Another PHL season is here with the first game day already in the books. The league has a different shape this year as due to COVID-19, there is no PZHL U23. Add in both Stoczniowiec Gdańsk and STS Stanok joining the battle, while PKH Gdansk and Janow departing it. The league is a different world and feels a lot more open than in recent years. Of course, there are still favorites, but it feels like someone might finally dethrone the three-peat champions* GKS Tychy.
10. GKH Stoczniowiec Gdańsk
2019-20 Finish: NA (New to PHL)
Every year the PHL has a team that can only be described as the thing everyone in the world just hates and does nothing but rightfully beat with no mercy. This year that role belongs to GKH Stoczniowiec Gdańsk. This Gdańsk club took the spot of beloved Gdańsk club, Lotos PKH Gdańsk. I wrote more about the disaster that is the Stoczniowiec Gdańsk management staff here.
In the end this team will go as far as their few veteran players can take them. Josef Vítek, Mateusz Rompkowski, and Michał Kieler are really all the team has to offer, besides a few younger players stuck in a rough place.
Role: WASTE OF TIME
9. Zagłębie Sosnowiec
2019-20 Finish: 9th
Zagłębie Sosnowiec is probably going to lose a lot this year. COVID-19 has hit the team very hard. The team lost many key veterans like Filip Stoklasa and Rafal Radziszewski. They may have some of the best young talent in Poland though. Eleven players on their roster were ranked inside our top 50 men’s U23 player list. That is the most in the entire PHL. That eleven includes the huge additions of Igor Smal and Michał Naróg from PKH Gdańsk.
Sosnowiec will need those young players to all take substantial jumps if they want to compete. As most of their imports are not going to be impact players. The exceptions are Danil Kulikov, Maksim Tsitok, and Mikhail Syroezhkin; whom all had shown potential or excelled in the PHL previously. Dominik Nahunko is their best Polish forward right now. Retaining him during the off-season was the club’s biggest priority. The biggest challenge the young team faces is in their youthful goal-tending tandem of Michal Czernik (24) and Marcel Kotula (19) Both goalies have high ceilings, but are not ready to steal any games yet. This whole squad is love-able underdogs.
Role: Young loveable underdogs
8. Ciarko STS Sanok
2019-20 Finish: NA (New to PHL)
This one was really hard to place. STS Sanok returns to the PHL after a few years away. The Sanok roster is pretty similar to the one seen recently in a the third tier of Slovak hockey. That group does include great young players like Karol Bilas, Konrad Filipek, Maciej Witan and Szymon Dobosz. Along with some veterans who had success in the PHL like Marek Strzyżowski. Marek Ziętara then brought promising young players Jakub Bukowski and Tomasz Skokan back to Sanok.. The squad is pretty light on imports, but Sanok did add a solid trio of Finnish imports and former KH Toruń star Patrik Spesny.
They’re the second youngest team in the PHL. This year is the start of something bigger for Sanok hopefully. 2020 is year one of that journey and it is hard to predict them doing well. I am willing to bet they will be a competitive team. I mean in their first game back, Sanok only lost to GKS Tychy by one goal.
Role: The comeback team
7. KH Energa Toruń
2019-20 Finish: 8th
Toruń had an up and down off-season, as per usual for a club that relies strongly on imports. The bad came in the form of losing Bartosz Fraszko, Mateusz Zielinski, and Patrik Spesny. There were further departures when quite a few long time Toruń players retired . The good came in bringing home Kamil Kalinowski, adding back Łukasz Podsiadło, while also grabbing Yegor Rozhkov from Gdańsk.
The Torun team is in usual form with a lot of imports from smaller leagues around Europe. They did bring back quite a few from last year like Denis Sergushkin, Dmitri Kozlov, and Yegor Feofanov, whom were among the team leader in points. Some of the new interesting imports include Swedish goalie Anton Svensson, who has big shoes to fill but has done good so far in early outings. Gleb Bondaruk has a chance to be offensive leader after coming off a point per game season in the Ukraine. While Finnish forward Ville Saloranta is an easy pick to be a star in the PHL, after a solid career in the Mestis. It is hard to predict how high Toruń will go. They could lose one game 7-0, but then beat the league leader the next day. A true wildcard.
Role: The wildcard
6. Tauron Podhale Nowy Targ
2019-20 Finish: 3rd
I believe there are six teams with a true chance to take the PHL championship this year, which makes ranking them so hard. Podhale doesn’t make it in the top five though, by a very thin margin. The biggest thing for me that causes doubt with Podhale is on the defensive end. Their defense has a lot of solid players no doubt, and Ričards Birziņš could be a top import in Poland. I also hope to see Damian Tomasik play a larger role again. I just don’t really see any star power on it though. The club’s defense is going to play rough and make it hell for opponents, but they’re beatable. At least behind them Przemyslaw Odrobny is still a brick wall.
They really rebuilt their offense this year and it looks fantastic. Top scorers Alexander Pettersson and Bartlomiej Neupauer were brought back. Then they brought in a lot from Krakow, Polish national team fowards Kasper Bryniczka and Mateusz Bepierszcz both came aboard, as well as Czech import Michal Vachovec. Vachovec has posted back to back above point per game seasons in the PHL. Former KHL player Andrei Ankudinov and Latvian winger Lauris Rancevs both have the potential to make an impact as well. Podhale also seemingly addressed their lack of younger Polish talent in recent years. The yellow squad returned Ernest Bochnak and Fabian Kapica home to Poland from strong junior leagues in Czechia and Germany. Their biggest signing though happen right before their first game, as top Polish player Alan Łyszczarczyk joined the team, while he waits for the ECHL to start back up.
Role: Not expected to win, but wouldn’t be shocked.