Things can move really fast in Polish hockey. One second Tomek Valtonen fails to earn promotion at the World Championships and leaves Podhale, leaving people wondering if he is the right coach for Poland. The next second he leads Poland to an upset win over Kazakhstan to move on in the Olympic qualifiers. His victory at the Olympic qualifiers had many people back on the Valtonen train as he was entering his second World Championship leading team Poland. Of course, in the end, everything was canceled due to the Covid-19 outbreak. But it seemed like the relationship between the PZHL and Valtonen had vastly improved. Despite no longer being under contract, Valtonen was still planing to coach Poland at the final round of Olympic qualification, along with seeming open to a contract extension.
Everything was looking good for Poland, then came the rumors of him possibly joining the team that took the loss in his biggest international career win. It is currently being reported that Tomek Valtonen is a candidate to take over as head coach for Barys Nur-Sultan in the Kontinental Hockey League, along with the head coaching duties for the Kazakhstan national team. At the end of the day, that is a much better job then what Poland can give the young coach.
If Valtonen gets the job, Poland will need to find a new national team leader. National team head coaches can be hard to predict. Sometimes there might be a natural candidate that is the same nationally of the team, or you get crazy outside hires like Ted Nolan. With that said, this list is nothing more than some coaches I think fit or would have a chance at taking over the reins of Poland. The first five are more realistic candidates with the bottom five being more out there candidates with little to zero chance.
1. Piotr Sarnik
One of Poland’s top coaching prospects is former national team forward Piotr Sarnik. Sarnik mostly played with Cracovia Krakow and GKS Tychy during his playing days but has been a vital member of the coaching staff for a different GKS team after his playing days. Sarnik is currently the head coach for GKS Katowice after taking over mid-season last year. Before that, he served as an assistant coach for Katowice since 2017. The 43-year-old is also the head coach for the Polish U20 team. While I might not agree with Sarnik on everything, there is no doubt his resume is quite impressive with a potential national team spot in the future coming soon.
2. Krzysztof Majkowski
I don’t think you could find someone with a more similar career to Sarnik in coaching. Majkowski was a former Polish defenseman appearing at a few non-IIHF events while playing his entire career with GKS Tychy. After retiring in 2013, he joined the team as an assistant coach and served in that role until mid-way into last season, when Andrej Husau re-signed mid-season. This gave the 42-year-old longtime assistant his first chance to lead a team. GKS Tychy continued to dominate, like years past, finishing atop the regular-season standings again. Majkowski has also served as an assistant coach on the Men’s senior and U20 teams. He was a candidate to take over as Poland’s head coach before Valtonen was hired in June 2018.
3. Tomasz Demkowicz
Demkowicz has been an essential part of hockey in Sanok, serving as the team’s head coach while still playing at times during his career. After his playing career was done though, he went into coaching full time. His biggest achievement being the head coach of Sanok for their championship season in 2014. He also led Polonia Bytom during their bronze medal season in 2017. He has always been busy with the national team as well, serving as an assistant coach for both the men’s and women’s U18 squad, along with the senior women’s team. Since 2018, he has served as the head coach of the Polish U18 squad. Where he won gold and promotion in 2019.
4. Robert Kalaber
Maybe the perfect candidate is in Poland, but not Polish. Slovak head coach Robert Kalaber has led JKH GKS Jastrzebie since the 2015 season. In that time, he has taken Jastrzebie to the finals once while making Polish players, especially younger players, a priority and essential part of his line up. Kalaber deserves a lot of credit for helping to develop the wealth of young talent that Jastrezbie has. This year may have been his best despite a disappointing run in the PHL playoffs. This was one of his best years coaching in Poland because he won the Visegrad Cup and the Polish Cup. He is also the head coach for the Bulgarian national team.
5. Jacek Płachta
What is once old is new again. There is no doubt that Jacek Płachta took the Polish team to heights that Ted Nolan and Tomek Valtonen failed to achieve. Płachta has also continued to grow as a coach, returning to Germany, where he was an assistant coach in the DEL2, and a head coach for Crocodiles Hamburg in the Oberliga the past two seasons. Plachta himself said in an interview to Hokej.net never say never when it came to returning behind the Polish bench. He also was reportedly close to landing the GKS Katowice job before Risto Dufva accepted the position.
6. Nik Zupančič
The Slovenian head coach is the biggest reason for Unia Oswiecim’s turn around this year. He legit made Oswiecim an excellent destination for players in just one year. He is returning to the team once again this season, and keeping most of his core intact, it seems. Well, it doesn’t sound like he wants to be away from his home too long, and he has offers from inside Slovenia. Maybe the national team job could convince him to stay in Poland. He has a long career coaching the Slovenian men’s team at the senior level both as a head and assistant coach. It may be hard to get him to cross enemy lines over to the Polish side, but no coach has impressed as much in their debut season in Poland.
7. Andrej Husau
Andrej Husau made GKS Tychy into a winning machine and wanted to coach team Poland when Valtonen landed the job. Though he left GKS Tychy on some uncertain terms mid-season. The 50-year-old head coach has yet to take another job and has a great resume. I was a huge fan of the idea of Andrej Husau leading the national team and even thought at points he should have received the job over Valtonen. It is hard to say whether or not the PHL championship-winning coach would return to Poland, but it couldn’t hurt to try.
8. Ernest Bokros
Bokros also applied for the job in 2018 but did not get it. The 60-year-old is a staple of the Slovakian national team. He has served as the assistant coach on their World Championship teams and has held basically every role for their u20 and u18 national teams. He also served as the head coach for HC Zlin in the Tipsport Extraliga for five years. Bokros has had plenty of other head coaching jobs across Czechia and Slovakia, but the biggest one for Poland to pay attention to is his work as head coach of Team Slovakia U20. This past year Bokros served as the general manager for MsHK Zilina in the Slovak second league. Poland could potentially convince the strong junior coach to take the reigns of the national team and help shape Poland’s future.
9. Glen Hanlon
Hanlon was reportedly interested in the 2018 opening, but that interest never went too deep. After that initial interest, he did coach the Hungarian team DVTK Jegesmedvék, who play in the Tipsport Liga. Hanlon has served in a head coach role for Belarus, Slovakia, and Switzerland senior men’s teams. Not to mention being the head coach of the Washington Capitals in the National Hockey League. He has already signed on as the head coach for Krefeld Pinguine next year in the DEL. Quite a few Polish prospects play in Krefeld. He brings a lot of name value and experience to Poland, and could be what Poland thought they had in Ted Nolan.
10. Daniel Tkaczuk
The Polish-Canadian forward was once a top prospect in the NHL after being a sixth overall pick in the 1997 NHL draft. While Tkaczuk would reach the NHL with the Flames in 2000 for a 19 game stint, that was the height of his playing career in North America. He went on to have a great career in Europe with strong performances in Germany, Finland, and Italy. He finished his career in 2011 after splitting the season in the Austria second league and Elite Ice Hockey League. After his playing career, he joined the Owen Sound Attack in the Ontario Hockey League as an assistant coach. He stayed in the role until 2015 when he moved over to the Kitchener Rangers. Since 2016, he has worked as a skill and assistant coach for the St Louis Blues organization both at the NHL and American Hockey League levels. There is practically zero chance of him ever being remotely interested in the Polish job, given his position with the defending Stanley Cup champs. He is still a promising young coach with Polish roots that could teach players offensive skills that would take Poland to the next level.