Days away from the NHL entry draft, we are consumed in reading constant prospect pieces. We hear all the analyst and buzzwords that we want as we debate whether our team is about to find their next franchise player or make a blunder that will set a team back for years. Scouts and General Managers are pouring over the same questions and thoughts in their head knowing their job could be on the line if they don’t walk away with a player who will make an impact on their franchise. Then it comes to the players it is a combination of a lifetime of hard work and sacrifices that will either end in a dream come true or their dreams bursting into pieces. They have had to travel far away from their homes on their own with no family. All to develop their skills in the hope to one day make hockey their career. Players need any kind of boost that they can get to help them stand out. One big way to boosts a players draft status and opinion among teams is on the international stage. The U18 and U20 IIHF World Championships, along with other international tournaments around the year have become a scouting hotbed. The bigger the tournament, the more scouts. This isn’t just for National Hockey League hopefuls but players just looking for offers from top leagues in Europe or even North American minor leagues.
The lower quality of the tournament the less reason there is to attend the event. Is a team really going to find a player in the Division 2 U18s? The answer is probably no. It is a statement that breaks my heart to say in a way. While I know by journalistic standards or code, I should be impartial to the team, but I write and follow Polish hockey because of my passion for the team and country. If a young player is looking to continue their career in hockey, there is almost no reason to play for Team Poland at the junior level. Players know that too as the list of junior players that chose another country over Poland grows longer, and longer it seems each year.
In terms of recent players, one of the latest significant departures was Wojciech Stachowiak. Stachowiak was born in Gdansk and played youth hockey in Gdansk before moving to Germany to improve his skills. There he outgrew team Poland and was able to join Team Germany. Stachowiak had repped the Polish Eagle at U16 events, but now will be wearing the German crest. Poland coaches from junior to head national team have made an effort to contact him and bring him back to Poland with no luck. Poland just can’t offer the other opportunities that other countries can.
Poland can’t flip duel nationals like Matthias Plachta, Denis Szczepaniec, or Kamil Sadlocha either. They grew up away from Poland but could have played for team Poland. They are great players and are better off staying in the country they developed in. Poland offered them nothing unless they felt it meant that much to their heritage or nationality. Not saying it doesn’t mean a lot to them by any means. For example, when I spoke to Sadlocha, he was very proud of being Polish, but just couldn’t pass up an opportunity with Team USA.
It brings up the most recent player who will probably be choosing another country over Poland, Adam Kiediewcz. The U20 team tried to get him this year, but couldn’t as it appears he will be potentially trying to earn chances with team Germany. This one has to be one of the biggest stingers for team Poland since it seemed that Poland had him. He played for Poland at the 2016-2017 U18 World Championships. This means Poland will at least hold his IIHF rights till the 2021-2022 hockey season. This is due to the IIHF four year clause. Kiediewcz is an extremely talented player and expected to make his DEL debut at just 19-years-old. I will hold out hope that he decides to represent team Poland and consider him a Polish prospect till he wears a German sweater and is no longer eligible for Poland. Especially since I haven’t seen any comment from him directly. In the meantime though, Kiediewcz may start representing Germany at international tournaments that are non-IIHF. Those opportunities are probably better than ones Poland can offer even at the IIHF level. You could offer him a spot on the men’s senior team just to try and get him to stay, but is that opportunity even worth it?
An opportunity is just something Poland can’t offer. The players right now are still trying to turn these junior teams into something that is an opportunity. To make sure Poland keeps players around, the national team needs to create more opportunities and give young players chances. Even with the lack of opportunities though, there is still something to be had for those players besides national pride. It can be the starting ground for a career with the senior national team and well not the best leagues of Europe watching there are still people looking for hidden gems. Several Polish players have been able to find stronger places to develop as a result of this.
The only problem is this means they will now be punished for it by Poland. I spoke to one Polish player who plays abroad, that will remain anonymous, on the current head of the coaching staff and how it comes to selecting of players, “If you’re not in Poland they don’t want you.” Another player that will also remain anonymous talked about for how for a U20 camp he had to ask to even come to the camp, then when he got there, it became clear to him that, “the coach choose only people from his own team.” Current national team head Pitor Sarnik has not shied away from being public about wanting more junior players to remain in Poland and playing professional games. This is because he feels that Polish players that play in the PHL are more prepared, smarter players, and able to react quicker. If players are to leave Poland, it needs to be one of the top junior leagues like in Sweden or the Canadian Hockey League.
His U20 roster was full of players with PHL experience. This team finished second like last year, but with a worse record and only earning silver after Hungary blew a game on the final day. They also looked a lot worse, and I honestly saw none of the things that he was talking about. A lot of the team was quick to give up the puck, make unforced turnovers, and overall show a lack of chemistry. It was night and day compared to the team last year ran by Canadian head coach David Leger. After the tournament, Sarnik was asked directly about the absent of talented players Ernest Bochnak and Jakub Lewandowski, both players had played abroad during the year. After being asked the question, Sarnik went on a rant about players playing overseas that included a lot of interesting tidbits.
- He called the Slovakian junior league and the Jr A. SM-Liiga, that Bochnak played in, poor quality.
- Said Jakub Lewandowksi didn’t have the hockey IQ to make the team
- Called out all players on the team who played in Slovakia or the Czech Republic for poor hockey sense
- He said that top players in the Czech Republic don’t play in the Czech junior leagues. They play in the senior league or abroad in a stronger country.
- “For me, a player from the Slovakian junior league does not make a difference in the game.”
- He also praised Alan Lyszczarczyk for going to the United States. (Lyszczarczyk played in Canada)
I don’t think Sarnik understands the vast difference in skills between Poland and other hockey countries. There is a considerable need for players to go abroad to get better, and that doesn’t just mean the top leagues in Europe. Polish players are not on the same levels of those in Slovakia or the Czech Republic. This is why when Poland plays exhibition games against a Cezch or Slovak club’s junior team, it is close, or Poland loses. That is a single junior team not Slovakia’s U20 team or the Czech U20 team. It doesn’t matter that Polish players are not taking on the top Czech or Slovak juniors in these leagues, because a majority of Polish junior players are not even on the level of the players in the Slovak or Czech junior leagues. These countries are better and have things to teach Polish players. Polish players can also earn better opportunities from them. Lyszczarczyk had to go the Czech league to sign in Canada and play in the OHL. He wasn’t going to get that offer playing in Poland. By going to the Czech league, he established a footing in the hockey world. OHL and CHL scouts are not watching the PHL.
Part of the reason junior players play in international tournaments is to earn better future opportunities, but why should Polish players do that if apparently they’ll be punished for doing so? Leaving Jakub Lewandowski who finished with forty-eight points in the top Czech league because you don’t like his hockey IQ is just dumb to me. It’s why Poland continues to lose international tournaments. The I don’t want the best players, I want the right players mentality is worthless in a five-game international tournament. There is nothing to earn at these tournaments for Polish players besides pride when the management philosophy is to stay in Poland. The idea that Sweden, Russia, or the CHL should be the only time Polish players leaves is ridiculous. If a Polish player wants to make a move abroad, they should take any opportunity they get to develop. Especially when people at the senior level like Tomek Valtonen encourage players to go abroad. Previous Juniors head coach David Leger also believed it was important for players to go aboard, “100%, There is a way to direct development where it is not coming out of your pocket all of the time. You can build relationships with different clubs teams, you can place players in their clubs make those connections and relationships where you can place perspective players in different countries, and they can have a chance to develop and get different exposures, it brings them back to the national team as a more complete player. Libik is a really good example of that, he was poised in how he played, and he played at a higher level, Gosztyla was the same, the other polish players played well and competed hard, but it’s beneficial to spearhead and try dive the opportunities for players in different federations.”
Even if a player takes those opportunities though, they’ll still be fighting an uphill battle as telling someone Poland has hockey carries the same weight as telling someone there are aliens on the moon. You get looks of bewilderment, surprise, and disbelief. The clubs that get the Polish team in the CHL always seemed visibly confused at the fact there is a Polish club. Players that do play abroad often tell stories of their coaches or teammates being surprised that Poland has hockey as well. People not knowing that Poland has hockey isn’t that big of a deal, right? Well, it may be hurting Polish players as they try to work their way up in the hockey world.
In an interview, Damian Tyczynski gave with Sport.sk he explained some of the difficulty Polish players face. “Of course. It is my dream. But there is one problem – I am a Pole, and they do not want the Poles. When they learn that I am from Poland, they lose interest. ” When asked why they don’t have interest in Polish players, “I do not know. There were some chances for me as well, but when they learned that I was a Pole, it fell. I see the problem in a lack of tradition. They don’t believe us. ” The lack of tradition and lack of success of hockey in Poland is hurting Polish players in getting chances it seems. I mean Tyczynski has not played in Poland since he was fifteen, and lead the Slovakia U20 league in points by sixteen. Despite this all though he is still consider a Pole that teams don’t want.
The lack of tradition and strength of Polish hockey has hurt the players. I mean it kinda makes some sense. Why play a kid from Poland over a Swedish or Russian player with similar credentials? There are only simply a few ways to change this. Polish national teams need to continue to work their way up the IIHF ladder. Poland needs to get back to Group A and then up to the elite, so a long process. We have already seen British hockey raise their reputation through this. The second is Polish clubs playing against teams from foreign leagues. This is done through the Champions hockey league and exhibition games. The last and probably the most effective would be Polish players continue to appear in stronger leagues at the senior level. To do that Polish players are going to need to prove themselves in leagues that might not be as glamorous as the NHL, KHL, or SHL, but minor leagues and smaller leagues in Europe. The former coach of HC Ocelari Trinec had no faith in Aron Chmielewski, but Chmiewlewski kept battling in the lower Czech leagues and played full time in the Tipsport Extraliga this season. His determination earned him praise from Jan Moder, the team president, “I would like to emphasize here the progress of Aaron Chmielewski. The last coach had almost tossed him out of the league and this year Aron showed he was a great player. I appreciate his attitude and diligence.” Chmielewski is now a Tipsport Extraliga Champion and showcasing Polish hockey to the world.
Chmielewski cannot do it alone though. More Polish players need to continue showing off their skills in foreign leagues for this view to change. Current Polish players have to rebuild Polish hockey back up, or it may continue to hurt junior players in the long term. There are plenty of players who have the skill to do it, and I hope more make the jump to abroad not only to help the reputation of Polish hockey but to develop their skills as well. Just because a player is no longer a prospect doesn’t mean they can’t learn new things. There was an incident at the World Championships that shows this pretty well. From Russian Machine Never Breaks:
Well, it will never be as obvious an elite NHL player teaching someone how to take a faceoff there is still a lot to learn just from playing against such talented players on a consistent basis. The amount of Polish players it would take to change the reputation of Poland would take a lot of time. Meaning there is no drastic change coming to the reputation of Polish hockey unless GKS Tychy pulls off some kind of miracle in the Champions Hockey Leauge.
Poland can’t match the opportunities of better hockey countries. If you go away to develop and actually get better Poland may no longer let you on the team. Pushing any skilled Polish player abroad even more to another junior national team. This is done all in the interest of keeping together players who played in Poland for some reason, that reason can’t be the results. The national teams continue to play at the same level generating no new opportunities or improving the reputation of Polish hockey. The reputation of Polish hockey will never get better unless Poland takes the best roster that will actually win and help them move up. When you add in the fact that if you’re associated with Poland, it will be a red flag on your hockey resume, the worse thing for a young Polish player to do is to play for Poland. You’re going to play in low divisions of international play that won’t attract many scouts, and it doesn’t appear the junior national team is getting any better soon.