This year has seen a huge influx of North American players in Poland, with quite a few big names like former NHL players Gilbert Brule, Paul Szczechura, and Victory Bartley recently signing. This trend started earlier in the year with JKH GKS Jastrzebie picking up former Minnesota Wild first-round pick Zack Phillips. There is certainly an arms race going on in the PHL right now. You can even build a pretty good team out of just North Americans.
Most of these players though, won’t leave a lasting impact on Polish hockey directly. Of course, big names are good for the league, and if they have a good experience, it will encourage more players to take a chance in Poland. These names are a result from the COVID-19 pandemic causing many leagues to be canceled, delayed, or without a majority of the teams participating. Most of them will play 20 or so games in the PHL and then return to a stronger league.
With all this in mind, it got me thinking about the most important North American players to play in Poland. A player like Mike Cichy, for example, is crucial to the history of the sport. Cichy set the PHL scoring record, and since he arrived in the PHL in the 2015 season, he has 89 more points than the next closest player. On the other hand, while a player like Wojtek Wolski may have been a bigger name to play in the PHL, his direct impact on the league wasn’t that large, as he just played in just nine games.
Today I decided to take on the challenge of making an all-time team out of just players from North America who played in the PHL. For this, we will only consider what they accomplished in the PHL. What they did before or after does not matter. The player must have also played at least ten PHL games. We will select 13 forwards, 7 defensemen, and 2 goalies.
Christian Mroczkowski – Mike Cichy – Alex Szczechura
Dave Kostuch – Jared Brown – Samson Mahbod
Nick Sucharski – Zack Phillips – Jordan Pietrus
Rafal Martynowski – Mike Danton – Kelly Czuy
Extra: Justin Chwedoruk
Mike Cichy – Cichy and Szcezchura are players that are not just on the North American all-time team but the all-time PHL team. Cichy arrived in Poland with Sanok in 2014 and since has played for Opole and Tychy. In 2015, Cichy set the record for points in a PHL season with 113, nine more than the previous record. Since he arrived in Poland, he has 437 points in 324 games, the most by any player during that time frame. His 188 goals and 249 assists are also both the most by a player since 2014. To top it off, Cichy is a three-time PHL champion.
Alex Szczechura – The year after Cichy arrived, Alex Szczechura arrived in Poland with Opole. He and Cichy had instant chemistry, becoming two of the best offensive players the PHL has ever seen. He has played for Opole, Sanok, and GKS Tychy. In 253 games, he has 298 points—the second-most points since 2015, behind only his duo partner, Cichy. The former Ohio State forward has three PHL championships with GKS Tychy.
Christian Mroczkowski – The perfect third piece of the Cichy and Szczechura line has long been searched for. In reality, any player you paired with the duo will succeed. In 2019, Christian Mroczkowski arrived in Poland on a tryout with GKS Tychy. The young power forward has instantly impacted the league, leading the 2020 regular season in points. The 6’0 right-winger has only repeated his success in 2021 as he currently sits tied for third in the PHL for points. So far, he is one for one in seasons with a PHL championship.
Samson Mahbod – For someone to break a record, there has to be a record in place. The scoring record that Cichy broke was held by Samson Mahbod. Mahbod arrived in Poland very late to the 2013 season with GKS Katowice. The high-scoring forward returned the following year to appear for KH Sanok. That year was one of the best seasons in PHL history as he recorded 36 goals and 68 assists for 104 points in 53 games. His 104 points setting the new PHL scoring record at the time. Mahbod used his PHL success to jump to stronger leagues in the VHL, Liiga, and KHL. It showed players that the PHL could be used as a launching pad for stronger leagues in Europe.
Jared Brown – Brown is a mainstay of Europe’s lower professional leagues. Playing for multiple teams in Hungary and Poland, along with stops in France and Romania. In Poland, for three separate teams, he had above a point per game regular season. While his trips were not always the longest, he racked up 71 points across 51 PHL games with Katowice, Opole, and Sanok.
Dave Kostusch – Kostuch left Canisius College after two years to play for Krakow in the PHL during the 2010 season. In his first year, he was a star posting 55 points in 47 games, good for ninth among all Polish players. He would miss most of the following season but return for the Polish Cup and playoffs, recording 23 points in 15 games. He retired after the 2012 season.
Jordan Pietrus – Pietrus came from the ECHL with a very good resume, more than 150 ECHL points in 272 games. In his lone PHL season, he would finish with 70 points in 53 games. His 66 regular-season points led the league. He also had a strong continental cup with 5 points in 6 games. The talented center with Polish roots posted one of the best years ever by a North American.
Zack Phillips – Phillips makes the list despite 2021 being his first PHL season. The former first-round pick currently sits second in PHL, scoring 35 points in 29 games. In just one short year, he has proved to be a valuable forward for JKH GKS Jastrzębie.
Nick Sucharski – Sucharski was a 5th round pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets and a captain at Michigan State. He joined Krakow in 2011 and recorded 38 points in 37 games. The Polish-American jumped ship to GKS Katowice the following year. This was another strong year with 34 points in 38 games—a top-line forward for two different clubs, who also served as an assistant captain with Katowice.
Kelly Czuy – Czuy is an interesting player. The physical winger with Polish roots bounced around the AHL, CHL, and ECHL. He started a couple of seasons in the PHL with Podhale Nowy Targ but would end the year back in the United States. In total, he recorded 62 points and 218 penalty minutes in 60 games. This included leading the league in penalty minutes with 123 in 2011.
Mike Danton – A controversial figure in hockey, but no doubt proved to impact the lower leagues of Europe, including Poland. He joined KH Sanok for the 2014 playoffs and went on to play two more years with the club. He recorded 132 points and 266 penalty minutes in 133 games. Danton won a championship in 2014 and led the league in penalty minutes for the 2015 season.
Rafal Martynowski – Martynowski came to Poland in 2010 after spending two years in the fourth tier of German hockey. In two years with Krakow, he recorded 72 points in 96 games. His highlights being a point per game continental cup and playoff run in 2011.
Justin Chwedoruk – A talented, hard-working, and two-way forward, Chwedoruk dreamed of representing Poland on the international stage. He signed in Poland with GKS Katowice before the 2014 campaign. The former Edmonton Oiler minor league player recorded 42 points in 35 games but would miss most of the playoffs with an injury. He returned the following year with Sanok but would suffer a concussion that ended his career after 14 games.
Zach Josepher – Jason Seed
Matt Williams – Adrian Gajor
Sam Roberts – Ryan Barlock
Defensemen are really a weaker portion of the team as strong defensemen are really hard to come by for almost any league. Despite that, there have still been some North American defensemen to impact the league—especially those with an offensive or physical presence.
Zach Josepher – Josepher was seemingly bouncing around from ECHL and semi-pro teams multiple times a year. Gdansk signed him for the 2016 season, their first back in the PHL. While it was a rough year for the team, it was great for Josepher. He recorded 39 points in 37 games. 9 points coming in 6 relegation games. The fourth-best point per game posted by a PHL defenseman since 2000.
Jason Seed – When it seems imports are coming from stronger and stronger leagues, a guy coming from France’s second league is not the biggest move. Seed has proved himself to be a solid defenseman in the PHL over the 2020 and 2021 seasons. The strong two-way play resulted in him with 38 points in 76 games. He served as an assistant captain with Podhale in 2020. For 2021, he joined three-peat champions GKS Tychy.
Matt Williams – Williams was a physical force on the defensive back end. He contributed at both ends with 35 points in 54 games. That was 6th among defensemen in points for the 2015 season. Williams posted 131 minutes in the box, which was second in the league during his lone year. He was the typical import that Sanok recruited at this time, bringing an offensive and physical presence.
Adrian Gajor – Gajor was a player who I often overlooked. He came to Poland last playing inline hockey, with really no major league to his name. He was still young and had Polish roots, but it seemed like an odd move when Krakow signed him in 2018. The guy who was playing roller hockey, before coming to Poland, has now played 109 games putting up 23 points. A point total that is seemingly increasing each year. He also has been named to a Polish national team international roster.
Sam Roberts – Roberts was a strong two-way defenseman in the QMJHL, ECHL, and lower European leagues. In his lone PHL season, he posted 33 points in 49 games. The third most in points and PPG among defensemen in 2016.
Ryan Barlock – Barlock impressed in France with his defensive and physical pace. He brought that same play to Poland, even earning a leadership role with GKS Katowice as their assistant captain. In his lone year, he posted 19 points in 39 games.
Quinn Sproule – Sproule came to the PHL after one ECHL year. In his lone PHL year with Sanok, he provided the club 7 goals and 18 assists in 54 games. His .46 PPG was 7th among PHL defenders in the 2016 season.
John Murray – When the Polish national team had so many top goalies, it seemed the depth chart was air tight with no room to break in. Instead, John Murray forced his way into becoming Poland’s national team starter. Murray bounced around the CHL and ECHL before signing in Poland for the 2014 hockey year. Murray was a brick wall in the playoffs with a .958 SV% in 14 games leading KH Sanok to a PHL championship. He would move on to Opole the following year and post a .920 SV%. He would leave in 2015 for Kazakhstan but return to Opole the following year. Since 2017, he has represented the colors of GKS Tychy. Murray is a four-time PHL champion and easily one of the best PHL goalies in history.
Clarke Saunders – Saunders had a star-making MVP performance with Unia Oswiecim in 2020. After coming over from the Alps Hockey League, it was hard to predict what he would achieve in the PHL. The Brockville native posted a .932 SV%, good for third among PHL starting goalies. His playoff run appeared to be off to an even better start with a .955 SV% after just five games. He returned in 2021, and well not as strong as his previous year, he remains a solid PHL goalie. Saunders has come clutch on many occasions for Unia Oswiecim. He has kept them in a top PHL spot, despite early struggles.