The NHL Players Who Played In Poland. Part 5

We are back to looking at the players who reached the highest peak of the hockey world by playing in the National Hockey League and then played in Poland. How they ended up in Poland, how they performed, and where they are now. I paused this series for a bit when I initially was writing it. Part five was supposed to be the final part. Over the last couple of seasons, many former NHL players have found themselves in Poland primarily due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Free-agent options were slim for plenty of great imports. Before we get to the Covid years, we have to close out the 2010s. This group of players saw something uncommon from the previous one. Most of the players featured in this part were first or second-round NHL draft picks. In fact, at one point, Poland had more top picks from the 2000 NHL draft than any other league.

Part 4

Jaroslav Kristek

Jaroslav Kristek moved up the Czech hockey system very fast. At 17-years old, he already found himself as a full-time forward on HC Zlín in Czechia’s top senior league. His performance at the U18 World Championships led to the Buffalo Sabres taking him 50th overall in the 2nd Round of the 1998 NHL entry draft. He would immediately head over to North America, playing two seasons in the Western Hockey League with the Tri-City Americans. In 2001, he signed his entry league deal with the Buffalo Sabres. He would mainly play in the American Hockey League with the Rochester Americans. In the AHL, Kristek recorded 49 points in 125 games. He would get one cup of coffee in the NHL, playing in six games during the 2003 season.

After 2003, Kristek would return to Czechia. He would play in Czechia for the next seven years and won the Extraliga championship in 2009 with HC Energie Karlovy Vary. After over 400 games in the Extraliga, the veteran forward would start to move around Europe with stops in the Kontinental Hockey League with Lev Poprad and a few various teams in Belarus’ top league. In 2017, he would sign in Poland with GKS Tychy. The high-scoring Czech winger would play a valuable top 6 role in Poland, scoring 18 goals in 42 games while helping Tychy to a second-place PHL finish and a Polish Cup victory. He would leave Tychy after one year and spend the next few seasons in the lower divisions of France. He appeared to retire after the 2021 season but returned at 42-years-old in 2022 to play for HC Brumov-Bylnice in Czech’s fourth division.

Krys Kolanos

Krystofer Stanley Kolanos, better known as Krys Kolanos, proved to be one of the top prospects in hockey during the early 2000s. After recording a 32-point rookie year for Boston College, Kolanos was drafted 19th overall by the then Phoenix Coyotes in the 1st Round of the 2000 NHL entry draft. Krys dominated the college level for another year before making his NHL debut in the 2002 season. The Canadian forward recorded a 22 point rookie season in just 57 games. Unfortunately, on January 29th, 2002, Kolanos would suffer a nasty concussion and be knocked unconscious after being hit from behind by Buffalo Sabres defensemen Václav Varaďa. The concussion affected the rest of Kolanos’ career, and he ended up only playing two games during the 2003 season. He returned at the end of 2003 to represent Canada at the World Championships, winning a gold medal. From 2002 to 2013, the Calgary native with Polish roots played in 151 NHL games and 362 AHL games. He was a dominant AHL player recording a .93 point per game average during the regular season.

His North American career would come to a close after the 2013 season. He would have two short stints in the KHL, playing in only 11 games across two seasons with two clubs. He took the entire 2016 season off but returned the next year, playing in Germany and Italy. To start the 2018 season, Kolanos would sign in Poland with GKS Tychy. The former Coyote was a significant signing in Poland given his heritage and NHL past. He would play in 16 PHL games, recording 16 points, and helping Tychy win a Polish Cup! Shortly after, he would leave Tychy and return to Italy, where he played seven more games before retiring.

Tomas Kana

Continuing the trend of high picks, Tomas Kana was the top junior player in the HC Vítkovice system. In 2016, Kana became a full-time player in the Extraliga and played for Czechia at the Wolrd Juniors. The cherry on top of his season would be the St. Louis Blues selecting him in the second round, 31st overall of the 2006 NHL entry draft. Kana was the first pick outside of the first round, which meant the Blues had to have high hopes for the Czech center. After another year in Czechia, Kana would sign his entry league deal with the Blues in May of 2007. He mostly spent his time with the Blues’ ECHL affiliate the Alaska Aces. During the 2010 season, he found himself traded to Columbus Blue Jackets and finally found his groove in North America. After only one point in 18 games with the Blues’ AHL affiliate, he quickly amassed 28 points, including 15 goals, in just 50 games in the Blue Jackets system. This earned him a call up to the NHL, where he recorded two assists in six games. He would return to the Jackets organization the following year but struggled again in the AHL.

He returned to HC Vítkovice for the 2012 hockey season but did not make much of an impact in the Extraliga. Since then, he has bounced around the Czechia hockey system playing for plenty of teams at all three levels, along with stops in Germany, Kazakhstan, Romania, Slovakia, and the United Kingdom. From 2012 to 2017, he played for 13 different teams. He would finally land in Poland with Zaglebie Sosnowiec. Kana was trusted to be a leader in Sosnowiec and delivered on the ice, recording 33 points in 42 games, which was second on the team. Sosnowiec would fall to almost last but win in the relegation round to stay in the PHL. Kana did not return to Sosnowiec and has since played in England and the Czech third division.

Pavel Vorobyov

The 2000 NHL draft was loaded with Russian talent. Forty-two Russian players would be taken in the draft, with eight being taken in the first round alone. One of the first Russians taken was Pavel Vorobyov. Vorobyov was born in Kazakhstan but grew up in Russia and developed in the Yaroslavl system. The Chicago Blackhawks drafted him 11th overall in the first round after he recorded eight points in six games at the U18 World Championships. The Hawks brought him over to North America for the 2014 season. He went up and down between the NHL and AHL. He had a decent amount of success with multiple long NHL stints and over 100 AHL points. Despite recording 21 points in 39 games during his final NHL season, he would return to Russia.

After returning, Vorobyov would play in the KHL from 2007 to 2014. After a couple years in Russia’s second league, he would spend the next two years with the Edinburgh Capitals in the United Kingdom’s top league. After Edinburgh was eliminated from the EIHL playoffs in 2018, Vorobyov was given his release from the club. He would be a late addition to Cracovia Krakow for their PHL playoff run. Vorobyov would be quite the clutch performer recording 14 points in 13 PHL playoff games. After the playoff run, he would not return to Krakow and would play for three more years between Romania and Ukraine. In 2022 he began his coaching career and currently coaches junior hockey in Russia.

Jason Bacashihua

Next in the trend of top draft picks is Jason Bacashihua, who was drafted 26th overall in the 1st round of the 2001 NHL entry draft. The Dallas Stars made the big pick after the Michigan native led the Chicago Freeze in the NAHL. He would only spend one more year at the junior level leading the Plymouth Whalers in the OHL and Team USA at the Worlds Juniors. At the end of the 2002 season, he would sign his entry league deal with the Stars. This would be the start of his journeyman career, as he would appear in multiple different NHL organizations, mainly as their AHL starting goalie. He would play in 38 NHL games from 2007 to 2008 with St. Louis; he also represented Team USA at the World Championships during those seasons. He played in over 300 AHL games across 11 different seasons, winning a Calder Cup in 2010.

After his 2012 season in the Philadelphia Flyers organization, he would pack his bags and head to Europe. Over the next three seasons, he would be the starting goalie for the Straubing Tigers in Germany’s top senior league, the DEL. Following that, he would be the starter for HC Banska Bystrica in Slovakia for two seasons before a season in South Korea. Bascashihua didn’t sign right away to start the 2018-19 season but would head to Poland to join Cracovia Krakow in late September. Krakow needed a goalie after not re-signing Polish legend Rafal Radziszewski. Jason Bacashihua would only play five games in Poland, recording a .906 save percentage. It wasn’t a fit between the two sides, and Krakow would go with the next player on our list. Bacashihua would finish the season in Germany’s second league. He has played in England, Hungary, and Italy over the past few seasons.

Miroslav Kopřiva

Miroslav Kopřiva breaks our streak of top picks, as he was only a sixth-round selection of the Minnesota Wild in the 2003 NHL draft. The big goalie had been one of the best goalies in the Czech U20 league but had yet to play at the senior level. The Wild allowed him to stay in Czechia and start to take his baby steps in senior hockey. The team would bring him over to North America for the 2006 season. He would appear up and down the North American professional hockey levels over the next two years. He posted strong numbers in the third between the CHL and ECHL but posted lackluster numbers in the AHL. He never did appear in an NHL game but served as a backup in both seasons.

Kopřiva tried to stay in North America for the 2008 season, signing with the Austin Ice Bats of the CHL but would leave the team and return to Czechia after 10 games. He would spend the next nine seasons in Czechia and Slovakia, even appearing in the KHL for HC Slovan Bratislava. In 2018, he joined the Coventry Blaze of the EIHL in England. He would be beat out for the starting job throughout the season by another former Wild goalie in Matt Hackett. Kopřiva would then join Cracovia Krakow in Poland for the end of the 2019 season, replacing Jason Bacashihua. The Kladno native then played some of the best hockey of his career. He was lightning in a bottle for Cracovia, helping the team to a silver medal after recording a .926 save percentage in 14 playoff games. He would re-sign with Cracovia for the following year. He remained the starter for the red and white, posting a .916 sv% in 40 games. He did not return for a third season in Poland and never signed anywhere. In 2022, he resumed his career and returned to Czechia with HC Letci Letňany in the Czech third division.

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 One-Line Team. 2022 Division 1 Group B U18 World Championships 5 Thoughts.

We can all wait for some moments. After two years of covid cancellations, the Men’s Senior team finally returned to the Worlds and won gold. Part of me really does believe that the three years it technically took to get back in Group A makes it all the sweeter. Unfortunately for other age levels, two canceled years means players aged out of eligibility and didn’t have a chance to finish what they started. Poland had no returners from their 2019 squad that earned a promotion to Division 1, it was now up to an entirely new roster to try and stay in the division, but could they do it?

Poland quickly saw the reality they faced in game one when offensive powerhouse Ukraine beat them 6-1. Ukraine would score 5 or more goals, including 12 against Austria, against every opponent besides one. Next up was Poland’s eternal hockey rival Hungary, who saw off Poland pretty quickly, 5-2. Hopefully, it would have been more smooth sailing for Poland with the top two teams in the tournament out of the way. In a back and forth contest against Itlay, Poland would fall 8-5 in the best chance to grab points. Poland would close the tournament with a 5-2 loss to Austria and then a 6-1 defeat against Slovenia.

A Rough Week in Net

You saw the scores, so let us address it right away. It was a very rough tournament for Poland’s goaltending, particularly for starting goalie Jakub Ciucka. While there were a couple own goals and some significant defensive lapses at times. This was a rough tournament, and there were some plays where all you can say is “oof’. Ciucka finished with a .820 save percentage, while his backup Maksymilian Kura finished with a .762. sv%. Especially in the game against Italy, Poland could have won. They scored five goals and still lost by three.

Keeping Pace

While Poland was the inferior team in each game. They were not actually as bad as the scores portray. Usually, when you see blowout scores, you also expect a similar disadvantage in the shots. Only in one game was Poland killed in the shot department as they were outshot 45-15 against Austria. Poland outshot Italy 28-27 while losing the shot battle by less than five against Ukraine. They also were tied with Austria in goals for at the tournaments. Poland did their best. It wasn’t enough. As the team improves, I see them staying in Division 1 as a very likely outcome. They mostly looked like they belonged. Not saying I’m expecting them to win a medal yet, but fourth and fifth place finishes should be on the table.

Czech Stars

In 2022, Poland only had 10 players in Czech junior leagues at the U17 level and above. That is down from the 16 that Poland had during the 2021 season. Five of the 2022 players made Poland U18. Of Poland’s top five skaters in points, four of them played in the Czechia junior system. Krzysztof Macias finished first with 7 points (2G-5A-7PTS), Dominik Kolat second with 6 points (4G-2A-6PTS), Michal Kusak was third with 3 points (2G-1A-3PTS), and then tied for fifth was Adrian Gromadzki with 2 points (0G-2A-2PTS). The top line of Kolat, Kusak, and Macias was one of the best lines in the tournament. Even when Kusak was moved down for Gromadzki to join the top line, Kolat and Macias didn’t miss a beat with their Czech junior league counterpart.

Master Macias

I usually don’t want to use two thoughts on one player in an article, but Krzysztof Macias deserves his own closer look. Macias was involved in seven goals on a team that scored 11 total goals. His 7 points were also tied for fifth in the tournament. Given that Hungary and Ukraine scored a combined 49 goals him cracking the top five is significant, in my opinion. The Polish captain also fired off 19 shots, about 20% of Poland’s total shots on goal, and tied for the fourth-most in the tournament. Given he only scored twice on those 19 shots, I believe he got a bit unlucky on his goal amount. Macias proved that he is Poland’s best U18 prospect and maybe even the best U20 prospect. A reminder, his two assists on Poland U20 put him second in scoring and tied for the lead in assists.

The Expected Result. Now What?

I saw some people a bit stunned about the results of the Polish team. Particularly about the result versus Ukraine. Poland’s junior system is inferior and years behind almost all top European countries. Poland is one of only a few countries in Division 1 to not have a fully dedicated U20 league. Ukraine especially has been impressive in its youth development. They even defeated Austria with a score of 12-4. Poland being relegated was the expected result, even if Poland’s performance in their own end didn’t help.

Poland will be relegated to Division 2 Group A next year. Their opponents will be Estonia, Great Britain, Lithuania, Romania, and Croatia. Poland often faces a familiar list of teams in Division 1 at the Senior World Championships. It will not be a cakewalk for the U18 squad, especially as they will be returning only 4 skaters. The good news is two of them are their top defenders in, Blazej Chodor and Karol Sobecki, while Finnish junior league forward Krystian Lisowski will also return. The most significant addition the team will have is goaltender Igor Tyczynski. Tyczynski was very impressive in nine MHL games and had an outstanding performance at recent U16 events.

Quick Thoughts

– Karol Sobecki showed off really well at this tournament. The 16-year-old was easily Poland’s best defender in the five-game showing.

– Another defender I liked was Blazej Chodor. He has ideal size and wasn’t afraid to get physical. But it did put his team in some rough places at times. As he gains more experience, his awareness will improve and he’ll pick better times to step up for the big hit.

– While the team was led mainly by the Czech stars on the offensive end, Paweł Pisula put in a great tournament on the forward side. His two-assist placed him tied for fifth in points.

– In his IIHF coaching debut, I thought Łukasz Sokół put in a good performance. The team stayed competitive, maybe a bit too hesitant to switch goalies at times. Based on how Kura did play in his limited minutes, I can’t blame him for that.

– This tournament will make a significant impact on my rankings for the year, while only five games. These are the five best opponents I will see most players play against all year.

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_.

Time To Celebrate! 2022 Men’s Senior World Championship Division 1 Group B 5 Thoughts

After two years of Covid cancellations, we were finally back to IIHF tournaments. It has been a wild year, and one with a lot to celebrate in Poland regardless of how the Men’s Senior performed at this tournament. Despite that, failure would not be an option for team Poland at the event. The team that was on the cusp of playing in the Elite during the mid-2010s was stuck in Group B for a second straight tournament. Poland needed to get back in Group A, or sweeping changes were bound to occur.

Poland started off the tournament in a strong fashion. They would shut out their first opponent Estonia in a 3-0 win. In the following game, Poland took on Ukraine. Ukraine, despite playing during an extremely difficult time in their country, put up an extremely strong fight. Poland and Ukraine would stay even until the end, when eventually Poland won in a shootout. The third game was a blowout victory versus Serbia that ended 10-2. Poland and Japan were meeting on the final day with gold and promotion on the line. While Poland was the favorite, Ukraine took them to overtime and Serbia posted two goals against them. Japan was a strong team, and Poland was not unbeatable. In the end, Murray held strong and Lyszczarczyk carried the offense. Poland defeated Japan 2-0 to win gold and promotion!

GOOOOOOOOOOLLLLLLLLLDDDDDDDDD

We can break down every game and the concerns of the future, but first, let us take a chance to take a breath and enjoy the moment. Poland won gold. It feels good, Japan and Ukraine were great wins for the team. We all wanted to see progress out of the national team, and they no doubt showed that this year. The team was full of youth and was missing three veterans in Kapica, Kolusz, and Pasuit. We saw the new core of the team step up and win gold. Five members of the roster were making their World Championship debuts, while five more were in their second appearance. Only 12 skaters appeared with Poland at the 2018 Division 1 Group A World Championships. Poland won gold, let us be happy.

The Wall of Murray

Everyone’s favorite American in Poland did it again. Murray stopped 88 of the 90 shots he faced. He shutout both Estonia and Japan en route to Poland’s gold. He only allowed two goals against Ukraine, while also only allowing one Ukrainian shooter to score during the five-round shootout. Poland didn’t make it easy for him as well. Poland was outshot versus both Estonia and Ukraine and only outshot Japan by three. Against Japan and Ukraine, Poland only held a 2-goal lead for a minute, making every save crucial.

Powerplay Woes

Poland went 1 for 15 on the powerplay, including 1 for 5 against Serbia. Poland scored 9 even-strength goals against Serbia. If Poland wants to stay in Group A, the powerplay is going to need a major overhaul. Poland had plenty of chances to close out the games against Japan and Ukraine on the powerplay but kept coming up short. Against Ukraine, this was really bad as the game was in sudden death overtime, where one goal was all that was needed. Instead, Poland’s powerplay expired, and then they gave Ukraine a powerplay of their own.

The Next Powerplay QB

One of the reasons for the powerplay struggle might have been the fact that Poland really lacks a dynamic offensive defenseman. For most of the years in Division 1 Group A, Pawel Dronia patrolled the line and racked up 29 points in 40 games. Then Marcin Kolusz switched over to the defense, revitalizing his career. Neither was at the tournament for Poland, and we might not see them play again for the national team. Only one defenseman on the national team roster finished top 10 in points among defensemen in the PHL. Maciej Kruczek finished with 21 points, which was 8th among defensemen. Only two more were top 20. Bryk finished 13th, while Jaskiewicz was 19th. As I say this though, it was a defenseman who scored the gold-winning goal for Poland.

What is Next?

Poland now heads back to Division Group A for the first time since 2018. While we can try to speculate on their opponents, we will have to see how the IIHF handles Russia and Belarus, along with changes they made with those two teams being suspended due to their invasion of Ukraine. The 2022 Group A tournament will take place from May 3rd to May 8th in Slovenia. The 2023 edition of the tournament will take place from April 23rd through April 30th in a to be determined location.

Quick Thoughts

– Poland’s team at the tournament had an average age of 27.36. While the oldest in the tournament, it is the youngest team Poland has had since 2014.

– David Zabolotny became only the fifth goalie to start a game at the World Championships for Poland since 2010.

– Dominik Pas had a really good tournament, especially against Ukraine. He was always on the puck, and a huge thorn in their side.

– Poland’s penalty kill was equally as good as their powerplay was bad. Opponents went 1 for 15 against Poland’s penalty kill unit.

– Poland’s top seven scorers all played at least one season abroad as a senior. Going outside Poland helps development no matter the age of the player; Filip Komorski in his age 30 season is a completely changed player after one year in Czechia.

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_.

Poland and Japan Followed the Same Path Down, Now Their Quests to Return Are Intertwined

On May 5th, 2002, Poland and Japan would face off at the Elite Division of the World Championships. Poland was back in the Elite Division for the first time since 1992. The red and white were led at the tournament by NHL players Krzysztof Oliwa and Mariusz Czerkawski, and national team stalwarts Jacek Płachta, Tomasz Jaworski, Waldemar Klisiak. The national team was in a good place with two NHL players and multiple players around strong leagues in Europe. Poland started the tournament on the wrong foot, losing by a combined score of 18-0 to Finland, Slovakia, and Ukraine. This sent them to the relegation round, where they convincingly beat Italy 5-1. In their next game, Slovenia would beat them 4-2, making the May 5th game vs. Japan do or die, or maybe just die.

Japan had long been competing in the IIHF, often finishing in the high teens for their IIHF rankings. Then in 1998, Japan was awarded the winter Olympics in Nagano. In a mirror image of what we saw recently with China hosting the Olympics, the IIHF had to make the Japanese club more competitive. After winning the Far East Qualifier, Japan started playing in the Elite Division of the World Championships and stayed in the Division. The team relied heavily on players, usually with Japanese heritage, becoming imports for the country, many of whom had been playing in Japan for quite a few years. Homegrown talent like Takahito Suzuki also shined though. Japan would suffer a similar start to the tournament as Poland, losing 9-2 to Germany, 5-2 to Czechia, and then 5-1 to Switzerland. Japan would lose 4-3 to Slovenia to start the relegation round. They would then suffer a rough defeat with Italy at a 6-2 final. This meant the game with Poland would be for pride and to not go winless in the round.

On a side note, that Japanese team also featured Yutaka Fukufuji as the third goalie. Fukufuji was just a couple years away from making history when he would be the second Japanese player ever drafted to the NHL and the first goalie. In 2007, he became the first Japanese player to appear in an NHL game. He would go on to appear at 11 World Championships for Japan. He is still playing and will be backing up Yuta Narisawa versus Poland at the 2022 Worlds.

On May 5th, 2002, the puck drops. Poland would grab the lead during the first period, scoring once. Japan’s defense was standing firm, but eventually, Poland broke through big time in the second period. After two periods, it would be a 4-1 lead for Poland. Both teams would add one more goal in the third for a final score of 5-2. Poland finished second in the relegation group with a 2-1 record. Usually, this would save a team from being relegated, but at the time, an Asian team could not be relegated. Poland was relegated instead as the second-place team in the relegation group. They have not been back to the Elite Division since.

Poland’s Fall From Grace

Polish hockey felt they were better than being relegated. The red and white fought like hell in Division 1 to get back to the Elite. From 2003 to 2008, Poland won either silver or bronze every year in Division 1, just coming up short of promotion. The aging national core saw more and more players end their careers while the next generation could not reach the same heights as their predecessors. In 2012, Division 1 was split into groups, with Poland being put in the second group, B. The path back to the Elite Division now meant winning promotion twice. In 2014, Poland would finally earn a promotion to Group A. Despite being the new team in the group, Poland would take bronze both in 2015 and 2016. In Group A, the top two teams get promoted to the Elite Division. Poland had just come up short of promotion to the elite again.

In a desperate move to try and get back to the Elite after finishing fourth in 2017, Poland would bring on former NHL head coach Ted Nolan. The former coach of the year in the NHL was poised to take the national team to the next level with his experience and expertise. Instead, it was a terrible fit, and Poland was relegated back to Division 1 Group B. Ted Nolan would leave the team after only a single season. Poland would fail to rejoin Group A after finishing second in 2019. After two tournaments were canceled in a row, now in 2022, Poland finally has another chance to gain entry into the Division below the top. The Polish national team is coming off beating Kazakhstan to qualify for the final round of Olympic qualification and then beating highly ranked Belarus 1-0 in a massive upset. This year, Poland came into the World Championships, with promotion being the only option. Staying in Group B is not an option and would likely force massive changes.

Japan gets Surpassed

Japan stayed in the Elite Division until 2004, winning the Far East Qualifier each time. The IIHF would do away with World Championship qualifiers after that tournament. Japan was placed in Division 1. At the time, the IIHF had two separate Division 1 Groups. Japan and Poland would meet in the same group once in 2005 when Poland beat them 2-1. Japan would stay competitive in their group but never achieve promotion. The land of the rising sun took a bronze medal every year from 2006 to 2010. Their streak only ended in 2011 after the team withdrew due to the national disasters that had struck their country.

When the IIHF split Division 1 into a higher and lower group. Japan was placed in the higher group. They fought hard to earn a promotion but, like Poland, came up short. Their best chance was in 2014, placing third and winning bronze. Their most common finish was fourth place, enough to stay in the division, consistently winning multiple games.

It all came crashing down in 2016. Japan would lose all five games and be relegated to Group B. One of the teams they lost to was South Korea, a country preparing for its own winter Olympics in 2018. For years, Japan had dominated South Korea in the Far East Qualifiers. Now South Korea had passed Japan in the race to return to the Elite Division. In 2017 and 2018, Japan finished with two silver medals in Group B and then fell to bronze in 2019. Following two years of COVID cancellations, Japan looks to get back to Group A after three years in the second group. They will need to beat Poland, whom they lost to 7-4 in 2019.

The Prized Prospects

Both Poland and Japan are mainly comprised of players that play in their home country. Neither team sees a lot of players that venture outside the country, let alone to stronger leagues. Japan’s Shuhei Kuji played at Germany’s top level, while Poland had Aron Chmielewski reach Czechia’s biggest stage. Both teams had a player reach the NCAA in Filip Starzyński and Yuki Miura. Both players played for Michigan colleges in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association. Neither were high-scoring players in college, with only 12 and 29 career points.

Not many more players venture outside their country from either side, especially to leagues of note around Europe and North America. Each side had one prospect who ultimately broke the norms and cleared every hurdle they faced along the route to a career in the North American minor league system.

Alan Łyszczarczyk left Poland at an early age to dominate the Czechia junior leagues. His dominant performance in Czechia led him to the Ontario Hockey League in 2016, where he was equally as good, recording over 200 points during his four-year career. He eventually turned professional for the 2020 season in the ECHL and posted two solid years, mainly with the Fort Wayne Komets. Łyszczarczyk would leave the ECHL in 2021 with a .68 point per game average.

Yushiroh Hirano was a standout in Japan and moved over 4,000 miles away to play for Tingsryds AIF in Sweden. After impressing in both Sweden and on the international stage during the 2015 season, he moved on to North American hockey. Hirano landed with the Youngstown Phantoms of the United States Hockey League (USHL). After a 46-point year in the USHL, he returned to Japan to play professionally for the Tohoku Free Blades in the Asia League. In 2019, Hirano made the lineup of the Wheeling Nailers in the ECHL. He has proved to be one of the league’s best producers, recording 121 points in 144 games over the past three ECHL seasons. In 2022, Hirano got an extended look in the American Hockey League, with the Abbotsford Canucks, recording 12 points in 30 games.

The Battle Ends Tomorrow, The War Continues

May 1st, 2022. After two years of COVID cancellations, we are finally back at the World Championships. In Division 1 Group B, two teams are squaring off for gold and promotion to Division 1 Group A. Both teams used to be closer to the top of the hockey world, competing in the Elite Division of the IIHF, and they fell down the hockey ladder down to Division 1 Group B. Both teams appear to be on the rise from the outside and are being led by an undrafted forward who went from North America’s top junior leagues to the ECHL.

Whoever wins today finally gets back to Division 1 Group A. The promised land is the backdoor to returning to the Elite Division. Since 2015, Poland and Japan have been more common opponents, which is likely going to continue. Staying in Group A is hard. Besides Japan and Poland, we have also seen Lithuania, Romania, South Korea, and Ukraine bounce between the two groups. Poland and Japan will likely continue to face off as each tries to reach the Elite Division.

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_.

5 Players to Watch on Poland’s U18 Team

In 2019, the Polish U18 pulled off a perfect performance at the 2019 Division 2 Group A U18 World Championships. The team scored 36 goals while only allowing four in route to an excellent 5-0 record. Unfortunately, after two years in a row of the lower division U18 World Championships being canceled, we never got to see some of the team defend their gold and promotion to Division 1 Group B. It will be an all-new roster for Poland at the U18s, with zero of the squad having any previous U18 IIHF experience.

Poland will face some prominent opponents, as they will match up with the under 18 squads from Austria, Hungary, Italy, Slovenia, and Ukraine. It will be an interesting test to see how the Polish U18 program has grown since 2019. Poland did make it back to Division 1 in 2017 but was promptly relegated back to the second division. Now the goal for this team will be to stay in Division 1. This team will be led by former national team member and long-time GKS Tychy forward Łukasz Sokół, making his IIHF head coaching debut. His assistants will be Adam Bagiński, Tomasz Kowalczyk, and Sebastian Owczarek. Bagiński is a current GKS Tychy assistant coach, and long-time player, while Kowalczyk is the former women’s U18 head coach. The well-experienced staff should help these young players compete and potentially catch the eyes of scouts. With that in mind, here are five players to watch at the U18s for Poland.

Adrian Gromadzki

A big scoring winger performing well in the Czech junior system is pretty uncommon for Poland. Gromadzki produced strongly in Poland, so he moved to Germany. He played great in Germany, so he moved to Czechia. He is a player whose stock continues to rise, as he just scores no matter where he goes. His ten points in 29 Czech U20 games is the first time he is not a point per game player in his career. Though he did post 26 points in 20 Czech U20 2 games. I have no doubt Gromadzki should be able to post some big numbers at the IIHF U18s.

Aleks Menc

Menc long looked like Poland’s next top hockey prospect after some ridiculous numbers at the young levels of Polish hockey and representing Poland at the youth Olympics. After some impressive years for his age at the top junior levels of hockey in Poland, Menc moved over to Sweden. Playing in the second level of Swedish U18 hockey, Menc has posted 18 points (12G-6A-18PTS) in 34 games. While not eye-popping numbers, they rank third on his squad. This will be our first chance to see the talented center on the IIHF level.

Blazej Chodor

Chodor has been tearing it up in Poland for a while now, and he does it as a 16-year-old defenseman. He posted the second-most points of all 16-aged players in the MHL while adding eight more points in just 17 games with Poland U16 in the Czechia junior system. It will be great to see the talented offensive defenseman at the U18s and against tough competition. He possesses the size scouts love already at 6’2, and would be my pick for the player to most interest scouts around Europe.

Krystian Lisowski

We don’t see many Polish prospects play in Finland, which is no surprise given how high the level of hockey is in the country. Lisowski has made himself at home in the Finnish junior ranks, scoring 38 points (26G-12A-36PTS) in 44 games with Kiekko-Espoo U18 Ch. Kiekko-Espoo plays in the top level of the Finnish junior ranks, where Lisowski’s point total ranks seventh among 16-year-old skaters. The Sanok native also played one game in the top U20 league, where he scored a goal.

Krzysztof Macias

It is not very often that Poland has two studs in one junior league outside of Poland. Macias has been a force in Czechia while playing most of his junior career there. At only 17-years-old, the Polish winger posted 36 points (14G-22A-36PTS) in 48 games with HC Vitkovice U20. This was tied for 65th among all skaters in the league while being tied for 11th among U18 skaters. It is a similar production range to some members of Czechia U18, who play in the IIHF’s elite division. Macias also has IIHF experience, as he represented Poland at the 2021 U20 World Championships, recording two assists.

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_.

4 Polish PHL Free Agents That Could Jump To a Stronger League

Another PHL season is in the books. It was a historic one as Katowice took home the Championship for the first time in 52 years. The Silver medal went to Unia Oswiecim, who made it to the finals for the first time since 2005. Last year’s championships, JKH GKS Jastrzebie, had to settle for bronze, while constant contenders Krakow and Tychy went home with nothing. It indeed was a changing of the guard season potentially in Poland. That change may continue as a few teams will have significant roster shake-ups.

As the war in Ukraine continues, it is unlikely that many Belarusian and Russian free agents will be brought back or into the PHL. Cracovia announced they will not be carrying any Russian players next year after having 12 on their Continental Cup-winning roster. We will see a lot more Poles as well in the PHL, with most imports now likely coming from Czechia, Finland, and Slovakia. We may also see the import level rise as many players won’t be venturing into Russia or Belarus’ top leagues next year. On top of all that, it will be interesting to see who is at the helm of each club; we already know Tom Coolen won’t be returning to Oswiecim.

With all that happening in Poland, there are always a few players who leave Poland after the season. Polish national team defensemen Oskar Jaśkiewicz already left for Sweden after Sosnowiec was eliminated from the playoffs. Last year, we saw Dominik Pas, Jan Soltys, and Kamil Walega try their hand abroad in Czechia and Slovakia. While Pas and Soltys returned home, Walega became an essential player for HK 32 Liptovsky Mikulas. Here are a few players that should attempt to follow in their footsteps.

Jakub Bukowski

Probably the most obvious one on the entire list. Bukowski broke out this year in the PHL with 29 goals in 45 games. This was tied for the second-most goals by a player in their age 21 season, the most since Kacper Guzik scored 29 in 2015. Bukowski is no stranger to playing outside of Poland, as he played a majority of his junior career in Czechia and Switzerland. His stock will never be higher than it is this season, and it would probably be the best for him to take a shot outside Poland after being the third-best goal scorer in Poland.

Patryk Krężołek

A big reason why I would want Bukowski to take the jump now is you never know how the next season will shake. Krężołek was the last young player to put up eye-popping goal numbers after scoring 37 goals between the 2020 and 2021 seasons. In 2022, he only managed 12 goals as a stacked GKS Katowice won a championship. He really turned it up in the playoffs, where in just 16 games he scored five of his goals and added eight assists. He has the size and ability to play outside Poland and maybe hit his ceiling in Katowice.

Damian Tomasik

One of the better puck-moving defensemen in Poland, the 25-year-old Tomasik, has played the last two years on a poor Podhale squad. He has also seen his production dip from his U23 seasons. In 2018 alone, he posted 27 points, compared to just 11 points over the past two years. He did miss most of the season in 2021, but still only two points in 15 games. Already represented by Hockey Progress Management, which has given plenty of other Poles chances abroad, it may be time for the former national team defenseman to try a new location to refresh his career.

Christian Mroczkowski

A bit of a cheat here, as we have Polish Candian Christian Mroczkowski. Mroczkowski has a great story of coming to Poland on a try-out from USports and becoming one of the most dominant power forwards in the country. He also gained Polish citizenship and began to represent Poland internationally. Since Robert Kalaber took the head coaching reign, Mroczkowski has been left off most national team rosters. He has proved himself in Poland with 173 points in 154 games. Rumors already suggest he gets plenty of offers to go abroad, and if the national team is not going to utilize him, it may be time to take one.

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 Silver Lining. 5 Thoughts 2022 Women’s World Championships Division 1 Group B

For the first time since 2019, the World Championships were back. After two years of COVID cancellation, we finally got to see the Women’s senior team play at the IIHF World Championships again. It has been a while since we have last seen the team, and a lot has changed. Poland got in a team in the European Women’s Hockey League, and numerous players went outside Poland to develop their craft. This team was coming off qualifying for the final round of Olympic Qualification for the first time in team history as they upset the Netherlands. Could the team continue to make history in 2022?

Poland got off to a hot start right away defeating the oldest team in the tournament, Kazakhstan, 3-1. In game two, it was a huge goaltending battle as Sass took on NCAA goalie Pia Dukaric, Sass would come out on top as Poland beat Slovenia 4-0. Next up was South Korea, which had been a thorn in Poland’s side during the 2019 Worlds. Korea remained a thorn, but not too much as Poland won 2-1. Game four saw Poland take on Italy, which had defeated Poland in 2014, 2017, and 2018. This time, for the first time, Poland took down Itlay after some overtime heroics from Wiktoria Gogoc. This win set up a winner take all game five between Poland and group favorites China. Unfortunately, China would win that game easily after a strong first period with a final score of 7-2.

The 100 Club

Both Karolina Pozniewska and Klaudia Chrapek hit the 100-game mark for the Polish national team. An amazing and rare achievement. Especially when you consider the women’s senior team has only been active in the IIHF since 2011, only 49 games at the World Championships. Their dedication to growing the game in Poland is inspiring, and both have already left an amazing legacy while continuing to help Poland reach new heights. When they played their first games for team Poland, the team started all the way down in Division Two group B. Now Poland is on the cusp of Division 1 Group A, in just a decade.

Wall of Sass

Sass continues to dominate the game. She went toe to toe with some great goalies in this tournament and came out on top all but once. If you take away the game versus China, Sass stopped 97 of the 103 shots she faced, a .942 save percentage. Sass was named the best goaltender of the tournament, and probably turned some heads in the scouting world with her performance at the Worlds and with her club teams. She had to make some really tough saves at the Worlds as well.

Defensive Struggles

Poland’s defense was completely overmatched at this tournament. It was not the entire lineup, but it was a major problem. It hurt the team massively and wasn’t just against China. It really stood out versus Italy and South Korea as well. All tournament teams would generate big chances off massive mistakes by the Polish defense. It wasn’t a matter of bad positioning, it was just bad awareness and decision-making. Something you would hope would improve as players gain more experience but this was a problem with quite a few veterans.

A Complete Offense

While defensively, there may have been some bad plays, Poland’s defense stepped up huge in the opposing zone for the most part. The whole offense seemed to play with a lot of confidence. Poland scored the second-most goals in the tournament with 16, five more than second-place Italy. The forward group was making plays, while the defense launched quite a few shots from the point, in fact, five of Poland’s eight defensemen scored a goal at the tournament.

The Silver Lining

Poland took home silver. They lost to a China team that is more North American than it is Chinese. The import rules need not apply in the circumstances China got and it sucks. The IIHF thought it was fine to let a team that posted two wins in the elite division just play back down in Group B. Poland and Itlay both played at the Olympic qualification tournament this past year, and were killed in the final round. The second the imports returned it was China’s tournament. Poland would have to play more than perfect to survive, but they had a rough first period and it quickly became 6-0. Poland would only allow one more goal the rest of the way. China was only held scoreless in a single period the whole tournament and that was the second period versus Poland. A 7-2 defeat against a team that can win at the elite level is a sign of progress.

A silver medal is the best Polish finish of all time. While you can be upset about the China game, what Poland did in this tournament still made history, as they have done all year. Last year it was a bronze medal, now it is the first silver medal in Division 1. They beat 16th ranked Italy, the highest-ranked opponent Poland has ever defeated. On top of all that, Poland was the second youngest team at the tournament. They’re going to be back next year for gold.

Quick Thoughts

– Olivia Tomczok only played in three games, her missing the final two hit the team’s forward depth hard. A great forward even scored in game 1 against Kazakhstan.

– In her first tournament for team Poland Ukrainian import Tatiana Onyshchenko looked great. She added one goal and two assists.

– Dominika Korkuz really made some great plays in this tournament and picked her corner perfectly on her first national team goal.

– Former national team forward Magdalena Czaplik served as the equipment manager for the team. This was her first senior team staff appointment, congrats to her! She has been working behind the scenes for the U18 squad since 2018 while her playing career was still active.

– Julia Zielinska’s offensive game is really getting to the next level. Really has a chance of being an elite two-way player.

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 China Became Poland’s Final Boss Battle

In 2019, the rising women’s senior team took bronze at the Division 1 Group B World Championships. They had a chance to win gold on the final day, and it was all you could ask from a group playing for only the third time in division 1. The previous two years saw Poland lose nine games while only winning one game in overtime. The bronze finish was a sign of better things to come for Polish hockey.

Since then, it feels the national team has expanded rapidly. So many young stars have emerged in the country. Sikorska was only 16 years old playing at the tournament. Ida Talanda, Julia Zielinska, and Magdalena Łąpieś were all too young to play for the senior team. This was before team Poland had a team in the EWHL. The national team has gained so much experience against stronger opponents and has shown themselves to be a strong Divison 1 threat. This was capped off after Poland defeated the Netherlands to advance to the final round of Olympic Qualification.

That final game in 2019 where Poland played for gold was funnily enough against the Netherlands, and the Dutch shut Poland out 2-0 to win gold and promotion to Division 1 Group A. Now Poland had their revenge and was able to take on Czechia, Norway, and Hungary for a shot at the Olympics. Now back at the World Championships, a Polish team with more experience under their belts somewhat emerged as a potential favorite to claim promotion this time around. The biggest challenge was to be the same team they beat to have a chance at gold on the final day, China.

On April 10th, 2019, Poland and China went to battle. Each team came in with two wins and one loss. While we talk about how the Polish team was still a year away from having a team in the EWHL, China had a squad in CWHL, Canada’s top women’s league. It was arguably the best or second women’s league in hockey at that time. A considerable level above the EWHL. It was a battle for survival and a chance at glory. China’s Xin He would strike first, and quickly at just 55 seconds into the game. Sikorska would continue to prove to be Poland’s future when she tied it up at the 12-minute mark. Poland then owned the second period, scoring two more times to take a commanding 3-1 lead into the third period.

China was not ready to roll over. China controlled the third, although Poland added another goal at the period’s halfway mark. China continued their push, scoring two goals shortly after to make it a 4-3 game with just seven minutes to play. Poland would fight off China’s last stand and win the game by one. Poland was outshot in the third period 17-5, after leading the shots on goal battle 26-21 after two periods.

Now we are back at the World Championships. Poland and China seemed destined for another battle at the top. Instead of a chance at gold, it’s for the gold. Italy, the highest-ranked country, was upset by Slovenia 3-1 after an outstanding 54 save performance by Yale goaltender Pia Dukaric. Then China beat Italy 6-3, having two losses almost guarantees a finish outside of first for Itlay. Poland has quickly moved past its opponents beating Kazakhstan, Slovenia, and South Korea by a combined score of 9-2. Of course, Italy is not just going to roll over and are still a massive threat to Poland. Poland lost to Itlay at the 2014, 2017, and 2018 World Championships. China isn’t out of the clear yet, as they have to beat Kazakhstan. A team that beat them in 2019. All this could be rendered mute.

Sass save vs. Italy 2018

Italy dropping their first two games, and the growth of both China and Poland make the favorites talk easy. Polish hockey has exploded. Wiktoria Sikorska is in her second SDHL season, playing in Europe’s best women league at only 19-years-old. Martyna Sass has genuinely become one of the best goalies in Division 1. Her growth in EWHL and Slovakia has been amazing to watch. Defensemen Julia Zielińska plays in Finland’s top league and has proven to be a top defenseman. Those are only a few of the players making massive jumps. Metropolis Katowice, Poland’s team in the EWHL, finished sixth in the league and made the playoffs. This is the best finish for the team in their short three-year history. The team had 11 wins in their first two seasons combined. The team won 10 games just in 2022. To top it off, Poland added a substantial import as Ukrainian forward Tetiana Onyshchenko gained Polish citizenship after being one of the best forwards in the PLHK the past few years. As great as that all is, it is not close to China, and there is nothing they could do.

China hosted the 2022 winter Olympics. Both the men’s and female’s senior teams would earn an automatic bid to play in hockey’s elite competition. Obviously, if China were to play with their usual roster, they would get absolutely crushed. It is not good for hockey, the IIHF, or the country. Especially when growing the sport, it is not good for potential fans to see their home country get decimated. This meant that IIHF needed to think fast and get these teams up to speed. Working with the Russian Ice Hockey Federation, China was granted multiple teams across the levels of Russian hockey, including the KHL, the top men’s league, and the ZhHL, the top women’s league. Unfortunately, with all the time and money given, these projects failed tremendously. In the end, the roster was more North American than Chinese.

These squads were dominated by North American imports, while the IIHF looked the other way on their own strict rules. In 2018, female players were still required to participate in 12 consecutive months in a country before being declared eligible, and in 2019 that number was dropped to 8 months. The time from the KRS Vanke Rays’ first game of 2021-22 to China’s first Olympic game was 4 months and 12 days (134 days), well below the eight months or (240 days required). Unless a training camp started on June 7th and lasted to the Olympics, there were zero ways to meet the eligibility requirements for a large amount of China’s roster.

Let’s face facts. The IIHF needed to do this for the event and growth of the game. I understand and support that, and I want hockey to grow. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be writing about Polish hockey. It also worked out well for China as the women’s team stayed competitive and beat both Denmark and Japan. The Japan win is especially significant as Japan actually went on to win the rest of their group. It was great to see them succeed at the Olympics and possibly inspire the next generation of hockey players in China.

Now the Olympics are done. A team that beat two elite opponents in 6th ranked Japan and 10th ranked Denmark, will be playing in the second group of division 1. In Division 1 Group B, the highest-ranked team is 16th ranked Italy, who missed out on qualifying for the Olympics after getting outscored 2 to 14 in the final qualification round. Only one import that played on the Olympic team, starting goalie Kimberly Newell, is not returning for the World Championships. The team that Poland saw in 2019 has now gained 11 players from the two best women’s hockey countries on the planet that play in Europe’s second-best women’s league.

There is no topping that kind of growth. It makes China the clear favorite for gold and promotion. If Poland can’t keep up with Czechia, Hungary, and Norway. How will they keep up with players that even previously represented Canada and USA, albeit at the junior level, on the international stage?

Despite all that, Poland was keeping pace after two games. Poland had registered more shots on goal, while Sass led the tournament in save percentage. Poland had allowed just one goal compared to China’s three goals allowed. Two games into a tournament make these stats far from the truth due to the sample size against different opponents. That became very clear on game day three when China blew out Slovenia 14-2. A team Poland only beat 4-0. Poland won on day three as well. They beat South Korea 2-1, China beat South Korea 5-0 on day 1.

Poland beat China when they previously had the development advantage of the CWHL team. Now Poland will have to overcome a new obstacle. If there is one thing Poland’s women’s team does better than anything, it’s overcome obstacles.

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_.

Who is Next in Net for Poland?

The Witcher is one of the most popular television shows, novels, and video games of the past decade. It is amazing that a novel from Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski was then later made into a best-selling game by Polish studio CD Projekt Red. The Witcher can hold value to people all over the world in many different forms of media. There are board games, card games, clothes, and an ice hockey goalie. 

Przemysław Odrobny is a legend in Polish Ice Hockey. While many nicknames in hockey are given due to a player’s skill or prowess on the ice, like “The Great One” for Wayne Gretzky or “The Grim Reaper” for feared enforcer Stu Grimson. Odrobny instead earned his nickname “The Witcher” due to his resemblance to Geralt, the lead character of The Witcher. Like his nickname, Odrobny has been a monster slayer for Poland, keeping them in games against hockey giants that they had no right to be in. In his 20 year plus career, the Gdansk native represented Poland at 15 different IIHF events. However, he has not appeared for the national team in a few years, especially as the pandemic took its toll on international hockey events. Odrobny has also not played hockey anywhere in 2022. 

Odrobny vs. Romania 2019 Photo credit IIHF.com

With the Witcher not being used at any of the recently Olympic qualifying events and not playing anywhere in 2022, it is very likely that this will be the first World Championship for Poland without him since 2010. Polish goaltending has been pretty steady since 2010. Only four goalies have appeared for Poland at the World Championships in that time span; Kamil Kosowski, John Murray Przemysław Odrobny, and Rafał Radziszewski. Kamil Kosowski retired in 2018 at the age of 31. Rafał Radziszewski retired from hockey after a 20-year career in 2020. This only leaves the current national team starter, John Murray. 

John Murray came to Poland during the 2014 season after bouncing around between the CHL, ECHL, and a stop in Slovenia. He would play two seasons from 2014 to 2015 and then leave for Kazakhstan for a single season before returning in 2017, and has played in Poland since. Affectionately nicknamed Jaszek Murasz due to how his English name sticks out on the Polish roster. He has led Poland to some of the greatest moments of Polish hockey this century. He currently is 34 years old, which does mean his national team career could end any year. 

So who is behind Murray and looking to be only the fifth goalie to play for Poland at the World Championships since 2010? The easy answer would be fellow import Ondřej Raszka. The Czech goalie has played in Poland for 11 years and played for team Poland at multiple non-IIHF events. At the past Olympic Qualifiers, he also backed up John Murray in three games. At 32-years-old, he is a veteran with plenty of time. The only problem though is earlier this season, Raszka was released by GKS Tychy after only four games. Since then, he has not played anywhere and was left off the roster for the upcoming training camp and exhibition games vs. Austria. 

The next answer is only the fifth goalie to make an IIHF appearance for Poland since 2010 in Michał Kieler. The 26-year-old got in on the action at the Olympic qualifiers stopping the single shot he faced after coming in late in a game where Poland was easily winning versus the Netherlands. He also saw action in exhibition games in Hungary and the Three Seas Tournament. He seems to be the easy pick for a backup national team goalie based on how team leaders have used him. But as a long-term starter, I’m not sure. At 26-years-old, he is still a backup in the import goalie-dominated PHL. In 16 games for JKH GKS Jastrzebie this season, he recorded a .898 save percentage. Fourth last among goalies in the with more than 10 games played. He is one of three goalies named to Poland’s roster for exhibition games against Austria. 

The options outside of Kieler are pretty slim, as zero of the other options in Poland have played a senior national team game. Dawid Zabolotny, 28, is an intriguing option. The Cracovia Krakow backup is back in Poland for the first time since 2018. He had spent the previous four years as a starter in Germany’s Oberliga. While he has been a backup to Russian goalie Denis Perevozchikov, Zabolotny’s .916 save percentage is the third-highest among all goalies with 10 games in the PHL. He also served as the backup for Poland at a few non-IIHF tournaments. Like Kieler, Zabolotny is also on the roster for exhibition games against Austria. 

The final goalie on that roster for games against Austria is GKS Tychy’s Kamil Lewartowski. Lewartowski has had a quiet few years after being the starting goalie for Poalnd at the 2018 U20 World Championships, and he has earned a larger and larger role with Tychy. This past year after Raszka was released, Lewartowski took on the starting role during the regular season. In 27 regular-season games, he would record a .910 save percentage. GKS Tychy would still add Czechia goalie Tomáš Fučík and Swedish goalie Mathias Israelsson before the transfer deadline. Fučík would win the starting job, and help Tychy reach the bronze medal series. At 24-years-old, Lewartowski sits in a similar spot with Kieler with when, or will, they win a starting PHL job?

Other options in Poland include KH Torun’s Mateusz Studziński (24), who has posted solid numbers the past two years as a backup. He was previously the starter of Polonia Bytom during the 2019 season. Robert Kowalówka, 28, has long been the backup in Krakow but moved over to Osciewim for the 2022 season. While the long-time backup primarily produced average numbers during his time. The Oswiecim native has been outstanding in his 11 playoff appearances. Michał Czernik, 25, has been the starter in Zaglebie Sosnowiec for two years but has posted the league worse and second-worst save percentages in those seasons on some very weak teams. 

In terms of players under 23, not many have played significant minutes in Poland’s top league outside of one. Paweł Bizub, 22, was the starter on Podhale Nowy Targ this year primarily out of necessity. He showed flashes of potential in limited minutes the previous year, but his .870 save percentage was .021 lower than any other PHL goalie in 2022. Oskar Polak backed up that same Podhale team while also leading Poland at the U20 World Championship. The 19-year-old was put in two challenging positions, and the results reflect that. Marcel Kotuła, 20, sits in a similar place, backing up a weak Zaglebie Sosnowiec team with poor results. 

Three goalies have really caught my attention for the future. Filip Płonka, 19, has shown a lot of potential with a shutout at the PHL level, but we have never seen him play more than one PHL game in the season. He was curiously left off the U20 team in 2022. With John Murray leading the charge, there are not many games left for a backup in GKS Katowice. Maciej Miarka, 21, has shined in those few games with a .942 SV%. He has also been almost perfect in his three Polish second league games. Filip Świderski, 20, was the second goalie in Sanok this year and recorded a .894 save percentage. While not eye-popping, it was very close to Sanok’s starting goalie and followed by a strong second league playoff run. Their young age means there is still plenty of time for growth, but it is beginning to be hard to see what their actual potential is with so few games. 

When we look outside of Poland, there is no immediate help either, but possibly more intriguing and high-risk options. French Canadian Michał Łuba, 27, came to Poland with the goal of representing Poland internationally. He did just that after a few years of junior hockey in Poland and Slovakia. In 2015, he earned best goaltender honors at the Division 1 Group B U20 World Championships, helping Poland to a bronze medal. After a few years of being the backup in Krakow and split starting one year, he left for France. Playing in France’s 2nd since 2020, he has been one of the best goaltenders in the league, earning end-of-the-year all-star team honors in 2021. In 2022, he posted his best career save percentage with a .925 mark. Who knows if Łuba will ever wear the red and white again, but his success in France definitely should earn him an opportunity. 

Poland’s former top goaltending prospect Sebastian Lipiński, 21, is the only other Polish goalie playing in a senior league outside Poland. Lipiński was hyped to be the next great Polish goalie after solid performances in the PHL for his age and leading team Poland at both the U18 and U20 World Championships. After playing just 5 games in the PHL in the 2021 season, Lipiński left the country. This year, he is playing in the NIHL 2, the third level of British hockey. While his numbers there are impressive, as he rocks a .927% save percentage, it is such a low level I’m not sure how it stacks up. It is crazy that there wasn’t a place in Poland for him to play a more significant role. 

The quick option would be to try and naturalize another player like Murray and Raszka. A player would have to play two consecutive years in Poland, or four years if they had previously played with a different national team. Tomáš Fučík, 28, would be eligible thanks to playing in Poland from 2017 to 2018, and whenever he has started for a PHL team, he has always been dominant. Patrik Spěšný, 26, has spent the last 4 years in Poland with stellar results in his first three years before a rough 2022 season. Clarke Saunders, 32, has played in Osciewim for three straight seasons and could be a stop gate. A reminder that all these players would have to undergo a lengthy process to try and receive Polish citizenship.

Poland was spoiled for years with how good John Murray, Ondřej Raszka, Przemysław Odrobny, and Rafał Radziszewski were. It propped up a Polish hockey program desperate for talent on offense and defense. While Murray appears to be the only active one, again at 34 years old, Poland needs to start looking at who is next. It doesn’t appear there is anyone up to the task or quality of what Poland has been used to this past decade. This is huge, given that Poland’s offensive and defensive talent is better now than what Odrobny and Radziszewski had most of their national team careers.

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_.

GKS Katowice Wins 2022 PHL Championship

The Polska Hokej Liga has a new team on top as GKS Katowice has swepted Unia Oświęcim in the finals. It is the seventh time in history that the city has been named the champions of Poland, but the first time in 52 years. The long wait and struggles of the team have finally paid off! GKS Katowice left all out on the ice defeated Oswiecim in four games out-scoring them 14 to 6.

In 2015, Katowice had finished with an awful 1-35 record. The team made the slow climb back to the top, before constantly being a contender since 2018. In 2018, the team made it to the finals where they were defeated by GKS Tychy. The next two years would only result in bronze-medal games for Katowice.

In the 2022 offseason, the team brought back former head coach Jacek Płachta, who had been coaching in Germany the past few seasons. It wasn’t just a coaching change as the team brought in Polish national team stars Jakub Wanacki, John Murray, and Patyrk Wronka. The team also added big imports with Anthon Eriksson, Carl Hudson, and Matias Lehtonen. This really felt like a complete overhaul of their roster with so many more players I did not name added. The roster shuffling would continue during the year with more imports and adding Polish legend Marcin Kolusz right before the transfer deadline.

The big moves paid off though as Katowice finished as the top team in the PHL during the regular season. They dominated the playoffs similarly to how they dominated the regular season. In the first round, they dispatched Zaglebie Sosnowiec in five games, including a 9-1 game 5. In the semi-finals, they went head to head with GKS Tychy. The former back-to-back champs gave everything they could and pushed Katowice to game 7. In game 7, the two evenly matched teams went to overtime, where Jakub Wanacki scored the gaming-winning goal.

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_.