2021 Top 50 Men’s U23 Players. #20-16

The hockey season continues to march on as we do with the list. We are now entering the next tier I discussed in the last article. If you missed it, I divide the list into three levels. The third tier is the widest, and I can see these players in the PHL, whether on the fourth or second line. The second tier is where we are now. The second tier is players I feel will be top-line stars in the PHL. These are players with that first line, top 2, or starting goalie potential. 

Now we have our next five picks, who have experienced a lot of changes in the rankings. Each player either raised or fell by seven spots. That is remarkable for how high we are on the list—the higher in the rankings, the less change we see, with injured players being the exception. A significant fall can be recovered from, as we will see later with the player who the most significant fall in 2020.

Players had to be under the age of 23 and at least 16-years-old on June 30th, 2021. We are only judging play that occurred before that date as well. Players are judged based on a combination of career history, current play, and potential. Players must have played at least five hockey games to be considered. While most of the ranking is my opinion, numerous Polish hockey people contributed their thoughts on players. One hundred forty-five players were considered for the list and reviewed. Eighty players received a ranking. Players 80-51 will be revealed at the end of the series in the breakdown article. Only the top 50 players receive a report.

Rank – Player Name (Position), Age During Next Hockey Season, Team (Ranking in 2020, change in rankings)

20 – Karol Biłas (D), 19, STS Sanok, (36, +16)

There is so much great young talent in the Sanok system. That was on full display last year, with the team having a competitive roster despite how young most of the talent was. One of the young players that had to play a lot was Biłas. Just 17-years-old to start the season is a challenging task for any young player, but especially on defense with a forward core that will not offer that much offensive support. He is physically at about average to above-average size for PHL defensemen at 6’0 and 187 lbs. But how was he on the ice? 

Biłas is a player that I usually compliment more on his stellar offensive play. He posted five assists in 32 games for Sanok, which led all draft-eligible skaters in the PHL. His point total also tied the 18th best total by any skater in their draft-eligible season of all time. In his draft-eligible season, Biłas’ point total is tied for second all-time among defensemen. It was a rare season for a player this age and especially position. 

The offensive side is still the best part of his game. While I called him a two-way guy last year, I would say he is a full-blown offensive defenseman with a nice shot. That statement reflects on his play in both zones. His defensive play is still progressing, and it’s not going to be an issue of skating. It will be an issue of experience and will likely be a bump in the road over the next few years for him. No offense to the level of Slovak hockey, but this was the first time in his career where he had to face professional offenses. If he improves in his zone as he gains more experience, then Biłas can likely be a top-line defenseman in the PHL. His offensive play will always keep him high up on the teams’ lineup with powerplay time. 

19 – Sebastian Brynkus (F), 20, Cracovia Krakow, (8, -11)

Brynkus takes a significant fall in my rankings and out of the top ten. It is not at all injury-related. He even played more than the previous year and did not suffer a large production decrease. In the end, Brynkus had a slight decline in offense in a year where so many other young players received huge chances for ice time and offensive opportunities. He is not getting that many chances to create that much production on the lower lines. His play away from the puck in his zone and the opposing continues to improve. 

Brynkus assist vs Gdasnk (PHL)

While he continues to improve the other facets of his game, his offensive skill will always be the highlight of his arsenal. His explosiveness is why he became so highly regarded after showing it at IIHF events and in Poland’s lower leagues. Until Brynkus shows his production ability in the PHL, it will be hard to project his ceiling. Among players, his age since 2010 in the PHL, his .18 point per game average last year ranks outside the top 70. Once he proves himself as a producer at the PHL, he will shoot back up the rankings, but question marks will stick until then. It may just be the playing behind imports in Krakow. During the 17 plus year reign of head coach Rudolf Rohacek, only Aron Chmielewski has been able to break into the top 6 while being on the cusp of his 20s. 

Whatever the reason, the critical part to remember is Bryknus is only turning 21 at the end of this hockey season and will already have over 150 PHL games under his belt. That experience is precious for a young player, especially when coming with a constant contender like Krakow. Playing with imports from high leagues is always a chance for a young polish player to learn. I have faith we will see Brynkus breakout even if we’re waiting for the end of his U23 days. 

18 – Michał Naróg (D), 20, Zaglebie Sosnowiec, (25, +7)

Of players who took the best advantage of the covid year, Naróg is at the top of the list. In my opinion, it is much harder for defensemen to make it in the PHL, and we have seen fewer defensemen make it at such a young age and play strong hockey over the years. The 5’8 defenseman didn’t just look in place but earned his way up the roster and found himself playing a top 4 role on defense at just 19-years-old. While the Sosnowiec wasn’t the greatest, he still earned it and helped the team keep pace. 

The biggest standout from his season was nine assist in 30 games. His nine assists were tied for 20th among defensemen in the PHL, and it was the most among all U23 defensemen. Since 2010 it would be tied for 30th among all U23 defensemen. He did this on a team that failed to break 100 goals during the regular season, making Narog a part of 10% of his team’s goal while missing six games. Only one defenseman has had more points in their draft-eligible plus two season, Oskar Jaskiewicz.

Narog Goal vs. Katowice (MHL)

While that offensive season is impressive for his age and position, that is one part of the game, and as the team improves around him, we have to see how many of those points came from top line minutes with forwards who produce above a point per game level. While Sosnowiec didn’t have a lot of talent, Ruslan Bashirov was third in points, and Yevgeni Nikiforov was seventh in the league. It is not impossible to be natural progression from his rookie year, Narog managed four assists in 30 games and had been above a point per game player in the MHL for a while. 

He has avoided making major mistakes on the defensive end while facing the toughest competition in his top-four role. Few things like missing his assignment or picking up a man will go away with more time, especially with his role challenging top line, while paired with better defensive partners. He has quickly turned some heads with his hot start. He was one of the young players named to team Poland for the Baltic Challenge Cup. 

17 – Dominik Jarosz (F), 23, JKH GKS Jastrzebie (10, -7

JKH GKS Jastrzębie won the big one last season. The best team in the league featured a forward group with the best imports in the league. Add in plenty of young players taking that next step in their career and getting noticed for stronger clubs outside Poland. In a year where so many extraordinary moments happened for the organization, it feels weird to dissect a player and ask what went wrong. Each year Jarosz proved himself more and more. With Jastrzębie, he went from three to ten to 22 points. This past year he was dropped back down to eight points in the regular season. He even found himself back in the MHL for the first time since 2018. 

It was the largest point drop by any player on our ranking from the previous season. That is also something you don’t want to see out of a player that is starting to reach that point where development starts to slow, and seeing a player’s ceiling is a lot more clear. While a drop like that is concerning, I’m not close to writing him off. It was a down year on one of the most stacked Polish teams we have seen in a long time. 

Last year we talked about how great he was, and those same compliments remain. The size and speed make him one of the most dangerous forwards in Poland, especially down low. He is brilliant and seems to have so much patience and control on the ice, generating plenty of scoring chances. While Jarosz is great, there are a few more complete players ahead of him, along with many strong imports. He dropped down the line-up and wasn’t afforded many chances. He will rebound.

16 – Fabian Kapica (F), 19, Podhale Nowy Targ (29, +13

Kapica makes a big move up the list after his first full professional season. The previous year the young player bounced around a few levels of hockey in Poland and some junior hockey in Germany. Podhale Nowy Targ is a team that is on the downswing right now and is hurting to attract talent. Especially with a significant focus on that talent being Polish. For the past few years, we have seen a push by the blue and yellow bring back a lot of young Polish players to Poland with professional opportunities. Kapica was among those young Poles and the stand out of the group. 

Kapica Goal vs Sanok (PHL)

Kapica managed three goals in 23 games in his first full professional season. While not eye-popping numbers, it led U19 forwards in goals and points. It is also tied for the sixth-most goals by a player his age since 2000. He plays hard and shows excellent hustle, and I’m honestly surprised he couldn’t generate a few more scoring chances last year. At the MHL level, we saw more offensive dominance. There he posted three goals and seven assists in eight games. His 1.25 point per game average was the fourth-best in his age range. That MHL total is something I love to see out of a player. Most players saw a drop in MHL production. I don’t know what Kapica’s ceiling is. It is hard to project with the limited amount of games he has played over the last two years. He has the potential to be a special player for Poland, and I’m excited to see what he can accomplish on Poland’s u20 squad.

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_.

A Polish Hockey Club is Trying to Sign A Dog

Now and then, I take a day off from the Polish hockey world to experience a bit of normal life. Then I come back to HK Opole of the MHL attempting to sign a dog. Paczka Kołodziej has signed a deal with HK Opole as a defensemen, pending league approval. The club’s owner owns the dog that is native to Krakow, Poland. HK Opole is hoping that Paczka will join the team in January.

Sorry to crush everyone’s dreams and hopes. This dog is not the next Adam Fox. This signing is in response to Gdansk naming former PHL forward Rafal Cychowski their head coach and registering him as a player. This makes the 43-year-old Cychowski eligible to play in the MHL. In the MHL, teams have an average age of 19.5. The league is supposed to be Poland’s top level of junior hockey. But there are no actual rules about age requirements, and Poland lacks a strong second league for senior players. This means a lot of players over 20 that are not yet good enough for the PHL play in the MHL. Due to poor junior systems, some MHL teams strongly need veterans to keep pace with other junior clubs. Growing club LKH Lodz has the highest average age of 23.39 but is 8th in the standings.

The MHL is an absolute mess. Marek Kostecki and Gdansk especially have become a mess. Gdansk has had numerous problems, including where they failed to show up for a game against Opole. Gdansk dropped from the PHL last year after failing to pay players. Many of whom they had signed to multi-year deals. They continue to hold a great hockey city hostage. 

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_.

Krakow Advances to Continental Cup Finals

The Continental Cup returned this year after a COVID-19 hiatus! The 23rd edition of the tournament featured Cracovia Krakow representing Poland. While the Cup has lost a lot of luster since the creation of the champions hockey league. The Continental Cup is still a great chance to see how Poland fares against mid and lower-level leagues and teams of Europe. For Poland, we got good results this year, with Krakow finishing second in Group E, earning them a spot in the final round.

Krakow hosted the tournament but did not receive a great thank you for that in game one. As Kazaksthan rep Saryarka Karaganda shut them out 2-0. The team from Kazakhstan really controlled the game, limiting Poland to only 18 shots while putting up 38 of their own. Denis Perevozchikov was sensational in the game and would remain that way throughout the tournament.

The red and white would bounce back with a 4-3 shootout win over Slovakia’s finalist HK Poprad. The Polish and Slovak clubs would trade the lead throughout the game. Poland took the lead first after an early goal by Ales Jezek. Poprad would score their first halfway through the period and take the lead just 21 seconds into the 2nd period. Krakow would be down 2-1. Łukasz Kamiński would tie it with four minutes left in second. Both teams would score in the third to take it to overtime. A shootout would be needed. There Erik Nemec and Ivan Yatsenko were successful, giving Krakow the critical win. On a side note, former PHL champion and Krakow forward Patrik Svitana played for Poprad.

With both top slots advancing, a win over Poprad looked to secure promotion for Poland. In the first game of the final day, Saryarka Karaganda took out Poprad, putting Krakow’s fate in their own hands. Asiago Hockey, repping Italy, was not a pushover and had kept pace with Poland’s previous opponents. That held true as halfway through the game, Asiago held a 2-1 lead over Krakow. While Cracovia would take the lead in the third, the Italiens would tie it up with just five minutes to play. The game would eventually go into overtime, where Artyom Voroshilo would bury the winning goal.

The final round will take place in January of 2022 from the 7th to the 9th. There is no venue set yet, but we do know who Poland will be facing. Saryarka Karaganda finished first in Group E and will face off with Poland again. Coming from Group F will be the Aalborg Pirates from Denmark and HK Gomel representing Belarus.

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_.

On to the Worlds… 5 Thoughts Women’s Olympic Qualification

For the first time in their young history, the Polish women’s senior team found themselves with Olympic hopes. They headed into the final round of Olympic qualification with their heads held high after an upset win over the Netherlands. This meant Poland would face top competition, the best they have ever faced. Poland is currently 19th ranked in the world, while their competition was Czechia (7th), Hungary (10th), and Norway (13th).

Everyone expected blowouts going in, but that doesn’t make them easier to watch. In the end, Poland dropped all three games by a decent margin. Poland lost to Hungary 11-1, then Czechia 16-0, before the final that Norway took 7-1. It was a sobering experience for a program that experienced so many highs recently. A reminder that while women’s hockey in Poland is expanding at a rapid rate, there is a lot left to do. 

A hot start at least. 

In a tournament where Poland had a goal margin of negative -32 would you believe me that Poland held an early lead in their first game. This was thanks to a Julia Zielinska shot that resulted in a great rebound for Wiktoria Sikorska. Through half a period, Poland had not allowed a goal and was able to take a lead. Hungary would finish the period with a 3-1 lead. The red and white also managed 8 shots on goal which would be the most a period for Poland in a tournament. It was one of the few periods that showed Poland had a chance to stay competitive. 

TV Stars

It is not often that hockey in Poland gets to be televised. There are maybe a few PHL games that get broadcasted, while the Men’s national team also usually sees its larger games reach the nation. This time both rounds of the women’s Olympic qualification were on TV, I believe these are the first women’s national team games to be on TVP Sport. Hopefully inspiring the next generation to take up hockey! While the ratings were not great, at an average of 25K for the final round. The games where Poland won in the previous round did over 60,000 and 80,000 respectively. If you want to get viewers in Poland you have to win. 

The Young Core

By the time the next Olympic cycle comes around in 2026. 16 members of this team will be 28-years-old or younger, 5 being U23 still. The young players were a key part of the team. Sikorska was one of only two goal scorers while leading Poland in shots with 10. Zielinska recorded an assist while leading Polish defensewomen in shots. Ida Talanda centered the bottom lines, and Lapies was able to make the team at just 15-years-old. 

Sass 

Sass has always been team Poland’s savior. Keeping them in games they have no reason to be in. That was still true for this tournament. Sass faced over 125 shots, the most in the tournament by over 25. She allowed 25 goals in 3 games. 7 of the goals against came when Poland was shorthanded. I mean when the shot chart looks like this. What are you supposed to do? 

On to the Worlds 

After the tournament, coach Ivan Bednar told IIHF.com, “I’m very pleased with how we played here this week, we knew what we were coming into when we qualified for this group, and that it was going to be a difficult task and I think we handled the situation well.”

Again everyone expected the blowouts, it hurts to see. But the growth of the women’s side in Poland has happened so quickly. It is crazy you still have members of the first team to play IIHF events playing with players like Sikorska and Zielinska who play in leagues probably thought to be decades away at one point. More and more young Polish players are getting chances outside Poland as well. The EWHL and strong programs continue to develop players in-house. Playing deep in the Olympic qualifiers is a new high for Poland. 

We now move on to the Worlds for this group. Poland will be facing much more even competition. Italy (16th), Korea (17th), China (20th), Kazakhstan (21st), and Slovenia (23rd). The last time we saw this group play at the Worlds, they took Bronze. I would say that is the expectation with a goal of silver.  

Quick Thoughts 

  • For the tournament, we saw two new coaches behind the Polish bench. Former national team and Gdansk player Joanna Detmer stepped in as an assistant coach. While former Slovak Tipsport Liga goalie Lubomir Babura was the team goalie’s coach. 
  • Other staff news, congrats to former GKS Katowice goalie Kamil Berggruen on his first IIHF role as equipment manager. 
  • I am not one to ever care about faceoffs, but both Pozniewska and Wieczorek managed to stay at or get close to .500. This is surprising given how most of Czechia and Hungary were 60% or more. 
  • Tetiana Onyshchenko was not present for this tournament. The Ukrainian forward is believed to be picking up Polish citizenship. 
  • Sorry for not posting and for late posts recently. A new job and life after college does not afford me the same writing time.

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_.

Former CSKA Moskva Looks to Make Comeback with Zaglebie Sosnowiec

Zaglebie Sosnowiec has added a new goaltender to their squad. The team announced on Friday the signing of former CSKA Moskva goaltender Andrei Filonenko. Sosnowiec started the year with a young tandem but was rumored to be looking to add another goalie to the mix. The team was reportedly in on former Torun goalie Anton Svensson, even making an offer. Now they have a new Russian goalie that is looking to resurrect his career.

Andrei Filonenko is going to be the veteran of his younger partners in net but is only 26-years-old himself. The Moskva Russia native was developed in the CSKA Moskva system. In 2012, he led Russia’s top junior league, the MHL, in save percentage with a .942 mark. This earned him a spot on Russia’s U17 squad at the 2012 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge. Russia would defeat the United States in the final to win gold, but Filonenko only played in one game. His career continued to progress as he started to creep into the pro-ranks. His best year as a professional came in 2017. That season he managed a .937 SV% in the VHL, along with a .941 SV% in four KHL games. After that career year though injury problems would take their toll from 2018 to 2020, he would only play 29 games. The 6’5 goalie did not play anywhere in the 2020 or 2021 seasons. His first game in Sosnowiec will be his first in about 3 years.

Sosnowiec went with their young tandem again to start the year. While the team around them has been improved, starting goalie Michał Czernik has seen a slight decline in his numbers. Through 18 games this year, Sosnowiec has only been named the winner in five of them. Which is the second-lowest total in the league. When the team went out and made some bigger offseason additions they had to be hoping for better results. While there is risk associated with Filonenko, at one point he appeared to have a KHL future. We have seen import goalies able to steal games and improve a team’s standing pretty quickly in the PHL before.

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_.

How To Watch All the Polish National Team Action This Week

Almost all levels of Poland’s national team will be in action this weekend! It is so fun to be back in a place where tournaments are being played that has a lot of meaning to them. Right now there is a lot at stake. Olympic hopes are on the line. Along with spots on future national teams that will be representing Poland at IIHF events. It is good to be back everyone!

The highest stake matchups of this week will see the Women’s Senior team head over to Czechia to participate in the final round of Olympic Qualification. Win this tournament and a ticket is booked to the Winter Olympics. These are without a doubt the biggest games in the history of the women’s team. The Men’s senior team will also be in action playing in the Baltic Challenge Cup. An exhibition tournament that will see Poland bring an extremely young roster as Robert Kalaber aims to test some new blood for the national team. Ahead of their first IIHF tournaments in almost 2 years, the Men’s U20 will be active as well with one of the final tune-ups before the U20 World Championships start in December. Both the Men’s and Women’s U18 squads will also be in action as they prepare for tournaments at the end of the year. Along with last but not least the Men’s U16 team will also be playing some exhibition games.

When is the action happening? Where will you be able to watch all the matchups? We got those answers here!

Women’s Senior Team. Final Round of Olympic Qualification

Nov. 11th – Poland vs Hungary. 12:00 PM (CET/POL) 6:00 AM (EST/NA)

Watch: Poland – TVP SPORTS (TV) North America – Olympics Channel (Stream)

Nov 13th – Poland vs Czechia. 4:00 PM (CET/POL) 10:00 AM (EST/NA)

Watch: Poland – TVP SPORTS (TV) North America – Olympics Channel (Stream)

Nov 14th – Norway vs Poland. 4:00 PM (CET/POL) 10:00 AM (EST/NA)

Watch: Poland – TVP SPORTS (TV) North America – Olympics Channel (Stream)

We will update Olympic Channel streams as links are available. All will be posted by the IIHF here.

Men’s Senior Team. Baltic Challenge Cup

Nov. 11th – Poland vs. Lithuania. 2:00 PM (CET/POL) 8:00 AM (EST/NA)

Watch: PZHL Youtube Stream

Nov. 12th – Poland vs. Latvia. 2:30 PM (CET/POL) 8:30 AM (EST/NA)

Watch: PZHL Youtube Stream

Nov. 13th – Estonia vs. Poland. 6:00 PM (CET/POL) 12:00 PM (EST/NA)

Watch: PZHL Youtube Stream

Men’s U20 Team. Exhibition

Nov. 13th – Poland vs. Ukraine. 7:00 PM (CET/POL) 1:00 PM (EST/NA)

Watch: PZHL Youtube Stream

Nov. 14th – Poland vs. Ukraine. 11:10 AM (CET/POL) 5:10 AM (EST/NA)

Watch: PZHL Youtube Stream

Men’s U18 Team. Exhibition

Nov. 13th – Poland vs Ukraine. 1:00 PM (CET/POL) 7:00 AM (EST/NA)

Watch: PZHL Youtube Stream

Nov. 14th – Poland vs Ukraine. 4:00 PM (CEST/POL) 10:00 AM (EST/NA)

Watch: PZHL Youtube Stream

Women’s U18 Team. Exhibition

Nov. 11th – Poland vs. Iceland. 8:30 PM (CEST/POL) 3:30 PM (EST/NA)

Watch: IHI Youtube Stream

Nov. 12th – Poland vs. Great Britain. 5:30 PM (CET/POL) 12:30 AM (EST/NA)

Watch: IHI Youtube Stream

Nov. 13th – Poland vs. Spain. 4:15 PM (CET/POL) 11:15 AM (EST/NA)

Watch: IHI Youtube Stream

Men’s U16 Team. Exhibition

Nov. 12th – Poland vs. Hungary. 4:40 PM (CET/POL) 10:40 AM (EST/NA)

Nov. 13th – Poland vs. Hungary. 11:00 AM (CET/POL) 5:00 AM (EST/NA)

Watch: Stream unknown. If games are streamed it will most likely be on the Hungary Federation Youtube channel.

The Next Big Step! 5 Thoughts Women’s Olympic Qualification

The Olympic qualification tournaments are weird. You play three games, if you’re a top 20 team, two of those games are frankly meaningless in a way. The Olympic qualifiers always provide plenty of blowouts. You spend the first two games comparing the blowout scores by the winners trying to see if you can see what team has an edge for final game. Poland beat Turkey 12-0, but the Netherlands destroyed Turkey 23-0, on the other hand Poland beat Mexico 8-1, while the Netherlands only beat them 7-1. There is not much to gain from either result in terms of picking a winner. Poland would be your grand prize winner in the end taking down the Netherlands with a score of 3-2 after some late game action.

For Poland this is a big step for the women’s team and has been a long time coming. It is the first time the women’s team will get to play at the final round of qualification for the Olympics. While Olympic hopes are there, the goal in that next round is not to advance. As that has almost no chance of happening unfortunately, the goal will be to stay competitive with Czechia (IIHF Rank:7), Hungary (9), and Norway (13). In August, Poland lost 5-3 to Norway, and 4-2 to Slovakia (15). It is hard to see them pulling off upsets against Czechia and Hungary. This experience will be valuable though for younger players, and vindication for older players that all they worked to build is starting to come to fruition.

Passing of the Torch or Hattrick

One of the coolest moments of the tournament to me was what happen against Turkey. While the game was a blowout, two players in the game netted hattricks. The longtime face of the women’s team and the GOAT of hockey in Poland, Karolina Pozniewska, scored 3 goals. The next face of the national team and a player that reached heights no other Pole has, Wiktoria Sikorska, also put up three goals. They played on a line together, both scoring and assisting on each’s others 3rd period goals against the Netherlands. It was a very cool moment to see two players that have had such an impact on Polish hockey sharing the ice.

Legit Łąpieś

Normally I try not to talk about players that are under 16-years-old. This is out of a belief that hockey should be fun for players that young, without having to worry about that much pressure. There have to be exceptions to that rule, especially with players like Magdalena Łąpieś who make senior squads at the age of 15. It has already been a great year for the 15-year-old forward, not only making her senior IIHF debut, but also getting four games in the EWHL with Metropolis Katowice. The sky is the limit for Łąpieś, whom is Poland’s newest junior star. One thing is for sure though, she is already legit and competition at the U18s should be scared.

The EWHL Difference

The EWHL project is one that I’m very supportive of. For those that don’t know the EWHL is the European Women’s Hockey League. It consist of teams from mainly Austria and Hungary with squads from Kazakhstan, Poland, and Slovakia as well. This allows Poland’s best players to get a lot more games against stronger players from around Europe. We have not really been able to see the effects from the EWHL due to the pandemic, but in the first big IIHF event since the team was formed. They pulled off a slight upset win and stayed competitive earlier in the year. Is that just development of Poland’s team outside the EWHL or has that experience really helped the rest of the squad? Probably a mixture of both if were being honest. When Poland host the World Championships in April, we will get a better idea.

Late Game Heroics

What a final period it was for Poland, they came in down 1-0. Then after 10 minutes, Netherlands doubled it up on them making it 2-0. Usually if you haven’t figured out a goalie with that little time left and down multiple goals it all starts to look a little bleak. Less than three minutes later though, Poland would finally break through.

The top line wouldn’t be done either yet. Just about a minute later, Sikorska would tie it up for Poland. All the momentum had completely switched. One team playing scared and the other charging down the ice. Every player on the Polish side wanting to live out the dream of scoring the game winning goal. Klaudia Chrapek would be the one to do it, only 18 seconds after Poland tied it.

The Sikorska Era

Poland’s women team has been playing in international events since 2011. Outside their first tournament, where Magdalena Szynal posted an astounding 20 points in just 4 games. Every World Championship and Olympic qualifier since 2012, was lead in points by Karolina Późniewska. Only ever even being tied for the lead in points once. In this tournament Karolina Późniewska finished with 5 points, it was third on team Poland. Kamila Wieczorek finished second with seven points, while Sikorska finished first with nine. Sikorska has become only the third player to lead team Poland in points at an IIHF event. She is the future of hockey in Poland and her era is beginning to start.

Quick Thoughts

– Just take it in.

– Julia Zielinska continues to get better and better offensively. It is really hard to know what ceiling would be on her career, if there even is one.

– Sass continues to be a brick wall in net. A great effort in both games she played, allowing just thee goals across 120 minutes.

– Wieczorek was amazing at this tournament. Finishing second on team Poland in points, the first time she had more points than Pozniewska. Still only 24 and already a veteran of the national team.

– A huge thank you to Women’s Sports Replay for clipping the goals in the tournament. Make sure to toss them a follow.

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 Most Interesting Import on Each PHL Squad

We are underway with another hockey year in Poland. This year the PHL is the smallest it has been in a while. Even though the PHL is down a couple of teams compared to the past few seasons, it is a very competitive year. Not every team is a championship contender, but no team will get blown out every game, and the top seeds losing to the bottom ones would not be a gigantic shock. 

There are two big reasons to thank for the competitiveness in the PHL. The first is how teams like Sanok and Sosnowiec have put together great young forward groups. The second reason is still the lack of an import rule. This allows every team in the league to add some strong players to their lineup. 

We wanted to take a chance today to look at the most interesting import on each PHL club. The keyword is interesting. We’re not saying these imports are going to be the top transfer for each club. Just that these are the ones, we found the most intriguing and are excited to follow. 

Cracovia Krakow – Collin Shirley

Canadian forward Collin Shirley takes the spot for Krakow. Outside of last year, North American players rarely join the PHL, with only one or two a season. Shirley was a longtime member of the Kamloops Blazers, eventually being named the team’s captain. He recorded 246 points in 352 WHL games. He later played in Canada’s university league and had a short stint in the ECHL last year. He has two sisters who have a chance to become future stars for team Canada. Both play for the University of Wisconsin and played for Canada at the U18s. His cousin Adam Beckman was a third-round pick of the Wild in 2019 and is set to play his first AHL season next year. Quite the hockey family. 

GKS Katowice – David Lebek

This one caught me by surprise. At 18-years-old Lebek has to be one of the youngest import signings in league history. The German-born forward is the grandson of GKS Katowice legend Maksymilian Lebek. He also has the height scouts love at 6’5 (196 cm), making him the tallest player in the PHL for the 2021 season. A young big forward with Polish roots would definitely peak the interest of quite a few PHL clubs and the national team, if he were to consider import status. Last year Lebek played in five games with Krefelder EV 1981 U20 in the top level of German junior hockey. 

GKS Tychy – Renārs Kārkls

Speaking of big boys, let’s talk about Renārs Kārkls. Kārkls is a Latvian defender at 6’5 (195 cm), the second tallest player in the PHL, but the biggest defender. The big 22-year-old has bounced around a little in his short career. This includes playing in the KHL, MHL, NAHL, and Alps Hockey League. He also represented Latvia at the U18 and U20 World Championships. Kārkls will have a chance to make a significant impact in GKS Tychy. This is especially true if he can repeat his .71 point per game average from last season in the Alps. 

JKH GKS Jastrzebie – Vitālijs Pavlovs

Jastrzebie saw a lot of their top young Polish talent depart recently, which means they would need to fill some spots with imports. The team has a very distinct Latvian taste, with six hailing from the Baltic country. That includes veteran Vitālijs Pavlovs. At 32-years-old, Pavlovs will be playing only his 3rd full season outside Latvia. Most of his career has been spent with the Latvian KHL team Dinamo Riga. The 6’4 forward recorded 41 points in 281 games with the club, 36th most games in club history. He did make sporadic appearances outside the KHL, with a loan to the Mestis, an early season in Kazakhstan, and a 34 point ECHL season in 2015. Last year after starting in the Latvian league, he moved to the top Austrian league, recording four assists in 12 games. It will be interesting to see what he can provide to the defending champs. 

KH Torun – Conrad Mölder

Torun’s new head coach Jussi Tupamäki has worked for the Estonian national team, so it is no surprise to see some Estonian players. New starting goalie Conrad Mölder is one of the more notable players with Estonian roots. At one point, Mölder was receiving some NHL draft hype after solid years in the Finnish junior system. He then took over as the starting goalie for China’s MHL team KRS Junior. He would then return to Finland, getting a Liiga game in, while starting in the Mestis for TUTO hockey. Last season, he was signed to play in the Tipos Extraliga but never played a game for HK Dukla Michalovce. He has already posted a shutout for Torun though. 

Podhale Nowy Targ – Pavel Novozhilov

This one was a bit hard, as only two new imports are on the Podhale squad. That is not to say Pavel Novozhilov doesn’t have an interesting career. Another player who was seemingly found out of nowhere by KH Torun. Novozhilov posted 10 points in 14 games for Torun to end the year and in the playoffs. Now Pavel moves over to Podhale for his first full PHL season. Before the PHL, Novozhilov played in 159 VHL games for five clubs, including in China and Turkmenistan. He was playing in Russia’s Saint Petersburg Student Hockey League when he signed to Torun. 

STS Sanok – Toni Henttonen

Toni Henttonen joins six other Fins on the Sanok roster. The 27-year-old played for SaPKo pretty much his entire career, both senior and junior hockey. SaPKo plays in the Finnish 2nd league, the Mestis. When it finally came time for his first game outside his home club, it was a step up when he played in the Liiga for the Ilves during the 2019 season. The following year, he recorded three assists in 16 games for Ässät also in the Liiga. Last season was the first time Henttonen did not play any games in the SaPKo organization. Now he is pretty far away from home as he suits up for Sanok, who will be counting on the winger to help their young forward core. 

Unia Oswiecim – Ty Wishart

No team had more big import signings than Unia Oswiecim, both poaching imports from other PHL clubs and free agency worldwide. The biggest one to me is veteran Canadian defensemen Ty Wishart. The Belleville Ontario native was a top prospect in the 2006 NHL draft. He was eventually selected 16th overall by the San Jose Sharks. He would go on to play 26 NHL games with the New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning. He did spend most of his time in the AHL for those organizations, recording 109 points in 329 games. After departing North America, Wishart has played in Czechia, Germany, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, and Sweden. He joins the weird list of NHL first-round picks to play in Poland with Gilbert Brule and Wojtek Wolski. 

Zaglebie Sosnowiec – Nikita Mitskevich

We end off with another team that doesn’t have many new imports, but their new one was a big get. Nikita Mitskevich is a long-time defenseman in Belarus’ top hockey league. At only 26-years-old, he has played in parts of 9 seasons in the top league with 290 games and 74 points. His highlight season was in 2017 when he played in seven KHL games for Dinamo Minsk and played for the Belarus national team at a non-IIHF event. A solid young defenseman with potential that could shore up the team’s defense.

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_.

2021 Top 50 Men’s U23 Players. #30-21

The top 50 list continues to march on as the hockey season as already started. We are starting to hit the big names on the list. In this list, I separate players into four tiers based on their floors. The fourth and last tier are players ranked 80-50. These are players I feel will have a chance to make the PHL, but no guarantee. The third tier is players I think will have PHL careers but will not be your top-line players. The second tier is players I view with a chance to become top liners in Poland. The first and final tiers are your players I feel can be good players or stars outside of Poland. Right now, we are just about at the end of tier 3. 

The next set of players are primarily big risers. Only two of the following ten players fell in our rankings. When I say big risers, I mean it as well. Some of the players next up are the players I underestimated the most. We got to see a majority of the players spend their entire season in the PHL. 

Players had to be under the age of 23 and at least 16-years-old on June 30th, 2021. Players are judged based on a combination of career history, current play, and potential. Players must have played at least five hockey games to be considered. While most of the ranking is my opinion, numerous Polish hockey people contributed their thoughts on players. One hundred forty-five players were considered for the list and reviewed. Eighty players received a ranking. Players 80-51 will be revealed at the end of the series in the breakdown article. Only the top 50 players receive a report.

Players 50-41

Players 40-31

Rank – Player Name (Position), Age During Next Hockey Season, Team (Ranking in 2020, change in rankings)

30 – Miłosz Noworyta (D), 22, Unia Oświęcim, (27, -3) 

Noworyta has made appearances for Oswiecim for the past three years, working his way to a full-time roster member last season. This year, he still spent more than a majority of his time with the senior squad. But found himself mostly relegated to the fourth line of defense with his older brother. He also missed a few games and played a couple of matches at the MHL level. His defensive play is the most notable highlight of his game, while his offensive game is lacking. While with the team, Unia Oswiecim has become more and more of a force in the PHL. They have continued to bring in better defenders ahead of him, which has played a part in dampening his development. 

29 – Konrad Filipek (F), 22, STS Sanok (32, +3)

Filipek has slowly been working his way up the Sanok system playing with the club in the MHL and third tier of Slovak hockey. Now this year, he finally got a full-time shot at the senior level of the PHL. He responded with a goal and five assists in 36 games. It was 6th among points for players his age. His late birthday allowed him to play at international events in Poland as one of the most mature players. Which always helped him stand out a bit. Now he is showing that was not the only reason why though. He does turn 22 in the middle of the season, he will need to show he belongs higher up the line up soon.

28 – Krystian Mocarski (F), 22, Stoczniowiec Gdansk, (55, +27) 

The Gdansk situation was not going to be an easy one for most players. A couple of players smashed it out of the park though, one of them was Krystian Mocarski. Mocarski had an excellent year for the blue and white in northern Poland. In total, he recorded eight goals and seven assists in 36 games. It was tied for 9th among U23 PHL players in terms of points, and his .42 PPG game average was 11th among U23 skaters. It was also second on all of Gdansk for points. Plus his total was also tied 44th among all Polish forward since the 2010 season in points per game. Next year Mocarski is moving to a much better Sanok team, and I’m excited to see how it goes. 

27 – Jakub Blanik (F), 21, Zaglebie Sosnowiec (20, -7)

Last year Blanik went to Sosnowiec in search of more chances after he was deemed too small for JKH GKS Jastrzebie. It was a breakout year for the 5’7 forward who posted 7 points in 17 games with Sosnowiec, though he was also pointless in 13 games with PZHL U23. This year, he was scheduled to get a more significant role with Sosnowiec on their weaker roster. Blanik was one of the players that suffered from a watered down roster, as he posted a meager two goals and one assist in 31 games. His .10 point per game average was 30th among U23 PHL forwards. This was a rough year for a good player, who should be able to recover. 

26 – Adrian Gromadzki (F), 17, HC Dynamo Pardubice U17 (NR)

Gromadzki would have been ranked last year if he met the age requirement. He was, unfortunately, playing in a Czechia junior system that shut down less than ten games in. He recorded three goals and four assists in his five games, Which were 9th among players in points per game that played five games in their draft-eligible -2 season. He has got the size and offensive touch that will get him attention outside Poland. He is set to play at the Czech U20 level next season. 

25 – Jakub Bukowski (F), 21, STS Sanok (64, +36)

Bukowski has long been a good player for a long time abroad, but it was mainly in the second level of junior leagues in Czechia and Switzerland. Still, he has shown a lot of promise, and we put him as the U23 player to watch on Sanok. Bukowski delivered on that with five goals and six assists in 40 games. The second most points by a player in the draft-eligible +2 season. His ceiling is hard to tell, and he will need to continue to bulk up. The more time we get with him on Sanok, especially as the team improves, will help see what he can fully become. Right now, it appears his floor is a solid PHL middle-six forward. 

24 – Sebastian Lipiński (G), 21, Unia Oswiecim (31, +7)

I think imports have a considerable place in Polish hockey, but there is no doubt that there is starting to be a problem with how few young goalies are playing.  Lipiński is our top-ranked goalie who played four games in the PHL last year. He recorded a save percentage of .900, which is the highest of his career in the PHL. The rumors suggest that Lipiński will be playing in the U.K.’s NIHL, the second level of men’s hockey in the country. Not much else to say about it. There is a problem with Polish goalie development in a significant way. There is nowhere for them to play appropriately. 

23 – Kacper Gruzla (F), 22, GKS Tychy (49, +26)

From barely making the top 50 to being right smack dab in the middle, Gruzla comes in at 23. Gruzla forced the Tychy staff to play him as much as possible. This was the first big taste of the PHL for the Mikolow native. He had previously played 14 games with PZHL U23, but only one with GKS Tychy. This year, he found himself with 22 games and responded with five goals and three assists. His nine points tied him for the 13th best point per game average among all U23 skaters, it is tied 9th among Polish players. Gruzla went from a young player looking to make an impression to a part of GKS Tychy’s everyday lineup. 

22- Klaudiusz Libik (D), 20, Vålerenga U21 (12, -10)

Libik is a player I like a lot and I see a chance for Poland to have something their lineup often lacks. Which is a defenseman good enough to play in leagues stronger than the PHL. Libik worked his way up to the top junior leagues of Norway. In the end, his lack of experience, inconsistency, and quick changing of teams has resulted in a player with mixed development. This past year Libik managed a goal and an assist in seven games with Vålerenga U21, his third U21 junior team. 

Now next year, he will be turning professional in Norways’ 2nd league. This is the perfect place for him to gain constant playing time against senior talent while developing. Hopefully, his flaws should not bite his game as much. 

21 – Mateusz Bezwiński (F), 20, Cracovia Krakow, (26, +5)

Bezwiński’s improvement seems to get larger and larger every year. As the soon-to-be 20-year-old finished 5th in points among U20 skaters with three goals and three assists in 19 games, it was 3rd in points per game. In the MHL, he recorded 12 points in nine games, which is a tad bit better point per game average than the previous year. This is a bit more notable because of how many players lost points from the year prior. Krakow has a large batch of young forwards; hopefully, Bezwiński’s growth rate continues. He no doubt would have been one of the leaders at the U20s this year for Poland.

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_.

Light at the End of the Tunnel. 5 Thoughts Olympic Qualification

The light at the end of the tunnel is here. 

For the past few years, I have taken an approach to Polish hockey that is a bit dark at times, wondering if there is any end in sight for the downfall that Polish hockey had begun. While also stressing at the same time that there was young talent there to help build the national team. That young talent has to lead us to the light at the end of the tunnel. Poland pulled off a massive upset over Belarus. This win was mainly due to the heroics of John Murray, yes the most Polish name to ever to Polish. The team in front of Murray executed the game plan to a key. Poland was outshot by plenty. Most of the shots were forced to the outside and not key scoring areas.

Poland would drop the final two games, losing 5-1 to Slovakia and then 4-1 to Austria. While the last two losses hurt, they can’t destroy the high from the first win at the final stage of Olympic qualification for Poland.

Am I an Idiot? 

In my post dissecting the Polish roster beforehand, I criticized the overly defensive forward group that Kalaber brought to the tournament. Poland only scored three goals in this tournament, less than the six goals when Poland was in the final qualification round for the previous Olympics. Could Poland have used those goal scorers? Yes, but also Kalaber brought the players for his plan. Those players executed the plan strongly, and Poland stayed competitive and won a game. So I am going to say I was wrong there. 

Alan the Iron Man

We already have gone on about Lyszczarczyk’s outstanding play last year, especially with his 90 plus games played this past season. Now just a couple of months later, he was suiting up for team Poland against the best competition he has faced potentially in his career. He did not appear out of place, recording three assists to lead Poland in points and tied for the tournament lead in points.

Hurray Murray 

There was no doubt that John Murray was the MVP of this tournament for Poland. The American turned Pole was an absolute stud in this tournament. While the team in front of him tried to take as much pressure off as possible. He had to stop a total of 124 shots total, including his 46 save shutout versus Belarus. Polish goaltending is going to be in good hands for the remainder of his national team career. 

A Changed Zygmunt 

Polish players need to go abroad to reach their full potential. Getting the level of coaching and training that others possess will take years and money that the PZHL doesn’t have right now.  When Zygmunt left Poland, he had a lot of potential, but his game had many flaws. Ever since he started playing in Czechia, he is a changed player. Zygmunt especially knows how to use his size now, along with significant strides in his skating. He is one of the most critical players in Poland’s future. 

Pas’ Time 

This year, Dominik Pas is set to play his first season aboard in the top league of Slovakia men’s hockey. HK Dukla Michalovce is getting a good one. When Pas was on the ice, he made a solid impact and was a pain in the ass to play against. Pas’ forechecking and two-way ability gives him a complete skillset that a lot of other players lack. I’m excited to see how he will grow against stronger competition with improved training. 

Quick thoughts 

  • Pasiut is such a welcome return to the national team. Lead the team in shots on goal with 11. 
  • Penalties were low this tournament, and it was good to see, especially when the competition plays so much faster. Still some at bad times, but Poland was last in penalty minutes. 
  • On the flip side, Poland had the best penalty kill in the tournament, allowing a single goal while shorthanded.
  • I’m proud of this team. They did the unthinkable and got us all to believe the Olympics were possible, even if for a second. 
  • The young core of the national team is here. Alan Lyszczarczyk (23), Kamil Walega, Pawel Zygmunt, and Dominik Pas (21) were key players in this tournament. That is not even counting Damian Tyczyński, Jakub Lewandowski, and Jan Soltys. They’re the light at the end of the tunnel.