When a junior squad wins IIHF gold and thus promotion to the next level, it can be the start of something great for a national team. It could be a sign that their development system is starting to work, they have the core of their next national team, or they just got lucky.
Luck plays a big part in a team getting promoted as the biggest obstacle to getting promoted is the team that was relegated from the higher division the previous year. For Poland this has been their achilles heel at times. As seen when, one of the best Polish U20 teams in a long time felt short to Norway. It is amazing that teams with players like Alan Lyszczarczyk, Dominik Pas, Jan Soltys, and Patryk Wronka failed to earn promotion.
Poland recently released their first roster of the year for an upcoming grouping in Warsaw, this team features a lot of new players for the initial camp. These fresh faces may be the key to Poland finally earning promotion after so many silver medals. With that in mind, today I decided to look back at the team that last moved Poland up to Group A. Did Poland get their future core, or did they just get lucky.
Dawid Zabolotny – The starting goalie was Polish-German Dawid Zabolotny. In five games, he recorded a .933 SV%. Zabolotny served as a starter and split starter over the next four years with JKH GKS Jastrzebie. He would eventually be pushed out of the role by the Ondrej Raszka and Tomas Fucik pairing. The 5’11 goalie has served as a starting goalie for various German teams in the Oberliga since 2017. He also continues to make sporadic national team appearances usually in a back-up role. He remains a large part of the national team’s future.
Mateusz Skrabalak – The back up goalie made two IIHF rosters, but never played a game. He had show flashes of potential with Sanok, but was always way too inconsistent. He did not play anywhere in 2020, after spending the last two seasons with KH 58 Sanok in the third Slovak league.
Arkadiusz Kostek – One of the finest player from Opole made his first appearance for the Polish U20 squad at 2013 tournament. He would play the next six years with Opole, until financial reasons eventually made him leave the club. Since joining JKH GKS Jastrzebie, he has gained a lot of momentum. He is now starting to make consistent national team appearances, including at the past Olympic qualifiers.
Dariusz Gaczoł – A product of the Podhale system, he made his only U20 appearance in 2013. He played one year with the senior club in 2014. Gaczoł retired in 2016, after two years with PPWSZ Podhale Nowy Targ.
Jakub Gimiński – The 5’11 defensemen made his second appearance for the U20 squad. He would captain the U20 team the following season. He bounced around between Krynica and Torun before setting in nicely with Jastrzebie. Jastrzebie has been his home for the last five seasons, and he has re-signed for the 2021 season. The stay at home defensemen has made a few senior team appearances at non-IIHF events.
Łukasz Bułanowski – The big 6-5 Warsaw native seemed to have a bright future. He had the size and was developing a strong two-way game. Early in the 2016 season, he was given a doping suspension that ended his year. Upon his return to training in 2017, he suffered major injury and retired from hockey.
Łukasz Sznotala – Another Opole product that made the squad, which seems so weird to say in 2020. Sznotala had switched over to Cracovia Krakow playing full time in the PHL. This led to a three assist performance at the U20s, which was enough to lead Polish defensemen in points. He would later return to Opole in 2015 and played there until 2019, when he retired.
Marcin Kołodziej – This was the Zaglebie Sosnowiec’s product first appearance for Poland U20, and his last as he would retire after the season.
Piotr Huzarski – The Torun born defensemen was making his second appearance for the Polish team recording a goal and assist at the tournament. He later would help Torun earn promotion to the PHL. He played one season with KS Torun in the PHL, but then mostly left hockey besides a handful of games with Ponzan in the second league from 2016 to 2018.
Adam Domogala – The Polish forward with German heritage appeared to have quite the ceiling. He had 41 points with 47 games in Germany’s third league the Oberliga as a 19-year-old. He finished tied for second on team Poland in points with eight. Since then the forward has yet to reach his potential, but spent two years in the DEL2, along with five years with Cracovia Krakow. He would win two PHL championships with Krakow. He made his senior IIHF debut at last year’s World Championships recording two goals.
Damian Zarotynski – Zarotynski was making his second appearance on the U20 squad and did quite well recording five points. He followed this up with a 24 point 2014 PHL season with Podhale, but retired after the srong year.
Dawid Majoch – The Zaglebie Sosnowiec forward was making his second appearance for the Polish U20 squad. He recorded one point in five games. Since then he bounced around the PHL in bottom six roles. He spent the 2019 season in the Slovak third league, but didn’t play anywhere in 2020.
Filip Starzyński – Another of the big three forward trio, Starzyński was the team’s captain and coming off a strong rookie year in the NAHL. He recorded eight points at the tournament. The following year he doubled his NAHL point total. and committed to the University of Alabama-Huntsville. He ended up transferring to Northern Michigan. In three years at Northern Michigan, he posted 12 points in 101 games. He returned to Poland after college, and played with GKS Katowice the past couple years. He is solid in the face off circle and defensively, but his offensive skill set just isn’t there. He was a member of team Poland at the 2019 World Championships, and at last year’s Olympic qualifiers.
Filip Stopiński – Stopiński has remained a polarizing player to this day. This was his first U20 appreance. The following year, he would play in Germany’s Oberliga and with Opole. He served as the U20 team’s assisant captain when the team was relegated from division 1A. He would spend the next four seasons with Opole. He was really putting together a break out 2018 season til a injury ended it. He returned to the Oberliga the following season and has played there since, besides one game for Janow in the PHL. This year with ERC Sonthofen he recorded 40 points in 46 games. I still believe Stopiński could be a late developer, but injuries and inconsistency have hampered him a lot.
Jakub Stasiewicz – Stasiewicz made his one and only apperance for the U20 team recording an assist. Since the the tournament, he has bounced around the bottom lines for a few PHL teams, mostly staying close to Gdansk. He spent last year with Lotos PKH Gdansk recording 12 points in 44 games. He is one of the few players from PKH Gdansk to sign with Stoczniowiec Gdansk for the 2021 season.
Kacper Guzik – Guzik is the final part of the big three forward trio on the team that never really reached their expected ceiling. He spent most of his career in American junior leagues, even reaching the NAHL. He went professional right away after returning to Poland. He became a key part of GKS Tychy over the next two seasons, including a point per game regular season. He led team Poland at the event with 11 points. Since then Guzuk has always struggled with injuries and inconsistency. He spent the 2020 season in Podhale, recording two goals and an assist in 14 games.
Karol Szaniawski – Szaniawski served as the assistant captain for the U20 squad in his second run with the team. He would retire in 2015 after a couple of seasons with Legia Warszawa.
Łukasz Nalewajka and Radosław Nalewajka – The Jastrzebie twins are both a valuable part of JKH GKS Jastrzebie playing crucial roles in the line up at times, along with both serving as captain for the team. Both have received sporadic national team chances since their U20 team days, but neither have developed into top PHL players.
Martin Pawelski – Pawelski has spent his entire career in Slovakia with HK 32 Liptovsky Mikulas. He still plays for their B team. The B team currently plays in the fourth level of Slovak hockey.
Michał Kalinowski – Kalinowski is the one of the best players recently to come out of Torun. In 2013, he played for Katowice, Polonia, and Tourn. He also recorded three points at U20s. Since the 2013 season, he has spent six of the seven seasons with KH Torun. He also has recorded three 20 goal seasons in the PHL during that time, including a career-high 25 goal season last year. This was second among all Polish players in the PHL.
Patryk Malicki – Malicki was one of the youngest players on team and making his first of three appearances for the U20 squad. A strong two-way game and decent size made him an intriguing prospect. The 24-year-old has spent his entire career with Unia Oswiecim, besides a short loan to Janow. He remains a valuable part of the team’s bottom six forward group contributing around just over ten points a year.
It is not a great sign for the future when you can only call a couple players on this team national team regulars. There is kinda a shocking amount of them who no longer play hockey at all. I did some quick checking around for similar teams and country, and while quite a few players do retire young each time. This Polish squad definitely had quite a few above the average.
For Poland, this class of young players didn’t live up to their potential. There is also still a lot of time for players in the class to make or break it. Arkadiusz Kostek, Adam Domogala, David Zabolotny, Filip Starzyński, Filip Stopiński, Jakub Gimiński, and Michał Kalinowski all appear to at least be great national team depth or have a chance to be a solid contributor to Poland. The team had a lot of players in junior and pro leagues that young Polish players struggle to get into now. They also are the only Polish team to win gold and promotion to Group A. With that amount of talent and accomplishment, you would have hoped to get a few key national pieces.