Robert Kalaber is staying put as the leader of the Polish national team. Today, PZHL President Mirosław Minkina announced that Kalaber had signed a two-year extension to remain the head coach of Poland’s Men’s senior team. Kalaber helped Poland earn gold and promotion at the Division 1 Group B World Championships in May.
The 52-year-old started his coaching career in his native Slovakia. There he served as an assistant and head coach of HK Dukla Trencin. He moved over to Poland in 2015, taking over JKH GKS Jastrzebie. He has coached in Jastzrebie since that season, taking the club to a PHL Championship in 2021. In 2018, he started serving as Bulgaria’s head national team coach. Kalaber took over the Polish national team job for the 2020 season. Some highlights include beating Belarus during the final round of Olympic Qualification in 2022, winning the Baltic Challenge Cup, winning the Three Seats Tournament, and helping Poland win gold and promotion at the 2022 Division 1 Group B World Championships.
The Men’s senior team will be back in Division 1 Group A for the first time since 2018. From April 29th to May 5th, in Nottingham, Poland will take on Great Britain, Italy, Lithuania, Romania, and South Korea. Poland will look to prove they still belong in Division 1, where they finished with a bronze medal in 2015 and 2016.
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After two years of Covid cancellations, we were finally back to IIHF tournaments. It has been a wild year, and one with a lot to celebrate in Poland regardless of how the Men’s Senior performed at this tournament. Despite that, failure would not be an option for team Poland at the event. The team that was on the cusp of playing in the Elite during the mid-2010s was stuck in Group B for a second straight tournament. Poland needed to get back in Group A, or sweeping changes were bound to occur.
Poland started off the tournament in a strong fashion. They would shut out their first opponent Estonia in a 3-0 win. In the following game, Poland took on Ukraine. Ukraine, despite playing during an extremely difficult time in their country, put up an extremely strong fight. Poland and Ukraine would stay even until the end, when eventually Poland won in a shootout. The third game was a blowout victory versus Serbia that ended 10-2. Poland and Japan were meeting on the final day with gold and promotion on the line. While Poland was the favorite, Ukraine took them to overtime and Serbia posted two goals against them. Japan was a strong team, and Poland was not unbeatable. In the end, Murray held strong and Lyszczarczyk carried the offense. Poland defeated Japan 2-0 to win gold and promotion!
We can break down every game and the concerns of the future, but first, let us take a chance to take a breath and enjoy the moment. Poland won gold. It feels good, Japan and Ukraine were great wins for the team. We all wanted to see progress out of the national team, and they no doubt showed that this year. The team was full of youth and was missing three veterans in Kapica, Kolusz, and Pasuit. We saw the new core of the team step up and win gold. Five members of the roster were making their World Championship debuts, while five more were in their second appearance. Only 12 skaters appeared with Poland at the 2018 Division 1 Group A World Championships. Poland won gold, let us be happy.
The Wall of Murray
Everyone’s favorite American in Poland did it again. Murray stopped 88 of the 90 shots he faced. He shutout both Estonia and Japan en route to Poland’s gold. He only allowed two goals against Ukraine, while also only allowing one Ukrainian shooter to score during the five-round shootout. Poland didn’t make it easy for him as well. Poland was outshot versus both Estonia and Ukraine and only outshot Japan by three. Against Japan and Ukraine, Poland only held a 2-goal lead for a minute, making every save crucial.
Poland went 1 for 15 on the powerplay, including 1 for 5 against Serbia. Poland scored 9 even-strength goals against Serbia. If Poland wants to stay in Group A, the powerplay is going to need a major overhaul. Poland had plenty of chances to close out the games against Japan and Ukraine on the powerplay but kept coming up short. Against Ukraine, this was really bad as the game was in sudden death overtime, where one goal was all that was needed. Instead, Poland’s powerplay expired, and then they gave Ukraine a powerplay of their own.
The Next Powerplay QB
One of the reasons for the powerplay struggle might have been the fact that Poland really lacks a dynamic offensive defenseman. For most of the years in Division 1 Group A, Pawel Dronia patrolled the line and racked up 29 points in 40 games. Then Marcin Kolusz switched over to the defense, revitalizing his career. Neither was at the tournament for Poland, and we might not see them play again for the national team. Only one defenseman on the national team roster finished top 10 in points among defensemen in the PHL. Maciej Kruczek finished with 21 points, which was 8th among defensemen. Only two more were top 20. Bryk finished 13th, while Jaskiewicz was 19th. As I say this though, it was a defenseman who scored the gold-winning goal for Poland.
What is Next?
Poland now heads back to Division Group A for the first time since 2018. While we can try to speculate on their opponents, we will have to see how the IIHF handles Russia and Belarus, along with changes they made with those two teams being suspended due to their invasion of Ukraine. The 2022 Group A tournament will take place from May 3rd to May 8th in Slovenia. The 2023 edition of the tournament will take place from April 23rd through April 30th in a to be determined location.
– Poland’s team at the tournament had an average age of 27.36. While the oldest in the tournament, it is the youngest team Poland has had since 2014.
– David Zabolotny became only the fifth goalie to start a game at the World Championships for Poland since 2010.
– Dominik Pas had a really good tournament, especially against Ukraine. He was always on the puck, and a huge thorn in their side.
– Poland’s penalty kill was equally as good as their powerplay was bad. Opponents went 1 for 15 against Poland’s penalty kill unit.
– Poland’s top seven scorers all played at least one season abroad as a senior. Going outside Poland helps development no matter the age of the player; Filip Komorski in his age 30 season is a completely changed player after one year in Czechia.
On May 5th, 2002, Poland and Japan would face off at the Elite Division of the World Championships. Poland was back in the Elite Division for the first time since 1992. The red and white were led at the tournament by NHL players Krzysztof Oliwa and Mariusz Czerkawski, and national team stalwarts Jacek Płachta, Tomasz Jaworski, Waldemar Klisiak. The national team was in a good place with two NHL players and multiple players around strong leagues in Europe. Poland started the tournament on the wrong foot, losing by a combined score of 18-0 to Finland, Slovakia, and Ukraine. This sent them to the relegation round, where they convincingly beat Italy 5-1. In their next game, Slovenia would beat them 4-2, making the May 5th game vs. Japan do or die, or maybe just die.
Japan had long been competing in the IIHF, often finishing in the high teens for their IIHF rankings. Then in 1998, Japan was awarded the winter Olympics in Nagano. In a mirror image of what we saw recently with China hosting the Olympics, the IIHF had to make the Japanese club more competitive. After winning the Far East Qualifier, Japan started playing in the Elite Division of the World Championships and stayed in the Division. The team relied heavily on players, usually with Japanese heritage, becoming imports for the country, many of whom had been playing in Japan for quite a few years. Homegrown talent like Takahito Suzuki also shined though. Japan would suffer a similar start to the tournament as Poland, losing 9-2 to Germany, 5-2 to Czechia, and then 5-1 to Switzerland. Japan would lose 4-3 to Slovenia to start the relegation round. They would then suffer a rough defeat with Italy at a 6-2 final. This meant the game with Poland would be for pride and to not go winless in the round.
On a side note, that Japanese team also featured Yutaka Fukufuji as the third goalie. Fukufuji was just a couple years away from making history when he would be the second Japanese player ever drafted to the NHL and the first goalie. In 2007, he became the first Japanese player to appear in an NHL game. He would go on to appear at 11 World Championships for Japan. He is still playing and will be backing up Yuta Narisawa versus Poland at the 2022 Worlds.
On May 5th, 2002, the puck drops. Poland would grab the lead during the first period, scoring once. Japan’s defense was standing firm, but eventually, Poland broke through big time in the second period. After two periods, it would be a 4-1 lead for Poland. Both teams would add one more goal in the third for a final score of 5-2. Poland finished second in the relegation group with a 2-1 record. Usually, this would save a team from being relegated, but at the time, an Asian team could not be relegated. Poland was relegated instead as the second-place team in the relegation group. They have not been back to the Elite Division since.
Poland’s Fall From Grace
Polish hockey felt they were better than being relegated. The red and white fought like hell in Division 1 to get back to the Elite. From 2003 to 2008, Poland won either silver or bronze every year in Division 1, just coming up short of promotion. The aging national core saw more and more players end their careers while the next generation could not reach the same heights as their predecessors. In 2012, Division 1 was split into groups, with Poland being put in the second group, B. The path back to the Elite Division now meant winning promotion twice. In 2014, Poland would finally earn a promotion to Group A. Despite being the new team in the group, Poland would take bronze both in 2015 and 2016. In Group A, the top two teams get promoted to the Elite Division. Poland had just come up short of promotion to the elite again.
In a desperate move to try and get back to the Elite after finishing fourth in 2017, Poland would bring on former NHL head coach Ted Nolan. The former coach of the year in the NHL was poised to take the national team to the next level with his experience and expertise. Instead, it was a terrible fit, and Poland was relegated back to Division 1 Group B. Ted Nolan would leave the team after only a single season. Poland would fail to rejoin Group A after finishing second in 2019. After two tournaments were canceled in a row, now in 2022, Poland finally has another chance to gain entry into the Division below the top. The Polish national team is coming off beating Kazakhstan to qualify for the final round of Olympic qualification and then beating highly ranked Belarus 1-0 in a massive upset. This year, Poland came into the World Championships, with promotion being the only option. Staying in Group B is not an option and would likely force massive changes.
Japan gets Surpassed
Japan stayed in the Elite Division until 2004, winning the Far East Qualifier each time. The IIHF would do away with World Championship qualifiers after that tournament. Japan was placed in Division 1. At the time, the IIHF had two separate Division 1 Groups. Japan and Poland would meet in the same group once in 2005 when Poland beat them 2-1. Japan would stay competitive in their group but never achieve promotion. The land of the rising sun took a bronze medal every year from 2006 to 2010. Their streak only ended in 2011 after the team withdrew due to the national disasters that had struck their country.
When the IIHF split Division 1 into a higher and lower group. Japan was placed in the higher group. They fought hard to earn a promotion but, like Poland, came up short. Their best chance was in 2014, placing third and winning bronze. Their most common finish was fourth place, enough to stay in the division, consistently winning multiple games.
It all came crashing down in 2016. Japan would lose all five games and be relegated to Group B. One of the teams they lost to was South Korea, a country preparing for its own winter Olympics in 2018. For years, Japan had dominated South Korea in the Far East Qualifiers. Now South Korea had passed Japan in the race to return to the Elite Division. In 2017 and 2018, Japan finished with two silver medals in Group B and then fell to bronze in 2019. Following two years of COVID cancellations, Japan looks to get back to Group A after three years in the second group. They will need to beat Poland, whom they lost to 7-4 in 2019.
The Prized Prospects
Both Poland and Japan are mainly comprised of players that play in their home country. Neither team sees a lot of players that venture outside the country, let alone to stronger leagues. Japan’s Shuhei Kuji played at Germany’s top level, while Poland had Aron Chmielewski reach Czechia’s biggest stage. Both teams had a player reach the NCAA in Filip Starzyński and Yuki Miura. Both players played for Michigan colleges in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association. Neither were high-scoring players in college, with only 12 and 29 career points.
Not many more players venture outside their country from either side, especially to leagues of note around Europe and North America. Each side had one prospect who ultimately broke the norms and cleared every hurdle they faced along the route to a career in the North American minor league system.
Alan Łyszczarczyk left Poland at an early age to dominate the Czechia junior leagues. His dominant performance in Czechia led him to the Ontario Hockey League in 2016, where he was equally as good, recording over 200 points during his four-year career. He eventually turned professional for the 2020 season in the ECHL and posted two solid years, mainly with the Fort Wayne Komets. Łyszczarczyk would leave the ECHL in 2021 with a .68 point per game average.
Yushiroh Hirano was a standout in Japan and moved over 4,000 miles away to play for Tingsryds AIF in Sweden. After impressing in both Sweden and on the international stage during the 2015 season, he moved on to North American hockey. Hirano landed with the Youngstown Phantoms of the United States Hockey League (USHL). After a 46-point year in the USHL, he returned to Japan to play professionally for the Tohoku Free Blades in the Asia League. In 2019, Hirano made the lineup of the Wheeling Nailers in the ECHL. He has proved to be one of the league’s best producers, recording 121 points in 144 games over the past three ECHL seasons. In 2022, Hirano got an extended look in the American Hockey League, with the Abbotsford Canucks, recording 12 points in 30 games.
The Battle Ends Tomorrow, The War Continues
May 1st, 2022. After two years of COVID cancellations, we are finally back at the World Championships. In Division 1 Group B, two teams are squaring off for gold and promotion to Division 1 Group A. Both teams used to be closer to the top of the hockey world, competing in the Elite Division of the IIHF, and they fell down the hockey ladder down to Division 1 Group B. Both teams appear to be on the rise from the outside and are being led by an undrafted forward who went from North America’s top junior leagues to the ECHL.
Whoever wins today finally gets back to Division 1 Group A. The promised land is the backdoor to returning to the Elite Division. Since 2015, Poland and Japan have been more common opponents, which is likely going to continue. Staying in Group A is hard. Besides Japan and Poland, we have also seen Lithuania, Romania, South Korea, and Ukraine bounce between the two groups. Poland and Japan will likely continue to face off as each tries to reach the Elite Division.
The Witcher is one of the most popular television shows, novels, and video games of the past decade. It is amazing that a novel from Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski was then later made into a best-selling game by Polish studio CD Projekt Red. The Witcher can hold value to people all over the world in many different forms of media. There are board games, card games, clothes, and an ice hockey goalie.
Przemysław Odrobny is a legend in Polish Ice Hockey. While many nicknames in hockey are given due to a player’s skill or prowess on the ice, like “The Great One” for Wayne Gretzky or “The Grim Reaper” for feared enforcer Stu Grimson. Odrobny instead earned his nickname “The Witcher” due to his resemblance to Geralt, the lead character of The Witcher. Like his nickname, Odrobny has been a monster slayer for Poland, keeping them in games against hockey giants that they had no right to be in. In his 20 year plus career, the Gdansk native represented Poland at 15 different IIHF events. However, he has not appeared for the national team in a few years, especially as the pandemic took its toll on international hockey events. Odrobny has also not played hockey anywhere in 2022.
With the Witcher not being used at any of the recently Olympic qualifying events and not playing anywhere in 2022, it is very likely that this will be the first World Championship for Poland without him since 2010. Polish goaltending has been pretty steady since 2010. Only four goalies have appeared for Poland at the World Championships in that time span; Kamil Kosowski, John Murray Przemysław Odrobny, and Rafał Radziszewski. Kamil Kosowski retired in 2018 at the age of 31. Rafał Radziszewski retired from hockey after a 20-year career in 2020. This only leaves the current national team starter, John Murray.
John Murray came to Poland during the 2014 season after bouncing around between the CHL, ECHL, and a stop in Slovenia. He would play two seasons from 2014 to 2015 and then leave for Kazakhstan for a single season before returning in 2017, and has played in Poland since. Affectionately nicknamed Jaszek Murasz due to how his English name sticks out on the Polish roster. He has led Poland to some of the greatest moments of Polish hockey this century. He currently is 34 years old, which does mean his national team career could end any year.
So who is behind Murray and looking to be only the fifth goalie to play for Poland at the World Championships since 2010? The easy answer would be fellow import Ondřej Raszka. The Czech goalie has played in Poland for 11 years and played for team Poland at multiple non-IIHF events. At the past Olympic Qualifiers, he also backed up John Murray in three games. At 32-years-old, he is a veteran with plenty of time. The only problem though is earlier this season, Raszka was released by GKS Tychy after only four games. Since then, he has not played anywhere and was left off the roster for the upcoming training camp and exhibition games vs. Austria.
The next answer is only the fifth goalie to make an IIHF appearance for Poland since 2010 in Michał Kieler. The 26-year-old got in on the action at the Olympic qualifiers stopping the single shot he faced after coming in late in a game where Poland was easily winning versus the Netherlands. He also saw action in exhibition games in Hungary and the Three Seas Tournament. He seems to be the easy pick for a backup national team goalie based on how team leaders have used him. But as a long-term starter, I’m not sure. At 26-years-old, he is still a backup in the import goalie-dominated PHL. In 16 games for JKH GKS Jastrzebie this season, he recorded a .898 save percentage. Fourth last among goalies in the with more than 10 games played. He is one of three goalies named to Poland’s roster for exhibition games against Austria.
The options outside of Kieler are pretty slim, as zero of the other options in Poland have played a senior national team game. Dawid Zabolotny, 28, is an intriguing option. The Cracovia Krakow backup is back in Poland for the first time since 2018. He had spent the previous four years as a starter in Germany’s Oberliga. While he has been a backup to Russian goalie Denis Perevozchikov, Zabolotny’s .916 save percentage is the third-highest among all goalies with 10 games in the PHL. He also served as the backup for Poland at a few non-IIHF tournaments. Like Kieler, Zabolotny is also on the roster for exhibition games against Austria.
The final goalie on that roster for games against Austria is GKS Tychy’s Kamil Lewartowski. Lewartowski has had a quiet few years after being the starting goalie for Poalnd at the 2018 U20 World Championships, and he has earned a larger and larger role with Tychy. This past year after Raszka was released, Lewartowski took on the starting role during the regular season. In 27 regular-season games, he would record a .910 save percentage. GKS Tychy would still add Czechia goalie Tomáš Fučík and Swedish goalie Mathias Israelsson before the transfer deadline. Fučík would win the starting job, and help Tychy reach the bronze medal series. At 24-years-old, Lewartowski sits in a similar spot with Kieler with when, or will, they win a starting PHL job?
Other options in Poland include KH Torun’s Mateusz Studziński (24), who has posted solid numbers the past two years as a backup. He was previously the starter of Polonia Bytom during the 2019 season. Robert Kowalówka, 28, has long been the backup in Krakow but moved over to Osciewim for the 2022 season. While the long-time backup primarily produced average numbers during his time. The Oswiecim native has been outstanding in his 11 playoff appearances. Michał Czernik, 25, has been the starter in Zaglebie Sosnowiec for two years but has posted the league worse and second-worst save percentages in those seasons on some very weak teams.
In terms of players under 23, not many have played significant minutes in Poland’s top league outside of one. Paweł Bizub, 22, was the starter on Podhale Nowy Targ this year primarily out of necessity. He showed flashes of potential in limited minutes the previous year, but his .870 save percentage was .021 lower than any other PHL goalie in 2022. Oskar Polak backed up that same Podhale team while also leading Poland at the U20 World Championship. The 19-year-old was put in two challenging positions, and the results reflect that. Marcel Kotuła, 20, sits in a similar place, backing up a weak Zaglebie Sosnowiec team with poor results.
Three goalies have really caught my attention for the future. Filip Płonka, 19, has shown a lot of potential with a shutout at the PHL level, but we have never seen him play more than one PHL game in the season. He was curiously left off the U20 team in 2022. With John Murray leading the charge, there are not many games left for a backup in GKS Katowice. Maciej Miarka, 21, has shined in those few games with a .942 SV%. He has also been almost perfect in his three Polish second league games. Filip Świderski, 20, was the second goalie in Sanok this year and recorded a .894 save percentage. While not eye-popping, it was very close to Sanok’s starting goalie and followed by a strong second league playoff run. Their young age means there is still plenty of time for growth, but it is beginning to be hard to see what their actual potential is with so few games.
When we look outside of Poland, there is no immediate help either, but possibly more intriguing and high-risk options. French Canadian Michał Łuba, 27, came to Poland with the goal of representing Poland internationally. He did just that after a few years of junior hockey in Poland and Slovakia. In 2015, he earned best goaltender honors at the Division 1 Group B U20 World Championships, helping Poland to a bronze medal. After a few years of being the backup in Krakow and split starting one year, he left for France. Playing in France’s 2nd since 2020, he has been one of the best goaltenders in the league, earning end-of-the-year all-star team honors in 2021. In 2022, he posted his best career save percentage with a .925 mark. Who knows if Łuba will ever wear the red and white again, but his success in France definitely should earn him an opportunity.
Poland’s former top goaltending prospect Sebastian Lipiński, 21, is the only other Polish goalie playing in a senior league outside Poland. Lipiński was hyped to be the next great Polish goalie after solid performances in the PHL for his age and leading team Poland at both the U18 and U20 World Championships. After playing just 5 games in the PHL in the 2021 season, Lipiński left the country. This year, he is playing in the NIHL 2, the third level of British hockey. While his numbers there are impressive, as he rocks a .927% save percentage, it is such a low level I’m not sure how it stacks up. It is crazy that there wasn’t a place in Poland for him to play a more significant role.
The quick option would be to try and naturalize another player like Murray and Raszka. A player would have to play two consecutive years in Poland, or four years if they had previously played with a different national team. Tomáš Fučík, 28, would be eligible thanks to playing in Poland from 2017 to 2018, and whenever he has started for a PHL team, he has always been dominant. Patrik Spěšný, 26, has spent the last 4 years in Poland with stellar results in his first three years before a rough 2022 season. Clarke Saunders, 32, has played in Osciewim for three straight seasons and could be a stop gate. A reminder that all these players would have to undergo a lengthy process to try and receive Polish citizenship.
Poland was spoiled for years with how good John Murray, Ondřej Raszka, Przemysław Odrobny, and Rafał Radziszewski were. It propped up a Polish hockey program desperate for talent on offense and defense. While Murray appears to be the only active one, again at 34 years old, Poland needs to start looking at who is next. It doesn’t appear there is anyone up to the task or quality of what Poland has been used to this past decade. This is huge, given that Poland’s offensive and defensive talent is better now than what Odrobny and Radziszewski had most of their national team careers.
As a result of the invasion of Ukraine, the hockey world continues to lay down more and more sanctions against Russian and Belarusian athletes and teams. Earlier today it was announced by Ukrainian agent Dan Milstein of Gold Star Hockey, that the CHL would be banning the drafting of players from Belarus and Russia during the 2022 Import Draft. We now have our first case in Poland, as Polonia Bytom released five Russian players.
Goaltender Danil Babets, defensemen Kirill Kleimyonov and Yegor Rudskoy, along with forwards Ilya Smirnov and Valeri Polinin have all been released by the club. Valeri Polinin was third on the team in points. Smironov had made a quick impact with 13 points in 13 games. Danil Babets had been serving as one of the club’s backup goaltenders. With the help of their Russian five, Polonia Bytom finished with the best record in the MHL, but will now be without all five players for the playoffs.
Bytom official Mariusz Wołosz, reached out to Hokej.net adding, “Players were offered to stay in the club if they criticized and condemned Russia’s military actions in Ukraine. Everyone refused. Therefore, we decided to say goodbye to them.” The team will not be releasing Belarusian brothers Artur Senkevich and Artyom Senkevich, who have grandparents from Poland and are working on acquiring Polish citizenship.
The Polish Hockey Player Association did release a statement. In summary, they support the suspension of Russian and Belarusian national teams, but we should not be blaming or suspending the players from both countries that play in Poland.
Just over a year and a half ago, one of the most interesting experiments in Polish hockey began. The city of Opole welcomed Opole HK. Opole had previously had a PHL club, Orlik Opole, that ceased operations in 2019. A replacement came in Opole HK, a club run by North Americans that would feature mainly imports. With the Covid-19 pandemic running rampant and leagues worldwide closing their doors, the project gave players a chance to keep their season alive in Poland’s second league, the MHL. In their first season, the team would finish second in the league.
Despite the pandemic calming down in 2021, allowing many teams to play again, the Opole HK project continued. They were now playing in the European University Hockey League, as well as the MHL. While the team was functioning with a smaller roster, the imported talent was still good enough to make Opole one of the best teams in the MHL. The season took an even stranger turn at one point when the club attempted to sign a dog. Shortly after this incident, the team would announce they were withdrawing from both leagues.
Days after the team dispanding, there were only a few Poles, and the league’s leading scorer Devin Panzeca left.
Polish Puck: How did you get involved in Opole HK?
Devin Panzeca: I was playing NCAA d3 hockey, and my season got canceled because of the pandemic so I was looking for a way to keep playing hockey, I had known the owner of Opole HK for a long time from playing junior hockey in the states and he asked me if I would come play for him.
PP: What did you think of the Opole facilities and rink?
DP: The rink was beautiful it used to be a rink in the polish extra league and we had a team gym in the rink that we could use anytime we wanted.
PP: Opole’s old team saw quite a few players fall in love with Polish culture and the city. Did you have a similar experience?
DP: Yes Opole is a beautiful city with amazing people. In my time here I have started a family of my own as I have a newborn daughter Sarah and my girlfriend Marta.
PP: That is amazing. Congrats! Do you plan to stay in Poland going forward?
DP: I would like to stay In Poland yes, however it has been difficult to find a polish extra league team to takeme as an import, so I may have to move countries for a while to build up my playing resume so I can come back here and get a contract.
PP: That is a shame. As you lead the MHL in scoring. Have there been any talks with a Polish club or one in another country?
DP: I have had some polish clubs get in contact but nothing solid to go on in the middle of the year like this, more preparing for next season. As of now I think I am going to make the move to Sweden to finish the year, as I was offered a contract yesterday.
(After this interview Panzeca officially signed with Söderhamn HC on 12/21/2021)
PP: We wish you the best of luck in Sweden! With your MHL journey finishing for now, how would you rate the league’s quality?
DP: I would say there are several really strong organizations, but there is a very big drop off to the low end many teams simply can not compete, games would often end in double digit victories which is not fun for anyone.
PP: You have played across quite a few levels of junior hockey in the states. Would you say the MHL Is close to any of them?
DP: It is hard to say as I have not played junior in almost 4 years but I would say it is probably around the level of the NA3HL with better teams being in the EHL level of play
PP: Definitely hard to make a direct comparison, especially given the MHL is a mixture of old and young. Do you think the mix benefited you or your young teammates?
DP: I would say that the league needs a change they should make it too separate divisions for young and old with the older players in the league it makes it hard for younger players to get the ice time they need to develop along with not being able to physically compete with the old, and for the older guys it doesn’t impose enough of a challenge.
We thank Devin Panzeca for his time, along with wishing him and his new family the best of luck in Sweden!
The Polish national teams all played in their final tournaments of 2021. It was a crazy year for the national team, with both men and women’s senior teams creating unforgettable moments during the Olympic qualifiers. After a couple of years, we finally get to see all levels of the national team competing in the IIHF again. It will be interesting to see how teams have changed over the past few years. Especially at the junior levels, we know full rosters will have changed since we last saw a few groups and most of the national team coaching staffs have also entirely been revamped.
Along with the return to our first regular IIHF tournament, plenty of teams continued to prepare for their years. In total five national teams were in action. The Men’s U20 team played in the first IIHF tournament of the year in the U20 Division 1 Group B World Championships. The Men’s senior team was hosting the Christmas Cup in Polonia. The Men’s U18 squad played an exhibition series in Hungary. The lone women’s team to suit up was the Women’s u18 teams. This was their final tournament before the U18 world championship in January. The Men’s U16 team was in action with exhibition games against HK Propad U16.
Men’s U20. IIHF U20 World Championships Division 1 Group B
Game 1: France defeats Poland 6-2 (Goals: Fabian Kapica, Szymon Mackowski)
Game 2: Slovenia defeats Poland 3-1 (Goals: Krzysztof Bukowski)
Game 3: Japan defeats Poland 7-2 (Goals: Oliwier Kasperek 2x)
Game 4: Estonia defeats Poland 4-3 in overtime (Goals: Wiktor Bochnak, Pawel Wybiral, Karol Sterbenz)
Game 5: Ukraine beats Poland 4-1 (Goals: Jakub Slusarczyk)
This was a bad tournament for Poland. The team lost all five games and found themselves relegated to division two group A. This will be the lowest division group Poland U20 has played in since the IIHF established the group system. Poland U20 once found themselves on the doorstep of being promoted to division one group A with four straight silver medals. Now the team will have to fight for promotion back to division one. There will be nine returning forwards from the current squad. To read more about the tournament, check out our 5 Thoughts piece. It May Be Time To Sound The Alarms. 5 Thoughts 2021 U20 World Championships
Senior Men’s Team. Christmas Cup.
Game 1: France defeats Poland 3-2 (Goals: Radosław Sawicki, Jakub Bukowski)
Game 3: Poland defeats Ukraine 4-1 (Goals: Radosław Nalewajka, Alan Łyszczarczyk, Dominik Paś, Sebastian Brynkus)
Always take these tournaments with a grain of salt, as no one comes to the tournament with their entire roster. Poland had a bumpy first two periods against France. The red and white would come alive late in the third. Poland would score two late goals before France killed off a late penalty ending the game. Poland faired much better against Hungary and Ukraine. Poland grabbed a 3-0 lead against Hungary before the halfway point. Which Hungary never was able to overcome despite two late goals. Poland scored two goals in the first 10 mins against Ukraine, and that was pretty much all that was needed.
Again while no one had their top rosters, these games do feature competition that is a step above the PHL and usually on par with Poland’s national team. So it is nice to see Poland do well. I was very happy to see Kamil Lewartowski post solid games against Hungary and Ukraine, and he finished with a .933 save percentage for the weekend. It is very cool to see both Nalewajka brothers score in a game.
We have yet to find a rostered number for Poland in this tournament, so sorry for any missing information. Unfortunately, there was a covid outbreak during this tournament. Which saw games against Hungary canceled. This was Poland’s final test before the U18 World Champion Division Division 1 Group B begins on January 10th. Both Hungary and Slovakia play in the next group up. Staying competitive against Slovakia is an excellent sign for Poland. Especially props to Poland’s starting goalie in the game, whom I believe to be Julia Bujak. The women’s youth program continues to get more and more competitive in these matches. When this tournament occurred in 2019. Poland lost 15-1 to Czechia but did upset Slovakia 3-2.
Men’s U18 Exhibition Matches in Hungary
Game 1: Poland U18 defeats France U18 3-2 in a shootout (Goals: Michał Kusak, Piotr Ciepielewski)
Game 2: Poland defeats Hungary U16 6-2 (Goals: Missing. No no. roster)
Game 3: Poland defeats Hungary U17 2-1 (Goals: Aleks Menc, Other goal missing)
Game 4: Poland defeats France U18 2-1 in a shootout. (Goals: Damian Kapa)
Another tournament without a numbered roster, but we were able to get some goal scorers, and match them. Well not France’s and Hungary’s best rosters, it was great to see Poland pull off a clean sweep of the tournament. Both France and Hungary play in divisions higher than Poland. This wasn’t even a complete roster for Poland as well. This U18s squad should have some high hopes. Kusak and Ciepiewlewski both looked good, and were players we mentioned that the U20 team should have maybe considered. The U18 squad will finally get their next chance to play in Division 1 Group B, after earning promotion all the way back in 2019. Staying in the division would be a big deal for Poland.
Men’s U16. Exhibitions versus HK Poprad U16
Game 1: HK Poprad U16 defeats Poland 4-2 (Goals: Karol Tymcio, Kacper Prokopiak)
Game 2: Poland defeats HK Poprad U16 4-3 (Goals: Olaf Zachariasz 2x , Kacper Prokopiak, Patryk Hanzel)
It is always hard to judge how a team progresses when they play a junior club from another country. In the end, the main takeaway has Poland pulled off a win, along with staying competitive in the initial game. Poland did blow a lead in the first game but made a comeback in the second game. 14-year-old Zachariasz was able to put home two, while Kacper Prokopiak impacted each matchup.
Now and then, I take a day off from the Polish hockey world to experience a bit of normal life. Then I come back to HK Opole of the MHL attempting to sign a dog. Paczka Kołodziej has signed a deal with HK Opole as a defensemen, pending league approval. The club’s owner owns the dog that is native to Krakow, Poland. HK Opole is hoping that Paczka will join the team in January.
Sorry to crush everyone’s dreams and hopes. This dog is not the next Adam Fox. This signing is in response to Gdansk naming former PHL forward Rafal Cychowski their head coach and registering him as a player. This makes the 43-year-old Cychowski eligible to play in the MHL. In the MHL, teams have an average age of 19.5. The league is supposed to be Poland’s top level of junior hockey. But there are no actual rules about age requirements, and Poland lacks a strong second league for senior players. This means a lot of players over 20 that are not yet good enough for the PHL play in the MHL. Due to poor junior systems, some MHL teams strongly need veterans to keep pace with other junior clubs. Growing club LKH Lodz has the highest average age of 23.39 but is 8th in the standings.
The MHL is an absolute mess. Marek Kostecki and Gdansk especially have become a mess. Gdansk has had numerous problems, including where they failed to show up for a game against Opole. Gdansk dropped from the PHL last year after failing to pay players. Many of whom they had signed to multi-year deals. They continue to hold a great hockey city hostage.
Almost all levels of Poland’s national team will be in action this weekend! It is so fun to be back in a place where tournaments are being played that has a lot of meaning to them. Right now there is a lot at stake. Olympic hopes are on the line. Along with spots on future national teams that will be representing Poland at IIHF events. It is good to be back everyone!
The highest stake matchups of this week will see the Women’s Senior team head over to Czechia to participate in the final round of Olympic Qualification. Win this tournament and a ticket is booked to the Winter Olympics. These are without a doubt the biggest games in the history of the women’s team. The Men’s senior team will also be in action playing in the Baltic Challenge Cup. An exhibition tournament that will see Poland bring an extremely young roster as Robert Kalaber aims to test some new blood for the national team. Ahead of their first IIHF tournaments in almost 2 years, the Men’s U20 will be active as well with one of the final tune-ups before the U20 World Championships start in December. Both the Men’s and Women’s U18 squads will also be in action as they prepare for tournaments at the end of the year. Along with last but not least the Men’s U16 team will also be playing some exhibition games.
When is the action happening? Where will you be able to watch all the matchups? We got those answers here!
Women’s Senior Team. Final Round of Olympic Qualification
Nov. 11th – Poland vs Hungary. 12:00 PM (CET/POL) 6:00 AM (EST/NA)
For the past few years, I have taken an approach to Polish hockey that is a bit dark at times, wondering if there is any end in sight for the downfall that Polish hockey had begun. While also stressing at the same time that there was young talent there to help build the national team. That young talent has to lead us to the light at the end of the tunnel. Poland pulled off a massive upset over Belarus. This win was mainly due to the heroics of John Murray, yes the most Polish name to ever to Polish. The team in front of Murray executed the game plan to a key. Poland was outshot by plenty. Most of the shots were forced to the outside and not key scoring areas.
Poland would drop the final two games, losing 5-1 to Slovakia and then 4-1 to Austria. While the last two losses hurt, they can’t destroy the high from the first win at the final stage of Olympic qualification for Poland.
Am I an Idiot?
In my post dissecting the Polish roster beforehand, I criticized the overly defensive forward group that Kalaber brought to the tournament. Poland only scored three goals in this tournament, less than the six goals when Poland was in the final qualification round for the previous Olympics. Could Poland have used those goal scorers? Yes, but also Kalaber brought the players for his plan. Those players executed the plan strongly, and Poland stayed competitive and won a game. So I am going to say I was wrong there.
Alan the Iron Man
We already have gone on about Lyszczarczyk’s outstanding play last year, especially with his 90 plus games played this past season. Now just a couple of months later, he was suiting up for team Poland against the best competition he has faced potentially in his career. He did not appear out of place, recording three assists to lead Poland in points and tied for the tournament lead in points.
There was no doubt that John Murray was the MVP of this tournament for Poland. The American turned Pole was an absolute stud in this tournament. While the team in front of him tried to take as much pressure off as possible. He had to stop a total of 124 shots total, including his 46 save shutout versus Belarus. Polish goaltending is going to be in good hands for the remainder of his national team career.
A Changed Zygmunt
Polish players need to go abroad to reach their full potential. Getting the level of coaching and training that others possess will take years and money that the PZHL doesn’t have right now. When Zygmunt left Poland, he had a lot of potential, but his game had many flaws. Ever since he started playing in Czechia, he is a changed player. Zygmunt especially knows how to use his size now, along with significant strides in his skating. He is one of the most critical players in Poland’s future.
This year, Dominik Pas is set to play his first season aboard in the top league of Slovakia men’s hockey. HK Dukla Michalovce is getting a good one. When Pas was on the ice, he made a solid impact and was a pain in the ass to play against. Pas’ forechecking and two-way ability gives him a complete skillset that a lot of other players lack. I’m excited to see how he will grow against stronger competition with improved training.
Pasiut is such a welcome return to the national team. Lead the team in shots on goal with 11.
Penalties were low this tournament, and it was good to see, especially when the competition plays so much faster. Still some at bad times, but Poland was last in penalty minutes.
On the flip side, Poland had the best penalty kill in the tournament, allowing a single goal while shorthanded.
I’m proud of this team. They did the unthinkable and got us all to believe the Olympics were possible, even if for a second.
The young core of the national team is here. Alan Lyszczarczyk (23), Kamil Walega, Pawel Zygmunt, and Dominik Pas (21) were key players in this tournament. That is not even counting Damian Tyczyński, Jakub Lewandowski, and Jan Soltys. They’re the light at the end of the tunnel.