2019 Poland U20 World Championship Roster Prediction

Recently the U20 National team revealed their roster for the final grouping before the U20 World Championship in Ukraine from December 12th to the 18th. This year the U20 team has had an interesting journey to the World Championship. Poland U20 is going to be very young this year and has tried out a few combinations for lines and rosters. In the past few years, Poland has not been able to earn promotion despite talents like Alan Łyszczarczyk, Bartomiej Jeziorski, Dominik Pas, and others leading the team. This year Poland u20 may have their biggest star in a while as potential NHL draft pick Jakub Lewandowski could represent the team. Adam Kiedewicz is not listed on the roster, and this cast doubt on him ever representing Poland again in his career. Today we make our picks though on what players will be on the ice in red and white for the U20 World Championship.

Forwards

Kamil Walega- Jan Soltys – Jakub Lewandowski

Damian Tyczynski – Igor Smal  – Ernest Bochnak

Jakub Prokurat – Konrad Filipek – Maciej Witan

Jan Krzyzek – Kacper Gruzla – Mateusz Ubowski

Extra: Mateusz Bezwinski

This offense has a lot of talent. The top line could honestly rival the Alan Łyszczarczyk, Bartomiej Jeziorski, and Dominik Pas line that torn up the U20 World Championships a couple years ago. Walega and Lewandowski may be a bit one dimensional at times, but Soltys plays a complete game that will really benefit the line. It won’t be needed much, though, as this line will continuously be driving offense. The second line brings a lot of unique experiences and offensive potential. All three players have excelled in different places, Tyczynski tore up junior leagues in Slovakia, Igor Smal has been impressive at the senior level in Poland, while Bochnak has earned professional chances in the Czech Republic. The bottom lines still provide a lot of solid depth, size, and a chance at production. Bottom six production is something that Poland has been missing for a long time.

Defensemen

Szymon Bieniek – Klaudiusz Libik

Patryk Gosztyla – Armen Khoperia

Adrian Duszak- Michal Narog

Extra: Bartosz Florczak

There were not too many tough choices here, and there are four returners to the roster on defense. The defense lacked two big things experience and production last year. Everyone is now a year older and should have gained plenty of experience. While the production remains to be seen. Bieniek, Libik, and Narog can all make a significant impact on the offensive end. Florczak is included as my extra because of that. The 16-year-old is very talented and could provide offensively if needed. Libik and Bieniek have a chance to be two of the best defensemen ever for Poland, though the bar is pretty low. Poland has never had outstanding offensive defensemen, with Pawel Dronia being the highlight of this decade. Libik and Bieniek could change that.

Goalies

Sebastian Lipinski

Maciej Miarka

The same goaltending duo as last year and no need to change it. Lipinski is the best junior goalie that Poland has, and Miarka isn’t far behind. Lipinski had a great showing at the U20 World Championship last year, while Miarka put on a show at the U18 World Championships. I would expect Lipinski to play four of the games, but Miarka to get at least one.

Conclusion

This team has a lot of potential. They could be the team that earns Poland promotion after four straight silver medals. The group has a lot of speed and skill. They are going to be able to outsmart their opponent and dictate how the game is played. This is a very young squad, and if the defense falters, it could be disastrous for the team. Lipinski posted a .938% last year for Poland and that still wasn’t enough. Poland really needs the defense to stop opponents from getting high danger chances and providing some help on offense.

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Poland and Professional Wrestling

Right now wrestling is going through a boom period. There are multiple mid-level promotions gaining popularity in the United States with Ring of Honor, Impact, and Major League Wrestling.  Then there New Japan Professional Wrestling’s American expansion and a very hot indie scene. That is not even mentioning the top level where for the first time in over a decade the largest promotion in the world, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), has competition in the form of All Elite Wrestling.

Polish hockey has a lot of similarities to professional wrestling. Both are filled with a lot of behind the scenes drama, sketchy financials, and are scripted. Today though, we look at Poland’s connections to professional wrestling overall.

Polish Promotions

While the WWE has made a few appearances in Poland in the form of their live shows, Poland wouldn’t have their own wrestling promotion til Do or Die Wrestling (DoDW). DoDW was started by American wrestler Don Roid. Roid had been wrestling in Germany when he meant a Polish girl who later became his wife. Roid moved to Poland full time in 2005. Four years later in 2009, he started DoDW.

In an interview with Vice, Roid talked about the beginning of DoDW, “I moved here in 2005 to be with my wife, but that didn’t stop me from walking into the ring. I started performing around Europe—mainly in France, Switzerland, Germany, and Austria. It took me four years to create Do or Die Wrestling, the first Polish federation, and at the same time the first wrestling school in Eastern Europe.”

“I’m not sure Polish people understand what pro wrestling is. Their history is full of wars; they were always engaged in a battle with someone—so the very idea of fighting, even for sport, is a very serious deal to them. In general, as a nation, they are very serious. Americans can chill out a bit. We understand that this is just entertainment. It’s still a sport, as everything that happens in the ring hurts quite a lot, but it’s strictly for the enjoyment of the audience”

Given the uniqueness of their product, Roid thought that DoDW would be an instant hit, but alas that did not happen, “I thought that people would go crazy about it, considering there had never been anything like it in Poland before. I thought that teenagers would want to sign up for training and then join the federation. I was wrong. But I still managed to create a Polish wrestling team that not only performs here but also fights abroad.

DoDW would later earn a valuable addition in Joe E. Legend. Legend was a longtime professional wrestler with experience in the WWE, Pro Wrestling Noah, and various international promotions. In DoDW he was a valuable trainer for many young Polish wrestlers and even held the DoDW international belt at one point.

IC Belt

DoDW would close their doors in 2015 after six years of bouts. It wouldn’t be the end of wrestling in Poland though, as another promotion had sprouted in the country.

Maniac Zone Wrestling (MZW) was created in 2014 by former Don Roid trainees Shadow and Jedrus “The Polish Hammer” Bulecka. Polish Puck reached out to Shadow to learn more about his promotion. “Maniac Zone Wrestling was created 5 years ago by two guys: Me and Jędruś “The Polish Hammer” Bułecka. At the beginning it was so hard to take ‘something big for us’ but right now we a are strong polish wrestling promotion.

On what fans could expect to see out of MZW, “Well..the MZW is based on colorful and interesting characters and also we have a wrestlers with so many styles. We likes effective and spectacular fights here.” Then also on the goals of MZW and the future of professional wrestling in Poland, “The current goal for us is to make our promotion bigger and bigger. We want wrestling in Poland to become popular cause right now it’s not… I think that every year there are more and more wrestling fans so we have to keep going and do what we can do the best.

Kombat Pro Wrestling (KPW) would rise from the ashes of DoDW. They would be formed in October of 2015 and had their debut show, KPW vs The World: Hung(a)ry for Power, on November 14th in Gdansk. The debut show was ran with Hungarian Championship Wrestling.

Since then the promotion has continued to grow. Just like their first show international talent has continued to be brought in to mix with their Polish wrestlers. This includes WWE talent Primate.

Polish Wrestlers

Both KPW and MZW are filled with Polish talent, but not much Polish talent has traveled outside the country to reach the biggest stages yet. In the early 20th century, wrestling was filled with Polish immigrants to the states. The first of these wrestlers was Stanislaus Zbyszko. Zbysko had established himself as one of the top Greco-Roman style wrestlers in Europe. Zbysko eventually came over to the states and put on some fantastic matches including an hour-long draw with legend Frank Gotch. Wrestling at this time was more of a real sport but shifting into more of a shoot. Zbysko was still able to claim the World Heavy Weight Championship twice including a 1925 match, where Zbysko turned a worked match into a real one and repeatedly pinned former football player Wayne Munn til being awarded the title in a match Munn was booked to win. Zybsko is regarded as one of the best legitimate wrestlers of all time, and another legend in the business, Larry Zbyszko, adopted his last name as a tribute.

The most interesting of these early wrestlers was Polish Strongman Stanley Radwan. The Krakow native was incredibly strong and some of his feats seem unbelievable. He was able to pull cars with his teeth and remained undefeated in wrestling for 20 years.

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One of the most famous stories is about an event that took place at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, the same concentration camp that Anne and Margot Frank spent their final days. Radwan was captured during the Nazi Germany invasion of Poland. Radwan attempted to escape the camp by pushing over a brick wall. The news of the feat attracted the attention of Adolf Hitler. Per Ohio Magzine, Hitler ordered Radwan to put on a show for him and some other Nazi leaders. Radwan refused and then was meant with a gun pointed at his head, where he promptly bit the gun chamber closed. After the war, Radwan immigrated to the United States and began his strongman and wrestling career.

Stanislaus Zbyszko’s younger brother Wladek was also a wrestler. Wladek Zybszko was a two-time AWA World Heavyweight Champion and wrestled from the early 1910s and into the 1950s. Another notable Polish wrestler from this time was Abe Coleman. Coleman was never a championship wrestler but is credited with the invention of the dropkick. Coleman wrestling from 1928 to 1958. The Lodz native was described as a solid mid-card worker and is believed to be the only wrestler to live to be over 100 years old.

Since the end of the pioneer era in wrestling, there have not been many big Polish wrestlers. Ivan Putski is the biggest name since the early days. Putski was a tag team specialist winning tag team gold in Big Time Wrestling, Southwest Championship Wrestling, and the World Wrestling Federation. He was inducted into the WWF Hall of Fame in 1995.

The most recent Polish wrestler to make it big in wrestling is Babatunde Aiyegbusi. The Wroclaw native was originally an American football player. Babatunde was a star offensive linemen in the Polish American Football League. His strong in Poland earned him a chance with the Minnesota Vikings of the National Football League. He was released after three preseason games. In April 2016, he signed with WWE as apart of their performance center. Babatunde appeared in some large multi-man matches before making his singles debut on January 14th, 2017. The 6’10 355lbs wrestler is quite the monster and has been booked as since winning almost 80% of his matches since debuting.

Wrestlers with Polish Heritage

There are also plenty of people that have stepped into the squared circle with Polish heritage. Plenty of Hall of Famers and former champions.

Debut – Ring Name – Notable Career Achievement

1947 – Killer Kowalski – WWF Hall of Fame 1996

1947- Johnny Valentine – 3x NWA Television Champion

1967- Ole Anderson – 2x AWA Midwest Heavyweight Champion

1970 –  Greg Valentine – WWE Hall of Fame 2004

1986 – Scott Putski – 1x GWF North American Heavyweight Champion

1990 – Rob Van Dam – 1x WWE Champion

2000- Trish Stratus – 7x WWE Women’s Champion

2001 – Beth Phoenix – 3x WWE Women’s Champion

2002 – Chris Masters – 1x Ironman Heavymetalweight Championship (This title was once won by A pint of beer, a cat doll, and various other intimate objects.)

2003 – Velvet Sky – 2x TNA Women’s Knockout Champion

2010 – Jacob Novak – WWE NXT Season 4 contestant

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Losses to France and Four Nations Tournament Show Growth and Massive Steps Left for Women’s Hockey in Poland

The Women’s U18 team was quite busy the last few weeks playing three exhibition games against France, along with competing in a four nations cup tournament in Great Britain. Against a much stronger French opponent, Poland did drop all three of their games with a goal differential of -11 for Poland. In the Four Nations tournaments against competition in Poland’s range, they finished second after losing to Great Britain on the final day of the tournament. They will have a rematch against the British U18 team in just a couple months at the IIHF U18 Division 1 Group B World Championships.

The games against France were a massive test for the Polish squad. This U18 team has a couple of big names on the roster with Wiktoria Sikorska and Julia Zielinska leading the charge. Sikorska is the future of the Polish national team and has a chance in the next couple of years to be considered the best women’s player in Poland. Julia Zielinska is a defenseman that is mature beyond her years. She turns 15 in December and already plays in the second-best senior league in Finland. They are players that are more than ready and able to take on France with ease compared to the rest of the Polish roster.

This tournament was a good way to see who Poland has after them that has the potential to really make those next big steps. In total Poland lost all three games, but really kept two of them competitive. The first meeting was a three to nothing defeat, while the second was four to one. The final game was a six to one loss. These games showed that Poland could stay competitive with a team like France though. France is ranked tenth in the IIHF Women’s rankings which is a lot higher than Poland at 22. They are also in the division above 1B. If Poland were to earn a promotion, France is a team they could possibly play.

When a team gets promoted in international hockey there is always a concern on how they will actually fare in that division. A lot of times that team is quickly dispatched besides one game against the other bottom-dwelling team. France has been that team in Division 1A. Despite the division’s short history, they have been relegated once already and it took them two tries to return to Division 1A. There is a large gap between Division 1A and 1B where Poland resides. If France is still a big task for Poland the rest of D1A should be considered massive challenges.

The Four Nations Tournament was a more evenly balanced tournament for Poland. In fact, they were the highest-ranked team in the tournament. I should note that IIHF rankings are for the senior division only, but I do believe they’re a solid indication of the junior divisions. Most of the time they almost match the senior rankings exactly. Despite Poland being considered the favorite it was not an easy weekend for the Eagles.

The first game saw Poland take on a U20 Iceland squad. Iceland does not a women’s U18 team, so they brought a u20 squad. This was probably to the benefit of everyone in the tournament as it gave them a much more competitive roster. That said Poland was still able to beat them easily seven to one. Iceland is only ranked 32nd in the World and this was by far the easiest opponent in the tournament for Poland. With that in mind, I was hoping to see more production out of players outside of the top lines on Poland produce, but it was mostly the Sikorska and Zielinska show.

The second game of the tournament saw Poland take on Spain. Spain is in the division right below Poland. They played a very well structured game. They have been on the outskirts of Division 1B for the past few seasons never winning promotion in the qualifying games, but a growing program and I expect they’ll be able to finally earn promotion to Division 1B this year. The game saw Poland mostly have control and lead three to nothing after two periods. They didn’t stay aggressive though and collapsed in the third period allowing Spain to make a comeback. In the end, Poland had to take it to the shootout to get the win. The biggest takeaway from this game is a learning experience. These players can’t just hold on to a lead against any opponent. They need to keep their game up for all three periods.

The final game is the most interesting as Poland will have that rematch with Great Britain at the D1B U18 IIHF Championship in January. Poland held a two-goal lead in this game at one point, but would allow four unanswered goals that gave Great Britain the four to two win. Poland did win the shot advantage and played well, but what killed the team were some costly turnovers and penalties. I would say three of Great Britain’s goals could have been completely avoided if not for Polish mistakes.

This is how players learn though. Poland didn’t play poorly in any of these games, there were just mistakes that can and should be corrected. Across the six games, Sikorska showed that she is the real deal with three goals and six assists. Julia Zielinka also played well at both ends and recorded three goals and five assists. The top two players were there and produced. The team after them though is the concern. Maja Blaszkow was able to stand out and scored four goals in the six games, including a hattrick against Iceland. Karolina Baran provided some solid production and strong play. Goaltending was fine, but nothing overly special.

These tournaments showed that Poland is a very competitive team that can play aggressive. They’re going dictate how the game is played. There are correctable mistakes that should go away with more experience. The bigger problem facing Poland right now though is the lack of depth. The depth is steadily improving but not as fast as Poland is producing top players. There are large gaps of skill in Poland’s own roster. That gap can go both ways as top players can keep them in a game they have no business being in, but also have them lose games they have no reason to lose. There is a lot to like about the future of the women’s team, but massive steps still need to be taken.

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The Polish National Team’s Poor History of Imports

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Polish Heritage in Hockey: Montreal Canadiens Writer Andrew Zadarnowski

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

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

Heritage

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

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

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

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

His Local Polish Community

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

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

Getting into Hockey

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

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

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

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

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

The Minors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Forwards 

Mike Szmatula – Alexei Yefimenko – Christian Mroczkowski

Gleb Klimenko Mike Cichy – Alex Szczechura

Bartlomiej Jeziorski – Filip Komorski  Mateusz Goscinski

 Jaroslaw Rzeszutko – Jakub Witecki – Radoslaw Galant

Other forwards: Adam Baginski, Patryk Kogut

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

Defensemen

Bartlomiej Pociecha – Michael Kolarz

Bartosz Ciura – Peter Novajovsky

Michal Kotlorz – Mateusz Bryk

Denis AkimotoAlexander Yeronov

Other defensemen: Olaf Bizacki

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

Goalies

John Murray 

Kamil Lewartowski

Jakub Zawalski

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

Prediction: 1st

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

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