The Polish National Team’s Poor History of Imports

I once was showing the Polish national team roster to a friend of mine, he made a joke involving John Murray. It is funny to look at the Polish roster as for most North Americans, most player names just seem like someone smashed their head into the keyboard. Then there is John Murray. The plainest and simplest name possible.

As an import on team Poland, his name easily stands out. In recent years Poland has had a lengthy history of players that they hoped to turn into imports like Murray for the national team. I mean, it is all the rage for some national teams. As team China gears up to the host the Olympics, they have pretty much signed any North American player with Chinese heritage. I question if there will be a single player on that team that was actually born and raised in China. You can’t also forget about Kazakstan, who have taken full advantage for their KHL team to stock their national team. If the Polish KHL team actually came to fruition, I’m sure Poland would have used it as well.

The problem with imports in Poland and countries like Poland is when you’re using imports that are playing in your own league, are they pushing the needle? There is no doubt that players Poland has tried to bring to the national team are among the best players in the PHL. The question is, are they going to have the impact that even a Tipsorts Extraliga player like Aron Chmielewski has?

They’re also only bandaging for temporary problems. Imports are usually already nearing or past their late twenties. If they can elevate the national team and bring more attention to the team, they do provide significant benefits for the sport in a country.

One of the biggest stories in international hockey this year was Great Britain. The British were behind Poland in hockey just a few years ago, but they have been able to rise up from Division 1B to the Elite and stay there. That Great British team features seven imports on their 25 man roster, including leading scorer Mike Hammond. The team was big news in the country and probably inspired a whole new wave of talent and money into the sport. Thus meaning when those imports are gone, there should hopefully be an ample amount of players ready to take their place.

I am often critical of the import system but completely understand. It is a better system to develop the sport in one’s country, to be honest. You also have the downside of developing players that are too good for your domestic league. The IIHF almost punishes small country talent that gets into higher leagues. If a player gets to a high enough level, they’ll probably never be able to represent their nation due to club commitments. This is due to the World Championship schedule.

The best example of this is Australian forward Nathan Walker. Walker plays mostly in the American Hockey League (AHL). The AHL regular season ends on April 13th, while Australia’s World Championship division began on April 9th last year. The IIHF has moved the dates back this year. In all three of the North American professional leagues, 50% of the teams make the playoffs. This means it still just takes one playoff round to wipe out a player’s chances. This year in Division 1 Group B, the Netherlands was pretty much without 40% of their roster as they all had club commitments to the Dutch club in the Oberliga.

There are valid reasons for why every team should pursue the import route. Poland has definitely fallen on the believer side of that. Former head coach Ted Nolan often stated it as part of his big plan for the team, but only added one import to the team. In fact, John Murray maybe the only successful import for Poland. The recent history of Poland is filled with Polish Americans and Canadians that once came to Poland intending to represent Poland, only to disappear within a couple months. I wanted to take a look at some of those names and why they turned out as they did.

The first of these imports was Ondrej Raszka. Raszka came over to Poland for the 2010-2011 season to start his professional career. He would play in Poland for two years before returning to the Czech republic for a season. He then came back to Poland, earning his Polish citizenship in 2015. Since then, he has firmly planted himself among the top three Polish goaltenders and is continuously among the best in PHL save percentage.  It is actually kind of a shame that Raszka has not been able to make his senior IIHF debut. He has continuously been the third goalie for Poland. The time will come as he is younger than both Odrobny and Muray by three years. Overall you can call Raszka a success as he provides Poland with some excellent goaltending depth and a possible starter for the future.

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The next two players are going to have a combined entry. In 2010, Dave Kostuch and Rafal Martynowski were both brought in by Wojciech Śniegowski. Śniegowski led a group of Polish Canadians that wanted to help further Polish hockey by supplying players. Both players spent two years with Cracovia Krakow. Rafal Martynowski had an okay minor league career in some third-tier American leagues and also spent some time in the Oberliga. His first year in the PHL showed some promise with 42 points (22-20-42) in 47 games, including a very strong playoff run. Martynowski next season saw a 12 point drop while playing 49 games. Dave Kostuch had an amazing first year recording 55 points (34-21-55) in 47 games. He returned the following year, but only managed three regular-season games, despite that he did play in the playoffs and overall posted 16 points (9-7-16) in 12 games. Both players had gained their Polish passports but never represented Poland.

Nick Sucharski was the next to arrive in Poland. The 6’1 Left Winger came in with am an impressive resume that included being a 5th round pick in the 2006 NHL entry draft after the Columbus Blue Jackets selected him 136th overall. Sucharski would play five years with Michigan State being named the captain for his final year in 2009. He would spend a year in the Central Hockey League before signing in Poland with Cracovia Krakow in 2011. Sucharksi spent the next two years in Poland recording 72 points (28-44-72) in 75 games with Katowice and Krakow. He would retire the following year after his season with GKS Katowice.

Justin Chwedoruk entered during the 2012-13 season with the goal of representing Poland. His grandparents were Polish, and he was excited about honoring his heritage in such a significant way. Despite being undersized, Justin Chwedoruk battled and fought hard. He excelled in a power forward style, and it helped him remain a top 6 forward in leagues like the Central Hockey League, ECHL, and International Hockey Leauge. Chewedoruk posted above a point per game season with GKS Katowice in his first PHL year. For his second year, he moved to KH Sanok, there he suffered a concussion in the fourteen game of the year and was forced to retire.

Poland then became home to Mike Danton in 2014. Danton was a controversial player, to say the least. He was a promising young NHL player until he hired a hitman to kill his agent. Danton was in prison from 2004 to 2009. After being released in 2009, Danton enrolled in Saint Mary’s University in Canada. He later joined their hockey team for two seasons. In 2011, Danton would return to professional hockey for the first time since 2004 when he signed in Sweden’s Division 1. Danton played in quite a few countries before signing with STS Sanok in Poland. Danton spent parts of the next 2 and half seasons in Poland. He was a physical force in the league and eventually was offered a spot on the Polish national team. Danton played six games at non-IIHF events. Drama arose though towards the end of his time in Poland. Danton alleges that the PZHL did help him obtain legal documents needed to represent Poland at IIHF events. He accused of the PZHL of not being paid for the two tournaments he did play with the national team. I have been told that Danton’s deal with the national team was pro-bono. Danton left Poland after the 2016 season and played one last year in a semi-professional Canadian league.

Former Montreal Canadiens 7th round pick, Mike Cichy arrived in Sanok during the 2014-15 season. Since then, he has become one of the most known players in the PHL. Since 2014-15 no player has more points in the PHL than Cichy, the next closet, Damian Kapica, is 88 points behind. Cichy also set the record for points in PHL season during the 2015-16 season with 113 beating the previous record by ten. He also has Polish heritage, which made offering him a spot on the Polish national team a no brainer. His offense in the PHL did not translate to the international stage. In 17 games with team Poland, he only recorded 4 points (2-2-4). He also made what has to be one of the worst plays in recent history for team Poland.

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Cichy is currently apart of the group of players boycotting the Polish national team participation. His lack of production and poor defensive play already put his further inclusion in doubt, though. The 29-year-old is in the midst of his sixth straight season in the PHL, and his second with GKS Tychy.

John Murray was never intended to play for team Poland. He first came to Poland in 2013 after a solid junior and minor league career in North America. He played in the; American Hockey League, Central Hockey League, ECHL, Ontario Hockey League, and United States Hockey League. Murray is an outstanding goalie and one of the best in the PHL, this has always led to rumors that the tender had offers from clubs in stronger leagues. He took one of them in 2015 and left Poland after 2 years to go to Kulager Petropavlovsk in Kazakhstan. This team offered him a potential path to the Kontinental Hockey League, the top league in Europe. After a stellar year in Kazakhstan, Murray would return to Poland and has played there ever since. He meant his wife in Poland while playing in the PHL, her being Polish-made, gaining a passport easy. Murray has become a part of the great duo that Poland has in the net. He gives the red and white eagles a chance to win every game. He is the biggest import success Poland has ever had.

While Murray was never supposed to join team Poland, there was a goalie that arrived in Opole, that was supposed to. In 2015-16, Frank Slubowski signed a deal with Orlik Opole with the eventual goal of representing team Poland. The young goalie had two steller years at Western Michigan University that lead to him getting a lot of professional interest. His junior and senior did not go well at all, both being his two worse NCAA seasons by save percentage. Slubowski did fine his first year in Poland besides a poor playoff run. It would be his only year in Poland, and he has retired since.

Another significant import joined Slobowski on that Opole team though in Alex Szczechura. Szczechura was a top player at Ohio State from 2010 to 2014. It didn’t look like professional hockey was going to be a long time thing though for the 5’9 forward. After graduating college, he only played 7 games during the 2014-15 ECHL season. In 2015-16, he had signed in Poland and played in the PHL ever since. He has always been teammates with fellow national team imports Mike Cichy while playing in Poland. Since he entered the league in 2015, he has the second-most points among all players. Szczechura was not able to obtain his passport as easy as longtime teammates Cichy and Murray. He was not able to represent Poland at any IIHF events but did play 8 non-IIHF games recording four points (2-2-4). He is currently part of the group of players that are choosing not to represent team Poland over benefits disputes.

The newest import came under Ted Nolan, who wanted imports to be a big part of his early teams. Jan Steber was the lone import that Nolan added to the national team. The Czech forward had an interesting career, he showed some promise early in his career. Steber was able to post respectful numbers in the QMJHL enough that the Toronto Maple Leafs drafted him in the 8th round of the 2004 NHL draft. He would never make it the NHL and only spent a year in the ECHL before returning to the Czech Republic. In 2009-10, after an unsuccessful stint with a Czech2 team, Steber signed in Poland with Stoczniowiec Gdansk. In Gdansk, the Ostrava native posted two strong years before not playing in 2011 and 2012. Steber would return to professional hockey in 2013, after a successful tryout with GKS Tychy. Then the following year, he moved to JKH GKS Jastrzebie.

Steber left pro hockey again for the 2015 season but played for some lower-level teams in Gdansk. The next year, he decided to return to professional hockey again playing for Gdansk and serving as their captain for the past 4 years. Ted Nolan had named Steber to the Polish national team in 2017. He played at three games for Poland during an EIHC tournament but would get injured before the World Championships. He has yet to represent Poland since.

In the end, Poland has had a long history of failed imports. The strength of the PHL in the past years just wasn’t strong enough to attract players that would push the needle. Poland did gain some excellent goaltending depth, while the jury will always be out on what Cichy and Szczechura could have provided. The current head of the national team Tomek Valtonen is not a big fan of the import idea. But we once again have a Polish North American tearing up and making headlines in the PHL with Christian Mroczkowski, who has expressed interest in joining team Poland. His talents and abilities are something Poland should not deny as he excels in a much stronger PHL. Only time will tell if any more non-Polish players will be wearing the red and white.

If you want to keep up with all the news, make sure to follow us on Twitter  @PolandHockey and like our Facebook page.

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Polish Heritage in Hockey: Montreal Canadiens Writer Andrew Zadarnowski

Polish Heritage in Hockey is a series that aims to highlight and learn more about those working in hockey with Polish heritage, whether their role is as a player, coach, executive, media member, or even behind the scenes. 

This is the first edition of Polish Heritage in Hockey, and Andrew Zardarnowski was chosen for the first piece for specific reasons. Zardarnowski is a media member in Hamilton covering the Montreal Canadiens with a focus on their minor league system. Andrew works as a writer for Habs Eyes on the Prize, and you can hear him on TSN 690. As for why he was my choice for the first guest, Zardarnwoski was one of the first media members to really reach out and interact with the Polish Puck blog. He is also an avid follower of the Polish National team.

Heritage

Andrew’s family has a story that is similar to that of many Polish immigrants to the states, “Both my mom and dad were born in Poland, displaced by the war. Both my grandfathers were Polish military officers, so obviously they weren’t seen favorably after the war after communism kinda took hold in Poland. On my father’s side, my family was displaced to France, where my father did his elementary schooling. On my mom’s side, my grandfather, who had a proper education and was an officer, couldn’t get anything more than a menial job. After that, my mother immigrated to Canada as well. Both my parents are Polish immigrants in Canada, and I’m a first-generation Polish.”

His family settled in Quebec, Canada, and despite the location, he grew up in a very Polish household. “Growing up, Polish was a huge influence in the house. Obviously, we only spoke Polish in the house. I wasn’t allowed to speak any other language in the house, there were severe punishments for speaking English and French. On Sundays it would be Polish church, on Saturday it would be Polish school, on weeknights would be Polish scouts.”

Like most people growing up in a North American home, where heritage was viewed as a crucial part of life, Andrew questioned his father on what was the point of it all. His parents were proven right though. “Every job I have had, there have been Polish colleagues, Polish contractors, or Polish clients. Where having that additional language became an advantage in that situation professionally.”

“I’m proud to say I am Polish, I’m proud to say I am Canadian, I’m proud to say I’m French Canadian from Montreal. I don’t believe that a person has to be just one thing or represent a single identity. USA and Canada is a nation of immigrants and multiple heritages that are somehow learning to coexist. I’m proud of the heritage I have.”

His Local Polish Community

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The biggest thing that I learned from our talk was about the large and proud Polish community in Hamilton. “I saw them (The Men’s National team) in Hamilton when they played against the Stoney Creek Generals. The crowd was 100% Polish, and it was amazing. We were loud! We all had a Polish jersey on, I saw a priest with a Polish jersey on it was wicked. We were chanting POLSKA POLSKA. You could see the smile on the player’s faces, they were in a foreign country but felt welcome.”

 “That is the cool thing about Polonia. Although a majority of us are born outside of Poland, we take pride in the fact were Polish. Poland has a rough history it was wiped off the map for 100 years. There is a lot to be proud of. It (Poland) is a history of fighters, a history of people that won’t be told what to do. They’re proud of where they come from, and who they are, who their father was, who their grandfather was, and what they did. We like to show it. There was a men’s volleyball team that came to Hamilton from Poland. The crowd was rabid for Poland. I saw friends in the crowd we speak English to each other, but once someone is wearing a Polish jersey on the playing field you become Polish, you start shouting stuff in Polish and telling people stuff in Polish. It is an opportunity to turn off your Canadian self and turn on your Polish self.”

Getting into Hockey

There was an easy link for him to be into hockey growing up in a time when Quebec had both the Montreal Canadiens and Quebec Nordiques, despite the two teams Andrew made it quite clear where his alliances lay, “I hated the Nordiques growing up oh my goodness. They’re the team I loved to hate. The habs playing the Nordiques on a Saturday was peak youth for me, I have such vivid memories of watching the teams play hating the Statnsys and Michel Goulet.”

Joining the rounds of hockey media though, was not something that Zadarnowski was drawn to right away in his life. He wasn’t a journalism major in college and works in the biomedical field. He needed an outlet for creative writing. When Montreal Canadiens’ SB Nation blog Habs Eyes on the Prize sent out a tweet saying they needed writers, he was instantly drawn to it. He sent in quite the application.

His first piece for the blog would come in September 2015, where he created a Sporcle Quiz for Montreal Canadiens captains.

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“I have developed a pretty solid following of late and have been growing my twitter base. I have been interacting with some amazing people actually online, people who read Habs Eyes on the Prize. It is a top site for Montreal Canadiens news and has got a very good reputation. Mainstream media actually read us, through that they got to know to me. I talk with the French and English Montreal Media. I got on to the radio on TSN 690, where I have a weekly slot on Sunday morning, where I talk about what is going on with the Habs. It has kinda just been building from there.”

While he hasn’t ruled out ever pursuing writing full time. He has used it to help his professional career. “The work I am doing with talking on the radio, writing articles, interacting with players and coaches for interviews there are soft skills and hard skills that I am able to pour into my professional life. Say I’m doing an interview on a radio, where the host is asking me questions. You don’t have these questions prepared ahead of time. You gotta learn to think on the fly, gotta learn how to answer persuasively, and gotta learn how to annunciate and speak clearly. Those are all great life skills that I apply to talking with clients in the biomedical field.”

The Minors

Andrew has earned his following is in part due to his excellent coverage of Montreal’s minor league system. “I’m a big fan of depth, knowing there is a contingency plan if player X is injured in the NHL, player Y will get called up from the AHL, and player Z will be called up from the ECHL to AHL. I like kinda seeing that deep thought in player movement.” 

This year the ECHL will feature Polish player, Alan Lyszczarczyk, playing for the Fort Wayne Komets. “I made contact with the reporter who covers the Komets last year because Montreal had a guy there. I emailed him saying hey you’re going to need to learn how to pronounce and write this guy’s name to which he replied that he might not come back from vacation.”

Zadarnowski also gave his opinion to the league in regards to a fit for Lyszczarczyk. He believes the ECHL is more similar to a European style, and a finesse player will thrive there. It also is a crucial first step in development. “The ECHL is a stepping stone between amateur hockey and AHL  pro hockey. If the step from amateur to AHL is too high, people are using the ECHL now to ease people in. That is the Toronto model now, anyone who signs a Marlie contract plays at least a game in Newfoundland.”

One piece of Andrew’s work that I would recommend everyone check out is his series on the history of Montreal Canadiens AHL coaches starting here. If you would like to check out more of Andrew Zadarnowski’s work, make sure to follow him on Twitter @AZadarski and on Habs Eyes on the Prize.

If you want to keep up with all the news, make sure to follow us on Twitter  @PolandHockey and like our Facebook page.

A Small Start To Quickly Becoming A Star in the PHL. Our Interview With GKS Tychy Forward Christian Mroczkowski

This offseason saw a brand new influx of North Americans in the PHL, thanks to the league doing away with import rules. There were many prominent North American free agents to make the jump to Poland, including ECHL All-star Mike Szmatula and former University of North Dakota goaltender Clarke Saunders. Podhale Nowy Targ brought in Canadian coach Phillip Barski. Barski brought in a few North Americans with the common thread of being players that they played in USports, the top Canadian college hockey league. GKS Tychy brought in one Usport player of their own in Christian Mroczkowski. Mroczkowski joining Tychy was not big news in Poland at the time. The Wellesley, Ontario native came to Poland on a try-out later earning a full deal after a strong camp. “My agent Rafal Omasta set it up for me, and I’m really happy I ended up signing here.

His first test in a GKS Tychy jersey would come in the Champions Hockey League as Poland took on Adler Mannheim (Deutsche Eishockey Liga) and Djurgården Stockholm (Swedish Hockey League). Two teams that are well above Poland on paper. “It was a good chance for us to play against the best teams in Europe, and we showed in a few of those games that we can compete with them and can beat them, it has prepared us well for the PHL this year.

Regardless of what you think of the Champions Hockey League as a hockey tournament, the one thing you can’t deny is their great social media presence and digital marketing efforts. There Christian Mroczkowski represented the team in social media videos.

He was also able to show his skills with the Polish language. “My parents taught it to me, and I have a lot of friends from home who speak polish too.” He is probably the first North American import I have seen that can speak Polish that well.

On the ice in the Champions Hockey League, the forward impressed Polish fans with his all-around skill. His offensive and physical efforts were often highlighted by Polish fans. “I would say I’m an offensive player who likes to be creative but can also play the North American style of hitting and defense on the penalty kill.” These skills have served him well as in his first eight PHL games. He has ten points (5-5-10) to start the season. That is good for the most on GKS Tychy and tied for the seventh-most in the league.

In GKS Tychy, that were four other North American teammates to start the season, now three as Mike Smaztula has departed. Americans John Murray and Mike Cichy, along with Canadian Alex Szczechura, have all become veterans of the PHL since signing in Poland during the early 2010s. “They have helped me a lot, especially in the beginning with getting settled here in Tychy.” The three North Americans also have another thing in common as they all obtained a Polish passport and have been able to represent Poland on the international stage. Given his heritage and deal in Poland, I had to ask the question of whether the national team was something he had thought about at all. “Yes, it is something I have thought about and hopefully, I have the chance to play for them one day, but right now, the focus is 100% on winning another championship with GKS Tychy.”

If you want to keep up with all the news, make sure to follow us on Twitter  @PolandHockey and like our Facebook page.

 

“The Kings Are Not Being Dethroned” 2019-20 PHL Team Previews: GKS Tychy

The back to back champions are on their way to a possible third straight title. The team was able to retain most of their championship core along with adding some big free agents. More young players should also be pushing to become major contributors. The rest of the PHL got a lot better during the offseason and this will certainly be a much more difficult season compared to their last two championship seasons. Will GKS Tychy pull off the three-peat or will a new king rise in the PHL?

Forwards 

Mike Szmatula – Alexei Yefimenko – Christian Mroczkowski

Gleb Klimenko Mike Cichy – Alex Szczechura

Bartlomiej Jeziorski – Filip Komorski  Mateusz Goscinski

 Jaroslaw Rzeszutko – Jakub Witecki – Radoslaw Galant

Other forwards: Adam Baginski, Patryk Kogut

This offense has too much talent and potential. Every line has the potential to produce at a high rate in the PHL. There is just too much talent it is almost absurd. It starts at the top with former ECHL all-star Mike Szmatula, based on his stats in the ECHL and NCAA, he is the biggest North American signing in league history. I wrote earlier about why he might have a chance to claim the PHL scoring record. Despite Szmatula having the more impressive resume, Christian Mroczkowski has been the North American player to hold the spotlight. Mroczkowski has played fast and physical and posted 8 points (4-4-8) in 6 PHL games, which is tied for the lead on GKS Tychy in scoring. Mike Cichy and Alex Szcechurea still make for one of the best duos in Poland, the two North Americans have now played with each other in Poland for five straight seasons. They should be among the top scorers in Poland as always. The best of the Polish players is Filip Komorski. The 27-year-old center is in his fifth year with GKS Tychy and has finished as one of the team’s best scorers each year. Last year, he had a standout performance at the World Championships for Poland. GKS Tychy also has some impressive young talent in Bartlomiej Jeziorski and Mateusz Goscinski. Both forwards are ready to be taking big steps in their professional careers and should be strong contributors. One of the top offenses in the league that is a threat no matter what line is on the ice.

Defensemen

Bartlomiej Pociecha – Michael Kolarz

Bartosz Ciura – Peter Novajovsky

Michal Kotlorz – Mateusz Bryk

Denis AkimotoAlexander Yeronov

Other defensemen: Olaf Bizacki

The defense doesn’t really have a clear identity like GKS Katowice does, rather there are plenty of different styles among its players. You have some very strong defensive only types that are not afraid to get physical if needed, two-way types that are strong passers and electric puck rushers, then game-changing offensive dominant defensemen. The defense features some of the best Polish players at the position on the planet and some of the strongest imports the league has. Bartlomiej Pociecha is a fantastic two-way player and he continues to increase his production in the PHL. He is the perfect type of player to be the leader of any defense. Mateusz Bryk is another prominent Polish player thanks to his strong defensive play, but has some decent skills on the offensive end. For his entire career, he has been a valuable part of some of the PHL’s best teams. The most prominent import to me is Peter Novajovsky. The veteran Slovak defensemen is in his fifth and potentially final year in the PHL, as he has expressed interest in returning to Slovakia. Since he arrived in Poland though, he has always been towards the top in defensive scoring and only two defensemen, Bartlomeij Pociecha and Maciej Kruczek, have more points. Both players also had a 50 game plus advantage on the 30-year-old Slovak. Olaf Bizacki is the young player on the defense that deserves to be highlighted. Watching him at junior events, you could see that he had the makings of a special player. Really sound at both ends of the ice and steadily improving. I think it is only a matter of time before he really makes a huge jump that is going to show he is a big part of the future of Poland on defense.

Goalies

John Murray 

Kamil Lewartowski

Jakub Zawalski

GKS Tychy has it really nice in net. John Murray is one of the best goaltenders in Poland and one of the most important national team players in the PHL. Murray now in his sixth season in Poland is looking for his fourth PHL Championship and will be a major part if GKS Tychy can pull off the three-peat. Behind Murray is two younger goalies in Kamil Lewartowski (21) and Jakub Zawalski (20) both goaltenders have the potential to one day be starters in the PHL. Kamil Lewartowski was able to play multiple games in the Championship Hockey League, where he performed well at times, but also seemed very overwhelmed at moments. Murray should continue to be one of the best in the PHL, while GKS Tychy is developing two potential replacements.

Prediction: 1st

There is just no stopping them. They will be the champions for the third straight year in my opinion. The PHL is getting better as a league and there are a lot of strides being taken to make it more competitive. It should be a great year and with many big changes, but the kings of the league are not being dethroned yet.

If you want to keep up with all the news, make sure to follow us on Twitter  @PolandHockey and like our Facebook page.

“Team Finland” 2019-20 PHL Team Previews: KH GKS Katowice

Leading up to the start of 2019-20 season, we will preview every team in the PHL

Lets put yourself in the shoes of KH GKS Katowice. After making it to the finals in the 2017-18 season, KH GKS Katowice had to settle for a bronze medal in 2018-19. This was a very disappointing result when the team finished first place in the PHL regular season. This included just losing 7 games along with scoring 200 plus goals while allowing less than 80. Now, of course, this was a disappointing result, but that regular season was so dominant can you really afford to make changes? KH GKS Katowice had an aggressive offseason. Only 10 players are returning from last year’s bronze medal team. This includes a change in the head coach as Tom Coolen is replaced by Risto Dufva. Are these new players enough to finally take Katowice to the top though?

Forwards

Nestori Lähde – Grzegorz Pasiut – Patryk Krezolek

Tuukka Rajamäki – Jussi Makkonen – Jaakko Turtiainen

Tadej Cimzar – Oula Uski – Teddy Da Costa

Mateusz Michalski – Filip Starzynski – Kamil Paszek

Other forwards: Mikolaj Lopuski, Szymon Mularczyk

This offense features some great Polish players and a lot of talented players with a majority of the imports coming from Finland. This is easy explained by Finnish head coach Risto Dufva, we saw the same thing happen with Tomek Valtonen last year in Podhale. Jussi Makkonen is the most notable of those Finnish players, he has recorded over 700 games in the Liiga and over 330 points. I’m really curious to see how he will produce in the PHL. I have to imagine he should at least be a point per game player. Slovenia player Tadej Cimzar is a player that I’m really curious about. He had a really strong year in the Alps Hockey League, a breakout performance that it seemed like he once had the potential to achieve his junior days and finally hit it at 26-years-old.  Teddy Da Costa also returns to Poland after a year away. It will be his ninth PHL season. The talented French forward is honestly one of the biggest players to come out of the PHL this century. In terms of Polish players, the biggest name is Grzegorz Pasiut. Pasiut is such a talented player and a joy to watch. He has been a key member of 7 championship teams both in Belarus and Poland. Patryk Krezolek is the biggest young name of this forward group and I expect him to do quite well offensively this year. This could be a huge breakout year for him and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him representing Poland at quite a few international events. This group is supremely talented and there is no line here that wouldn’t be in the top 6 of most PHL teams. A lot of teams would love to even have Lopuski or Mularczyk, whom I couldn’t find a spot for in my initial roster. This group should have no problem being as strong as the one GKS Katowice showed last year.

Defensemen

Martin Cakajik – Dusan Devecka

Patryk Wajda  – Oskar Jaskiewicz

Damian Tomasik – Marcin Kolusz

Juuso Salmi – Miika Franssila

Other Defensemen: Oskar Krawczyk, Tomasz Skokan

The defense posses some of the top Polish defensemen. There are some really good imports surrounding them making this one of the best defenses in Poland. A big thing I like about this group is how many players are able to contribute on the offensive end. You don’t see a lot of defenses in Poland with such an aggressive defense attack. Oskar Jaskiewicz joined the team from Podhale. The 23-year-old is a really strong two-way defenseman with a preference for the defensive side. He reportedly had offers to move over to North America but chose to stay in Poland with a big part being head coach Risto Dufva. Patryk Wajda also made a similar choice of jumping from Podhale to GKS Katowice. The national team defender is a force on the back end. The best things come in threes and Marcin Kolusz was the third defensemen to make the move from Podhale. Kolusz already had a great career as a forward, but has found a second life to his career as a defenseman. His strong skating and puck handling skills really compliment the position well. He is able to effortlessly rush the puck up the ice. Dusan Devecka and Martin Cakajik are very similar, both are 39-year-old Slovakian defensemen in their third season with GKS Katowice. They are both all-around players that really bring a lot to the team as well. They are the kinda players you like to have young players learn more from, giving their longevity in leagues stronger than the PHL. One of those young players is Tomasz Skokan who plays a similar game to them. He will be out for a while with an injury, but when he returns this should be a big year for the 21-year-old defensemen. I love an aggresive defense that contributes offensively and GKS Katowice has that. This unit could contend for the best in the PHL.

Goalies

Robin Rahm

Michal Kieler

The goaltending group is just as good as the offense and defense. Robin Rahm was a great choice to take over the reins from Kevin Lindskoug. Though If I had to bet my life on anything it would have been GKS Katowice signing a Finnish goaltender to be honest. Rahm made it to the Swedish Hockey League and posted okay numbers there, but also had a two-year ban for steroids. Rahm was a much better goaltender in the Allsvenskan posting save percentages in the .920%s. He also did well in Denmark but last year posted his lowest career save percentage, .901%, since 2013-14. This came in the EBEL, which is a very strong league. Rahm should be a great goalie in the PHL, but the goal is a championship and GKS Tychy’s offense showed no struggles against HC Bolzano goaltender Leland Irving, who posted a .922 SV% in the EBEL. Now, this is a very minor thing, but again the goal for GKS Katowice is a championship and the biggest roadblock to it is GKS Tychy. Both teams are so close so extremely minor things were used to make my decision.

Prediction: 2nd 

Yes GKS Katowice is an all-around good team. Every aspect of this team is at the top of the PHL. There is just one team that is slightly better in my opinion, but hey GKS Katowice won the first battle of the two teams 4-3, so maybe they can pull it off.

“Breakout Stars?” 2019-20 PHL Team Previews: JKH GKS Jastrzebie

Leading up to the start of 2019-20 season, we will preview every team in the PHL

JKH GKS Jastrzebie is the team that it would be great if every other PHL team could be them. They are the best at developing talent by far. This has created an amazing young core of talent that will have them being a contender for years to come if players stay.  Last year, after a strong start their season ended quickly at the hands of Cracovia Krakow. There is no doubt that they have the young talent and potential, but the production hasn’t been there. 40-year-old center Peter Fabus led the team in points last year. Fabus and Tomas Kominek were the only two players with more than 25 points last season and now both are gone. They found upgrades over both in my opinion, but if they’re going to win it all, they need their young talent to start producing offensively.

Forwards

Dominik Jarosz – Jesse Rohtla – Maciej Urbanowicz

Artem Iossafov – Radoslaw Sawicki  – Dominik Pas

Martin Kasperlík – Jan Soltys – Kamil Walega

Radoslaw Nalewajka – Kamil Wróbel – Patryk Pelaczyk

Other forwards: Lukasz Nalewajka, Patryk Matusik, Tomasz Kulas

The offense has a lot of young talent and they have done a better job of surrounding them with strong veterans then in years past. Jesse Rohtla is one of the biggest free-agent additions of the PHL offseason. The talented Finnish center spent the last two seasons with GKS Katowice ranking up 117 points during that time. That is the third-most points by a player in the PHL since the 2017-2018 season. He is the exact player that Jastrzebie needed. Rohtla was not the only major addition from GKS Katowice, as Maciej Urbanowicz joined the team as well. Urbanowicz returned to the team after four seasons away. The power forward is always good for around point per game production and someone younger players would really benefit from having on their wing. Now to the young talent that needs to start producing at high levels. Dominik Jarosz has been quite impressive in pre-season action scoring quite a few goals. The 20-year-old winger had only 15 points last year and did attract some national team attention. Dominik Pas is a great two-way player and strong forechecker. He has had 20 points in each of the past three seasons despite being only 19. Jan Soltys and Kamil Walega are one of the best duos in Polish hockey. The two have produced great numbers on the international stage and in the PHL. Both forwards will be leaders on Poland’s U20 team and should be leaders on Jastrzebie. If young talent produces at high levels this could be one of the most fierce offenses in the PHL.

Defensemen

Jakub Giminski – Henrich Jabornik

Kamil Gorny – Maris Jass 

Arkadiusz Kostek – Grzegorz Radzienciak

Jakub Michalowski – Kordian Chorazyczewski

This defense isn’t exciting but is still above average among PHL squads. Henrich Jabornik was the first new import to the PHL this year and is a pretty interesting player. Jabornik was a highly thought of player in his junior days, he appeared at the U18 IIHF championships and World Juniors for Slovakia. He has played in over 250 Tipsport Liga games, but has spent four years in the Erste Liga as well. There in Hungary, he has shown a lot more recording at least 10 goals and 17 assists in each season. Kamil Gorny is a really solid defensemen and maybe the best Polish defensemen on the roster. Gorny returns to JKH GKS Jastrzebie after a three-year stint with GKS Tychy. Maris Jass will be a fun player to watch this season. The veteran Latvian defensemen has played in 15 different hockey leagues and represented Latvia at plenty of international events. He is not afraid to play physical or rush up the ice. Jass plays an all-around solid game. Grzegorz Radzienciak is one of the best young defensemen in Poland. His defensive skills are ready for professional hockey, but the other end of his game has kinda flatlined since his final junior days. The defense is a lot of like of the offense featuring some strong young talent with the right amount of imports and veterans insulating them.

Goalies

Ondrej Raszka

David Marek

Oskar Prokop

In net JKH GKS Jastrzebie has a three-headed dragon of Czech goaltenders. Ondrej Raszka is the third best goalie in Poland behind Odrobny and Murray. It is a shame that he has yet to play a game for Poland at an IIHF event. He is the youngest of the three though so he has time. Raszka is vital to his team’s success and led the league in save percentage last year. A better team around him offensively should make his job easier. Now the back-up position is a bit odd to me. This offseason, Jastrzebie added young Czech goalie David Marek. Now Marek seemed to have an inconsistent career in the Czech junior leagues and lower Czech pro leagues. As a backup, I’m sure he will be fine. The thing that is odd to me is that the team also has Oskar Prokop. Prokop has a similar story to Raszka. A decent, but somewhat inconsistent career in the Czech Republic before coming over to Poland, and later representing team Poland. Prokop had a rough year last year, he only played 12 total games and was left off the roster for Poland at the U20 World Championships. I don’t know if he was injured or what was the reason for his lack of appearances. This year already Prokop has played two games in the first league, posting strong performances in each match. My guess is the goal is to allow him more playing time, while Marek can take the few times Raszka doesn’t play.

Prediction: 3rd

This team has an above-average offense and defense that is combined with one of the best goaltenders in Poland. Their team as it is should be a contender in the PHL, if young players are ready to start producing and contributing a lot more though this team could be in line for a championship run. That is betting on a lot of players taking big steps in their career.

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5 Bold Predictions for Polish Hockey In 2019-20

Hockey is officially back. GKS Tychy has already played two games in the Champions Hockey League while the first Polish Hockey League regular-season game takes place next week. This is a big year for Polish hockey. There are three national teams that will be playing in foreign leagues including the senior women’s team. Polish players are also playing overseas in the highest numbers since the late 1990s. It certainly seems that it should be a great year for Polish hockey, with that in mind here are five bold predictions

1. GKS Tychy Will Win One Champions Hockey League Game

So far already GKS Tychy has taken Alder Manheim to overtime, and in their game again Stockholm it was 2-1 til a costly third period. The team that GKS Tychy would most likely beat is the Vienna Capitals of the Erste Bank Eishockey League. Last year, Tychy beat HC Bolzano 5-3, then lost their second game 6-4. GKS Tychy should be able to win at least one of the two games against the Capitals. If the win was in regulation it would set a new high in points by a Polish team in the Champions Hockey League competition.

2. Adam Kiedewicz Will Play for Poland

This year is kinda now or never for Adam Kiedewicz in regards to representing team Poland. The talented younger forward is rumored to be gaining interest from the German national team, though he would not be eligible to represent Germany for years to come due to him representing Poland at an earlier U18 Championship. I asked head national team coach Tomek Valtonen, about Kiedewicz and if he would consider giving Kiedewicz a chance to play with the senior team. Valtonen believed it was a possibility and now that he is in Germany, he will be sure to keep an eye on him. Kiedewicz can play for Poland at the U20 World Championships as well, but I would imagine we would most likely see him with the senior team if he does make an appearance.

3. Both Women’s Teams Will Be Promoted

This year both Women’s IIHF tournament that Poland will compete in are going to be hosted in Poland. In front of their home country crowd, both teams will be able to earn promotion. The Women’s U18 team was very young last year and will be only losing a single player. Wiktoria Sikorska recorded ten points last year, and is going to come back even better. Every team should be afraid. Defender Julia Zielinska will be playing in the top level of Women’s hockey in Finland gaining extremely valuable experience that will be well above her competition at the U18s. The team should be in line for their best result in team history. On the senior level, almost the entire team will be playing together in the Elite Women’s Hockey League for the season. They will face tough competition and develop chemistry. The team will be upgrading their bronze medal to a golden one.

4. A Polish Player Will Be Drafted

The long wait for the next Polish NHL draft pick will be over next offseason. There are quite a few players that will be throwing their hat in the ring through performances in top junior leagues around Europe, with the most notable being Jakub Lewandowski. Lewandowski is attempting to make it in the United States Hockey League, the best junior league in the United States. Lewandowski checks plenty of NHL boxes and has the best chance to be the first Polish player drafted since Marcin Kolusz.

5.  Risto Dufva will take Charge of the National Team

After this year, Tomek Valtonen will be out as the head of the national team. I believe current GKS Katowice head coach Risto Dufva will take the reigns. It was already unkown coming into this year if Valtonen was going to return to Poland. His first year was filled with controversies both in and out of his control. The back-up plan for Poland seemed to be Risto Dufva, who served as a consultant during Valtonen’s first year. Dufva is a pretty good fall back option given his coaching resume is pretty impressive and quite better than Valtonen’s. While Valtonen is staying for at least one more year, Dufva is also now an assistant rather than a consultant. Dufva should have quite the influence over the national team regardless of Valtonen’s plans for the future.

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