There have only been four Polish players to make the jump from the PHL to the Tipsport Extraliga. So when Hokjet.et reported that Pawel Zygmunt was going be trying-out for HC Litvinov, a team in the top Czech league, every polish hockey fan was instantly behind him. The 19-year-old would be making quite the jump and not precedent one for Polish players by appearing in the Tipsport Extraliga at such a young age. The team confirmed that Pawel Zygmunt was in training camp with the team. In the press release, they mentioned this is not the first time they have seen Zygmunt. Head Coach Jiri Sleger commented “Three years ago five talented Polish hockey players had the opportunity to see the difference between Czech and Polish hockey.They spent two weeks in our club and looked very good. Paweł was the best of this group. We were in constant touch with him, and we decided that we would like to see how he developed over the years and whether we will be able to use him in our junior team or in the club with whom we established cooperation (HC Stadium Litoměřice). We will know the answer to this question when we start preparations on the ice.”
The first was Waldemar Klisiak in 1995-1996. Klisiak was 28-years-old when he made the move. It came after he had a 50 point (29G, 21) in 37 games with Unia Oswiecim. He actually had a decent season with HC Vitkovice, putting up 3 goals and 14 assists in 35 games. This would be his lone season in the Czech Republic before returning to Unia Oswiecim. He left Poland again to play in Italy in 1997-1998, before again returning to Poland where he played with various teams til 2010-11. He is currently the Sports Manager for Unia Oswiecim.
The next player wouldn’t move to Poland til Leszek Laszkiewicz in 2002-2003. He made his debut in the Czech league at the age of 24. Laszkiewicz had already played outside of Poland from 1997 to 1998 in the DEL with the Nürnberg Ice Tigers. He then played in Poland from 1999 to 2002 with KTH Krynica and Unia Oswiecim. In 2001-2002, he had 45 points (21G, 24A) in 46 PHL games and 2 points (1G, 1A) in 6 games at the World Championships. This earned him a shot with HC Vitkovice. He had 8 goals and 2 assists in 43 games before switching squads to HC Havirov Panthers. He had 14 points, and only one assist as HC Havirov Panthers fought off relegation. Like Klisiak, this would only be a one year trip for Laszkiewicz til returning to Poland for the rest of his career besides a single season in Italy. He now is a sports manager for JKH GKS Jastrzebie.
Marcin Kolusz was next and the closest to Zygmunt in terms of age. He entered the Tipsport Extraliga just a handful of months before his 21st birthday. Zygmunt will turn 20 in November. Marcin Kolusz had been drafted by the Minnesota Wild in the 5th round of the 2003 draft. He spent the 2003-2004 season in the Canadian Western Hockey League. There with the Vancouver Giants, he had 7 goals and 12 assists in 70 games. He would return to Poland and Podhale Nowy Targ after the year. In his return season in Poland, he had 14 points (5G, 9A) in 26 PHL games. In 2005-06, he would sign with HC Ocelari Trinec. In his first season in the Czech Republic, he only played 2 games scoring one goal while spending most of his time in the second league. The next two seasons he played a lot more with 102 games over 2 years, but only 8 goals and 4 assists. Kolusz would then spend a year in Slovakia with HK SKP Poprad, before moving back to Poland where he still plays today.
Aron Chmielewski was the most recent and most successful of players making the jump. Chmielewski had spent a couple of years in the German junior system before returning to Poland in 2008-2009. He made his debut in the PHL just shy of his 18th birthday. He posted solid numbers in the PHL til 2013-14 when he had a breakout season putting up 73 points (35G, 38A) in 53 games. He also made his senior IIHF debut for Poland recording a goal and 3 assists at the World Championships. This earned him an opportunity with HC Ocelari Trinec. It wasn’t an instant success, and Chmielewski kept improving his game in the Czech second league. In 2017-18 a majority of his games were in the Tipsport Extraliga. This season he only played a single game in the second league, while playing 69 games with HC Ocelari Trinec across the regular season and playoffs where the team won a championship. His 11 goals were tied for 4th on the team.
Chmielewski is the most likely path that Zygmunt could and may follow. The second Czech league will be a step up for Zygmunt and allow him to continue to develop his skills and get chances in the Tipsport Extraliga. It is extremely rare for Polish players to make the jump to the league. Three of the players were not really afforded the chance to develop their skills and were more expected to produce right away. On the one hand, it makes sense that Czech teams don’t do this often as to why should they develop another countries player? The other hand is sometimes you may get a player like Chmiewlewski who becomes a significant contributor to your team. Zygmunt getting called back and specifically mentioning their affiliation with HC Stadion Litomerice makes me think they may take a development route. Zygmunt is an exceedingly talented young player, and if he doesn’t get a contract from this tryout, I believe he will be able to secure one down the line.