It Can Not Get Any Darker Right Now, But Is it the Darkest Before Dawn? 2019 Poland National Team Roster Thoughts

I won’t lie; there is not much positive around the men’s national team right now. Everything that could go wrong is seeming to. I usually try to be more positive and look for the good. It is hard to do that right now with the state of the national team.

The Season

It is kinda hard to believe how well things appeared to be going at the start, to be honest. The Euro Ice Hockey tournament was a success for Poland on the ice. With Valtonen at the helm, the team looked sharp in their game against a much better Denmark team. They even held the lead til that game had to be suspended due to poor ice conditions. The rest of the tournament wasn’t that bad either. Poland was able to at least hold their own against much stronger competition. They lost to Norway 4-2. In the loss, they mounted a comeback after being down 3 goals early. Bartlomiej Neupauer scored at the 34-minute mark to bring Poland within one, and it would remain that way till there 5 minutes left when Norway added an insurance goal. Austria would shut Poland out 2-0, but the shot margin was only 13 with the final shots being 37-24. Again not cause to celebrate, but a sign Poland could still compete in Division 1 Group A if they get promoted back like most believe they will. This came at the same time as a protest from Polish players, who rightfully want better working conditions. Add in the fact their point was further proven when Noureddine Bettahar was injured at a practice for the Euro Ice Hockey Challenge. The concussion kept him out of action for a while and kinda detailed what initially was a strong comeback campaign in the DEL 2. Given the weak roster, it was encouraging, especially for the new head coach Tomek Valtonen. I mean Valtonen was able to get a pretty good performance out of a team featuring a lot of players who previously never were in the national team consideration. It was enough to somewhat overlook some of the national team problems at the time while hoping for a solution to be reached.

The competitions after the first Euro Ice Hockey Challenge were not as good for Team Poland. The first of these was taking the team to Finland to face off against two Mestis teams. This trip reminded me of Ted Nolan’s trip to Canada, where Poland lost to a Canadian college team and a semi-pro squad. Poland faced off against TUTO hockey and KeuPa HT. Poland lost both games by one goal, taking TUTO hockey to overtime. Adding two more losses to the winless national team on the year. For reference about the strength of the two squads. TUTO Hockey finished 5th, and Keupa HT finished 8th. As of writing this both teams made it out of the first round of the league playoffs and are still playing. These trips never look good on paper, but I do believe they are a good experience for players. The big thing is that you just have to temper your expectations and really realize the divide between Poland and top countries like Canada and Finland. It does suck to see your country lose though to competition that is not near the national team of the league’s nation.

 

In February during the second international break, Poland was not entered into a second Euro Ice Hockey Challenge. The national team instead played in a small tournament in Ukraine. This had them taking on Ukraine and Romania. The first game went as it should with Poland easily defeating Ukraine 5-1. There is not much to say about the game other than being the first national team win of the year. The second game is the story of this tournament as Poland was shutout by Romania 2-0. The first loss to Romania since 1980. An inexcusable performance and a team Poland should never lose to. How do you expect to get promoted to Division 1 Group A with loses to Romania? They are in Poland’s group this year for the Worlds. It was only a hint of things to come for Poland against their future Worlds rivals though.

Hungary and Poland. The largest rival of the national team. Two hockey countries that are heading in vastly different directions and I don’t think it showed as much til their exhibition games this year. Yes in these games Poland was playing with the lesser squad since the PHL finals were going on, but it is only eight players and for sure not the eight best. The first game was fine. It was not the best game ever by Poland, but they took Hungary to the shootout and loss 2-1. The shots were 45-35, but overall a good result versus a stronger team. The only way to describe the second game was embarrassing for Polish hockey. The final score was 4-2 with the shots being 53-17 in favor of Hungary. Add in 39 penalty minutes for Poland, and you get just an awful performance. A performance that shows Poland doesn’t belong in Division 1 Group A.

Now the final test before the World Championships. Poland playing a team that will be their rival in Group B in Lithuania. The first game Poland would win 6-5 in overtime only after some late-game heroics. Sure they won, but not at all the performance that you would want to see. Poland had one more chance to fix this before the World Championships and show who team Poland really is. They lost 3-0. Poland has now been shutout twice this year by their Group B competition.  This loss was deflating. That is the best way to describe it. The men’s national team has been this long combination of things building up, and this loss is the thing that finally breaks the dam open. It would not shock me at all if Poland failed to get promotion this year and stayed in Group B.

The Drama

During the season though, it felt like the hits kept coming towards Poland’s way. Whether it was injuries or players just merely hanging up on their national team career. In total 6 players will never represent Poland again. This includes one of Poland’s best centers with Grzegorz Pasiut. Strong role players Jakub Witecki and Radoslaw Galant will longer help a Poland forechecking and defensive line. Imports whose national team careers really never got to be fleshed out in Mike Cichy and Alex Szczechura. They will no longer potentially have the impact that imports have had for rivals like Great Britain or Kazaksthan. All of the players that are done with the national team are under 32 years old. This really put a massive dent in Poland’s forward depth.

This last month though has pretty much been the roughest for Poland. Like these disputes and problems that arise only happen in Poland it seems. I cover and follow other international hockey and the things that pop up in Poland never cease to amaze me at times.

Both involve new head coach Tomek Valtonen. It was announced previously during the year that Valtnonen would be leaving Podhale after one season as coach in the PHL. Now, this was concerning and a bit of disappointment. Part of the selling points for Valtonen as the head coach of team Poland was the fact that he would be in Poland year round. This was a huge problem during the Ted Nolan season, and it was clear Nolan pretty much had no idea of the players or where he was coaching. Valtonen though was going to be here and see all the players in the PHL. This was important as we all know the players outside the PHL like Dronia or Chmielewski will make the team alone on their pure permit. They don’t have to be scouted. There are no tough decisions with them. The tough decisions come with players that are inside the PHL as there is not much that separate them. There are differences between them to create the best possible roster, and unless the head coach is in Poland full time, he won’t be able to see that. The national team right now has a single player who played outside of Poland this year, and it’s Poland’s best young talent in Łyszczarczyk. Outside of him, all other 22 players are in the PHL. The head coaching job relies heavily on knowledge of the PHL. Valtonen leaving is bad from that side, but it does become a bit more suspect. The reason announced why Valtoenen was leaving was he missed his family, but the next job he takes is in the DEL 2? Did something go wrong with Podhale? Was there something wrong with Poland? It is the questions that get raised.

The second issue that involved in Valtonen and is, of course, something that I believe could only happen in Poland is the equipment issue. After a hard fought finals players from Cracovia Krakow showed up without their equipment as their PHL team would not be sending it. Leaving the players without gear to play in. This has led to national team defensemen Maciej Kruczek having to leave the national team and take his name out the of running. Another hit to Poland’s defensive depth. Valtonen offered to pay for the equipment with his money but said he never got a reply. Only for Cracovia to show text messages showing they replied.

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I am sure that if I dug deeper, I could find the precise answer and stories to these events, but I have no desire to. It feels so much like the dumbest combination of egos, pettiness, and silly high school drama that I really have no interest in covering it. This was going on at the same time as the Women’s World Championships and Men’s U18s Championship’s two more important things I invested my time in. In the end, they will go down like most drama in Poland, both sides saying something different and accusing each other of lying. Much like Mike Danton or Wojiech Stachowiak. I mean Valtonen was obviously given a raw deal or tougher job than Nolan here with how many players seemingly quitting the national team after being so fed up with the PZHL so let’s just draw it even.

The biggest question that comes up with Valtonen team is why is there not even the slightest thread of consistency. How are they able to lead against Denmark, but get shutout by Romania and Lithuania? There were similar tones under Nolan. The inconsistency of this team is astounding. How does it feel to be a player in that locker room right? Knowing how many guys that you fought with, blocked shots for, or had your blood spilled for have quit for valid reasons. You see the team that once fought for promotion to the top division fall to teams that fail to get promoted to Group A. How does it feel in that locker room right now?

Injuries

Besides the players who hung up their national team career like always, Poland is facing a rash of injuries and other events that will further decrease the depth of the national team. Pawel Dronia and Aron Chmielewski will both not be with the team as their club team is still in the playoffs. Both are playing for a championship so depending on how long the series goes will determine when or if they join. Krzysztof Zapala will not be with the team so he can be with his wife during the birth of his child. Huge congratulations to Krzysztof and his family on the new child. His veteran presence will be missed though, and add in even in his late 30s Zapala could get it done offensively.

On the injury side, Poland took their hits as well. Bartosz Fraszko is out. Which really is a shame. The 23-year-old has always been highly regarded but was really starting to put it together. This would have been his senior IIHF debut, and against some lower division, it would be an excellent way to ease into the national team. The bigger hits came on the defense were Poland will be without three defensemen; Damian Tomasik, Jakub Wanacki, and Mateusz Rompkowski. Tomasik is a big let down for me, I have been a fan of his game for a while and last year was his first shot, but he was playing injured. Tomasik was initially ruled out for the tournament last year but played through his ailment after more injuries hit the squad. Wanacki has been a key part of Poland’s defense since 2013-14, he has played in 4 of the 5 world championships. Rompkowski is the most significant loss. He is a great veteran defender. He has been a staple of team Poland for 11 years, playing for the team in some IIHF capacity whether at the Worlds or Olympic qualifiers. Poland’s defense can be really rocky at times, so losing national team staples is quite scary.

The Final Roster

Thanks to hokej.net we have the final roster for Poland. Here is it by position and defensive handedness. There are only two players on the roster with right-handed shots which struck me as odd. Players in bold are making their senior IIHF debut.

LW C RW
Tomasz Malasinski Patryk Wronka Mateusz Goscinski
Szymon Marzec Filip Starzynski Mateusz Michalski
Bartlomiej Jeziorski Alan Lyszczarczyk Damian Kapica
Adam Domogala Filip Komorski
Bartlomiej Neupauer Krystian Dziubinski
Defense L Defense R
Marcin Kolusz Mateusz Bryk
Oskar Jaskiewicz
Patryk Wajda
Bartosz Ciura
Arkadiusz Kostek
Robert Mrugala
Goalies
John Murray
Przemysław Odrobny
Ondrej Raszka

This is my projected line up as the rosters sit right now. If Dronia or Chmielewski are available, they are automatically first paring or line for me.

LW C RW
Tomasz Malasinski Patryk Wronka Mateusz Michalski
Krystian Dziubinski Filip Komorski Damian Kapica
Bartlomiej Jeziorski Alan Lyszczarczyk Mateusz Goscinski
Adam Domogala Filip Starzynski Bartlomiej Neupauer
Szymon Marzec
Defense
Marcin Kolusz Mateusz Bryk
Oskar Jaskiewicz Patryk Wajda
Bartosz Ciura Arkadiusz Kostek
Robert Mrugala
Goalies
John Murray
Przemysław Odrobny
Ondrej Raszka Third Goalie

 

Forwards

For all comments that I will be leaving for players, I’m not really going to suggest players that I think are snubs or should have made it over a different player mostly because with the state of the national team it is hard to say who will play. If they would have played though, I would have loved to see Dominik Pas and Jan Soltys get a chance with the national team. Both had previously played on some of Valtonen’s squads.

Adam Domogala – Domogala is finally making his IIHF senior national team debut. A debut that a lot thought would come a lot sooner. At 19-years-old, Domogala was able to be above a point per game in the Oberliga. He signed in the DEL 2, but there was never able to capture his scoring touch. He moved to the PHL in 2015-16, but still faced some offensive struggles. This year he posted a new career high points and a solid playoff run. It appears he is finally turning the corner. I’m really excited that he is getting his IIHF chance.

Alan Lyszczarczyk – Currently the most important player in Polish hockey. A lot of Poland’s future success relies on his development. Lyszczarczyk had a career year in his final OHL season. I would imagine we see him sign in the Czech league this offseason if no North American professional offer materializes. Last year, he got his first taste of the national team and will be joined be Jeziorski, whom he has shown a lot of chemistry with at junior events.

Bartlomiej Jeziorski – Jeziorski will be making his 2nd IIHF senior team appearance. Quite the impressive accomplishment for only being 21. He has dominated the IIHF at junior stages and been quite the scorer in the PHL, while his production this season was not at the levels many would have hoped for. I feel this more due to the strength of the GKS Tychy offense were Jeziorski just got the short end of the stick for playing time and offensive opportunities. His chemistry with Lyszczarczyk will be fun to see at the IIHF stage.

Bartlomiej Neupauer – seems to get a lot of love from coaches outside of Poland. Nolan gave him his first national team chances last year, and Valtonen continues to provide him with opportunities as well. Neupauer has done well in those chances recording five goals in 18 games with the national team making him one of the team’s top scorers in that span. National team coach Tomek Valtonen described him as a player he could count on. Something I feel we see in a lot of roster choices in regards to Podhale players.

Damian Kapica – one of the most talented forwards in Poland. Kapica has been able to score some stunning goals. He really has some solid puck handling skills and great offensive instinct. A really strong player that would probably best serve the team anchoring his own 2nd line.

 Filip Komorski – he made his senior national team IIHF debut last year and would score one goal. He had a really good year offensively reaching point per game mark in the regular season. He is the exact kind of solid player that this Poland team is lacking. He isn’t going to lead the team, but can play on any line and not be out of place.

 

 

Filip Starzynski – previously one of Poland’s best prospects, Filip had a rough go awhile. He took a whole Freshman year off from hockey. Then in his three seasons at Northern Michigan, he never was able to get going on the score sheet much. He played mostly a 4th line center shut down role. He was good in the faceoff circle, and I expect him to play a similar role for Poland.

Krystian Dziubinski – Valtonen gave a lot of praise to the 30-year-old forward. Citing his hard work and character. He also named him the polish player who would excel the most in Finland. Dziubinski has been a staple of the national team since he was 21. His consistent play is really unmatched.

 

 

 

Mateusz Goscinski – Another young player getting a chance at the biggest show of the year for team Poland. He and Jeziorski have been a nice young combo of polish forwards for GKS Tychy. I slot him on that line with Jeziorski and Lyszczarczyk. Let the kids run wild.

Mateusz Michalski – Another player who was able to impress Valtonen from their time in Podhale. Michalski was able to quickly pick up his system according to Valtonen. This is a desirable trait given the mismatch of players for Ted Nolan’s scheme. Michalski will be killing penalties for Poland along with being able to contribute offensively. He gets the first line nod for me given his size, and defensive ability should be able to compliment Wronka and Malasinski nicely.

Patryk Wronka – the best Polish player in hockey right now. No one matches the offensive creativity of Wronka on team Poland. When he was not available for the team last year, it was a huge blow. Current rumors suggest that Wronka maybe leaving Poland with interest from Belarus, Slovakia, Great Britain, and Germany (DEL2) per hokej.net. Wronka should carve up the competition at this event, and it will be fun to see.

Szymon Marzec – probably the most unheard of forward. Marzec is not a great offensive player and never posted substantial offensive numbers in the PHL. He actually had never received any national team attention til this year. He has played four games for team Poland and recorded one assist. He is the odd man out on my line up, and I do not see him playing a significant role.

Tomasz Malasinski – On a team that is missing so many veterans players while having some many young and or debuting players, Malasinski continues to the perfect safety blanket for Poland. Always an offensive leader on the team, like Wronka expect some decent offensive production.

Overall I like the offense this year. Obviously, there are some misses or other choices I would make like Pas, but I also can’t really argue against most players. It may not be stronger than teams in the past, but given the situation it is fine. There is a nice infusion of young players and veterans, along with players that know Valtonen’s system.

Defense

Much like the last one, I’m not really going to name snubs or alternatives. The defense has taken a lot of hits and given Poland already didn’t have the greatest defense there is a lot of concerns.

Arkadiusz Kostek – this is a pick that worries me. He has never really shown much potential in the PHL but is still young. He is a solid player there, but on the national team, he may struggle. There isn’t much to say with him.

Bartosz Ciura – he has been apart of team Poland for the last three world championships. He currently is still looking for his first senior point after 43 games. Not a lot of offensive potential another defensive only guy that this defense is full of.

Marcin Kolusz – Kolusz for a long time one of the best forwards for the national team, but for Valtonen he has become a defenseman. I like the move. It opens up a spot on the roster while creating two-way defensemen. His year on defense earned high praised from the national team coach, Valtonen described him as the best defensemen in the PHL. It will be interesting to see how does with his first IIHF test on defense.

Mateusz Bryk – Bryk is another veteran national team defender that Valtonen has to use. Bryk is mainly a defensive guy but does have some offense to his game. He is usually good for one or two points in tournaments for the national team. Bryk will likely be relied on heavily for this team, especially with Dronia’s availability being questioned.

Oskar Jaskiewicz – I have long been a fan of his game. At 22-years-old Jaskiewicz gets to make his senior IIHF debut. He plays a strong two-way game and is precisely what this Polish defense is lacking a lot of. I felt he should have made team Poland last year, but he was left off the roster. Jaskiewicz spent the year in Podhale, so Valtonen has had a long look at him. Jaskiewicz and Valtonen got off to a rough start according to the coach, but by the end of the season, Jaskiewicz gained confidence was the leader on Podhale’s defense.

Patryk Wajda – Wajda is another longtime member of the national team, who should really help bring some consistency to the team. He doesn’t bring much offensively but has a nice defensive game. He is another player who played for Valtonen in Poland this year. He described as a trustable player, who could work on his conditioning. His conditioning led to him getting fewer chances in the playoffs.

 Robert Mrugala – This is my least favorite pick on the entire roster. Mrugala has a total of three points over the last three seasons regular seasons and playoffs. As someone who likes defensemen to have some kind of offensive ability, three points in 104 games is not really appealing to me. Mrugala is another player who Valtonen is familiar with Podhale. Valtonen was surprised by how well he played, and how many chances he earned.

This is the group that I have the most doubts with. There are a lot of question marks with them. This group could end up being the Achilles heel of the team. They really need to work on suppressing shots, but if they don’t, their goalies still could bail them out.

Goalies

There is no position that Poland has more depth or better players at than goaltender. There are about six players who could start for Poland, but the top 3 are pretty easy to identify. In this tournament, I imagine Poland will be going back and forth between their two goalies. An amazing stat about these goalies is they all finished first in the PHL for sv% as part of a three-way tie at .939 sv%.

John Murray – Muray is my favorite of the goalies, this comes down to how aggressive and how well he plays the puck. He honestly is one of the best on Poland at breaking the puck out sometimes. Murray is one of two imports on the national team roster this year, the other being fellow goalie Ondrej Raszka. He is really connected to Polish culture more than most imports in the IIHF. Well, I believe they will be splitting starts, I do think Murray will only play 2 of the 5 games.

Przemysław Odrobny – Odrobny will be getting the extra start of the two. He is the most popular face in Polish hockey, and one of the best personalities. A legend of the national team and one of the best goalies in Poland if not the best. At 33-years-old, there is still a lot left in the tank. He also has the full trust of the national team coach Valtonen, who he played for this year in Podhale. Valtonen called him the best goalie in Poland.

Ondrej Raszka – Raszka will be left as the third wheel again. At 29-years-old he has yet to make his senior IIHF national team debut even as a back up despite being named to the roster plenty of times. Raszka is an extremely talented goalie, and it does suck seeing him having to sit all the time unless an injury occurs. He would be starting most of the competition at the Worlds except for Lithuania.

Easily the most talented group on the team with plenty of depth to spare. Never any worries when it comes to goalies in Poland.

The Dawn?

It was thought that the darkest point was the Ted Nolan year and being relegated to Division 1 Group B. It was believed that the dawn was hiring Valtonen. It briefly appeared that things were stepping in the right direction, but it was too dark to see what the direction the steps were being taken in. If Poland stays in Group B is that the new darkest or can it get worse? What are the signs of light that we should follow to see the dawn? There are quite a few things that should be considered lights.

  1. Promotion – Getting promoted would put a lot of the recent darkness to rest. I want to give Valtonen and his staff some slack. They are playing with a team that is definitely not as strong as past squads through no fault of their own. The same thing that I said with Nolan is true for them as well. It takes time to get players into a system and mistakes will be made during that period. Hopefully, most of the major errors are gone for the World Championship. Getting promoted would prove all the doubts wrong and put Poland back where we hope they belong in Division 1A competing for a chance at the Elite division.
  2. Young Talent Does Well – There is a lot of young talent on this roster, and so far in exhibition games, they have done well offensively. If they do well, especially in Valtonen system, it is an excellent sign. Poland has seemed to be stuck in the past too often. Not promoting their young stars, while clingy on to players who won’t get any better or are at the end of their prime. There is a really nice core of young Polish players, and quite a few are on this roster. It could be a really bright light for Poland’s future.
  3. Looking at Poland’s prospects –  This one doesn’t involve the World Championships at all. Poland has a lot of great prospects right now who have the skill to play in high levels outside of Poland. Adam Kiedewicz is expected to make his DEL debut at 19 next year. It will be the first time a member of the Polish national has played in the DEL since 2016-17 and only the fourth Polish player this decade. Jakub Lewandowski has had a fantastic year in the top Czech junior league finishing 27th league scoring as 17 years old, which was 8th best among U18 players. He is NHL draft eligible next year. Damian Tyczynski led the Slovakia U20 league in scoring by 18 points. He is forcing his way on HK Propard’s pro team next season. Szymon Bieniek and Klaudiusz Libik maybe the best under 20 defensemen in Poland, both are only 17. They did great in the Czech and Norway junior leagues. Then in Poland Jan Soltys and Kamil Walega lead PZHL U23 to actually being a respectable team that was able to beat professional teams. Soltys is a player you could see drafted in the CHL import draft after reviving interest last season. There are a lot of bright young Polish players who will add to the already good young core lead by Wronka, Łyszczarczyk, Jeziorski, Pas, and others.
  4. New Super League and Tournaments – When Poland was relegated last year, a lot of attention got directed to the PHL. Was it the best place for Polish players? Was it the best for Poland hockey? Now changes have come to the league being more opened to imports increasing the quality of play. Teams will be competing against more teams outside of Poland. GKS Katowice and Podhale will be playing in the Visegrad Cup, GKS Tychy in the Champions Hockey League, and Cracovia in the Continental Cup. There is talk about Polish clubs joining two super leagues one made up of teams from Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia or one with teams from Belarus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Ukraine. Much needed change is coming and being discussed. The change is likely to be seen within the next few years.

We will find out soon if it can get any darker for Poland, but if this year is not the dawn, there are plenty of reasons to suggest that dawn is coming. My final expectation is for this team to get promoted even if the road to gold is a bit rockier than people expected. This team is facing a lot of adversity, and that is going to put a chip on their shoulder. One that I think they eager to have while proving people wrong.

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