty-four games for Vännäs HC., the defensemen recorded one goal and four assists. Szurowksi would remain on the move once again in his career. This time though, a club was giving him a much more unique opportunity. 

In 2017, Cracovia Krakow approached Damian Szurowksi about coming to Poland and joining their defense. The club was coming off a second straight PHL championship and played in the Champions Hockey League once again. The defensemen would spend the next two years in Krakow, playing in 64 games and recording seven assists while winning a PHL silver medal in 2019. He would depart Cracovia but stay in Poland for 2020 after signing with Lotos PKH Gdansk. In Gdansk, he was afforded a much larger role and able to contribute more. Szurowski would post five goals and six assists in forty-seven games. His production beat his point total from the previous two seasons while finishing top 20 in goals among defensemen. 

Coming off his PHL career-best season, he was able to return to Krakow. Krakow gave him his big initial chance in Poland, and while playing for Krakow, he received one of the best opportunities of his career. Head coach Robert Kalaber named him to the national team camp for games against Hungary in early November. Szurowski is the only player on the national team from Cracovia Krakow after Damian Kapica pulled out with an injury. While by IIHF rules, Damian Szurowski is an import, there is no doubt that he bleeds red and white, and after four years in the PHL, he gets a chance to show that on the international level.

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 NHL Players Who Played In Poland. Part 2

Reaching the National Hockey League is the peak of many players’ careers, while the PHL is usually at the end of their long journey for most top imports. In the late 1990s, the eleven round draft saw many teams taking plenty of chances on European talent late. Quite a few teams took chances on older European talent, like Tomáš Jelínek, who performed well in top European leagues. There were also many junior players selected, but European scouting was still very raw for most teams. The poor scouting resulted in many players going to North America for a single year before returning to Europe. The amount of failed picks resulted in plenty of European NHL draft picks playing in smaller leagues across Europe, quite a few of them playing in Poland. 

It had been six years after the last former non-Polish NHL player set foot in Poland. The next player would be one of the most impactful as Roman Šimíček came for one of the longest PHL careers among former players to reach the hockey world’s peak. Šimíček established himself as one of the top power forwards in the Czech Republic before signing in the Liiga. After two successful years in the Liiga, he was drafted in the 9th round of the 2000 draft by the Pittsburgh Penguins at 29-years-old. He would debut for the Penguins straight away in the 2001 NHL season. He would get traded to the Minnesota Wild, for Steve McKenna, halfway through the year. He would spend the next year with the Wild and their AHL affiliate. In total, he played 63 NHL games, recording seven goals and ten assists. 

 In 2002, he returned to Europe, mainly playing in the Czech Republic, until 2010, when he signed with GKS Tychy. He would play with GKS Tychy until 2013, winning bronze and silver. He played in 117 PHL games, scoring 44 goals and 69 assists. His 117 games are the second most among former NHL players in Poland. In his final season with Tychy, he served as a player-coach. A role he has continued working in, as he has been a head and assistant coach across the Czech Republica and Slovakia. He currently serves as the sports manager for HC Vitkovice.

Roman Šimíček’s rookie card for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

One of Šimíček’s teammates with the Wild in 2001 would join him in signing in the PHL. Peter Bartoš was one of the top Slovakian forwards in hockey early in his career. He would move to the Czech Republic to advance his career. After succeeding in Czechia, he was selected in the 7th round of the 2000 NHL draft by the Minnesota Wild. He would make his NHL debut as a 27-year-old. His NHL stint was pretty brief as he mainly played in the AHL but did record two goals and four assists in thirteen NHL games.

 He left the Wild after one year, returning to the Czech Republic for the next four years. After another stint in Czechia, he played the next six years in Slovakia with  HC Kosice. During the 2012 season, he signed with KH Sanok for one year, recording 52 points in 47 games. He returned to HC Kosice for another four years in the top Slovak league before settling into the Slovak third league. In 2018, he would return to Sanok, who was now playing in Slovakia’s third league. Bartoš retired in 2020, playing in over 1,000 Tipsport Liga games and winning five championships. He currently works as an assistant coach and has since 2017. 

In 2012-13 the NHL was in the third lockout of the past 20 years. With half of the season gone, plenty of players took a chance to get a decent payday and training in Europe, mostly in the KHL, NL, and SHL. Some players took smaller opportunities, while Wojtek Wolski returned to his first home. Wolski was born in Zabrze, Poland, but his family moved abroad when he was two. He was a standout in junior hockey, leading to a successful OHL career. In the 2004 NHL draft, the Colorado Avalanche drafted him with the 24th overall pick. 

At the end of his OHL season in 2006, he immediately jumped to the NHL with the Avalanche. The 6’3 winger started his career off blazing, posting above 40 points in his first four seasons. The Avalanche would trade him to the Coyotes 2010, for Kevin Porter and Peter Mueller. Despite a point-per-game start with the Yotes, concussions would start to derail his NHL career. After disappointing production, Wolski found himself traded to the Rangers, for Michal Rozsival. The Rangers chose not to re-sign him, and then later signed for the minimum with the Capitals in free agency. During the 2012 lockout, Wolski signed with KH Sanok scoring three goals and seven assists in nine games. He returned to the Capitals after the lockout ended. In total, he put up 107 goals and 177 assists in 480 NHL games, making him one of the most accomplished NHL players to appear in Poland.

 He would spend the next six and a half years in the KHL. His KHL career almost matching his NHL career in length. This includes being out eight months after suffering a broken neck during a KHL game. Wolski would battle back and represent Canada at the 2018 Winter Olympics. Halfway through the 2020 season, he would sign with HC Ocelari Trinec in Czechia, where he teamed up with Polish national team star Aron Chmielewski. The 34-year-old winger has yet to sign anywhere for the 2021 season. The talented Wolski is currently on the Canadian figure skating competition show Battle of the Blades. He has also continued a relationship with Polish hockey as a trainer and special guest at the World Championships and other events. 

This last one doesn’t count, but I am going to mention it. Zane Kalemba was a talented goalie at Princeton. During his senior season, his save percentage drop below .900. His first professional year would be spent playing for six clubs across the AHL, CHL, and ECHL, trying to find a fit. The New Jersey native would settle as the starting goalie for the Bloomington Blaze in the CHL. The following year, he jumped to Poland, serving as the starter for GKS Katowice in 2013. His .919 SV% was tied for second among all PHL goalies. He would spend the next three years starting in various leagues, including a final year in the EIHL with the Manchester Storm. He would make one comeback serving as an emergency backup goalie for the Winnipeg Jets on March 8th, 2018. He has quickly worked his way off the ice in the hockey world and currently serves as the Direction of Hockey Operations for Princeton University. 

This group of players was one who made more of an impact on Polish hockey. Two of them played for more than one year in Poland. At the same time, Wolski is one of the best players to be born in Poland. Every single player here single handily played more games than the imports in part 1. The next group of former NHL players coming in would leave an impact and come with a fair bit of controversy.

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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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