Category: Mens Hockey

How Janow Single Handidly Inflated PHL Statistics

This year in the PHL, Naprzód Janów Katowice was beyond bad. The team was downright awful. They scored 49 goals in their 47 games while allowing 363 goals against, a differential of – 314. That is only 1.04 goals per game, and 7.7 goals against per game. Their 363 goals against were 188 more than Zagłębie Sosnowiec (175) who finished second to last in goals against. They went on to drop out of the league and are currently being investigated for missing funds. In the past few years, it seems like at least one PHL team has some kind of financial problems then leave before the year is over. Last year the PHL even had two of them, but Janow was much worse than both Polonia Bytom and Orlik Opole.

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Janow was worse in every single category and almost doubled the 2018-19 lowlights in some categories. Playing against Janow was a free pass to run up the score. Janow allowed double-digit goals in twelve games. The worse being an 18-0 defeat to Podhale Nowy Targ.

One of the biggest success stories of a Polish player in the PHL this year was Radoslaw Sawicki. Sawicki was released by GKS Katowice earlier in the year and replaced by an import. JKH GKS Jastrzebie picked him up and he had a career year recording 45 points (22-23-45) overall in 45 games. His regular-season career-high was 26 points before this season. One of his biggest games this year was an 8 point showing against Janow, that JKH GKS Jastrzebie won 14-0. Sawicki played three games against Janow this year and recorded 10 points in those games. Janow made up 6.7% percent of his games, but 22.2% of his points. This isn’t to take anything away from the talented forward, but without his games against Janow, his regular-season point total returns to 31, and is more in line with his previous years of 26 and 25 points respectively.

Sawicki was not the only player that benefited from Janow. Krystian Dziubinski who finished fourth in the league in scoring posted 15 points against Janow or 25% of his 60 point total. While for a majority of players you will only see a couple points, that you could argue they would have scored against an average team. There are numerous examples where players were able to post almost a quarter of their points just from a couple blowout games vs. Janow.

While evaluating players statistically and trying to find growth, those games against Janow are important to consider. As a growth in points maybe a bit misleading as in the case of Sawicki. This came into play a lot when evaluating players for my top 80 U23 list, as in these games against Janow especially younger players were able to play more due to the game being as close to as guaranteed win as you can get. As such some promising years by young players appear not to be the case. Janow was so bad this year that some point totals in the PHL were inflated in just a handful of games.

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5 Thoughts 2020 Men’s Olympic Qualification

Things started to appear as dark as they always do for the Men’s senior team just days before this tournament. Patryk Wronka had pulled out, as well as three other players and Poland was a bit low on depth. In the end though, this Polish squad took the lead in every game they played and only once trailed in the entire tournament after a slow first period against Ukraine. This was the best I have seen the men’s team play in a long time. Easily their best tournament under Tomek Valtonen.

Walls Wish They Could Be Murray

One of the biggest reasons Poland won this tournament and are advancing to the next stage of the Olympic Qualification is John Murray. He was outstanding and finished with a .960 save percentage. The highest in the entire tournament! His best performance was against Kazaksthan where he stopped 51 out 53 shots.

Points for Ciura! 

Bartosz Ciura had played in 59 games for the Polish men’s team before this tournament. He had not recorded a single point in any of those games. The GKS Tychy defensemen isn’t that bad offensively recording 96 points (21-75-96) in 446 PHL games. Against the Netherlands, he recorded his first assist for the Men’s team and against Kazakhstan his first goal to give Poland a 1-0 lead.

The Open League Improvement

Poland’s controversial decision to remove an import limit on the league was met with comments about how it could kill Polish hockey. In year one, the league is stronger than ever before. Polish captain Krystian Dziubinski talked about it to IIHF.com,

“Now it’s very tight, any one of the top eight teams can beat anyone else. The other two are not quite there, but maybe they will change something in the near future. Most important, the standard is getting higher. We can see that with the Polish teams in the Visegrad Cup. Jastrzebie won that cup last month, they beat Nitra, who came second in the Slovak league last year, so there’s more progress there.”

The standard is raising for sure and the increased quality of the league has resulted in some big growths for younger Polish players. Dominik Pas was able to continue to test his defensive side against much stronger players and looked miles ahead of last year. Oskar Jaskiewicz seemed more offensively sound and confident and scored twice. Jakub Michalowski held his own defensively never looking out of place. While the detractors may be right in the long run, there have been nothing benefits to the first year of the open league in my opinion.

Strong Special Teams

It seems often when doing 5 Thoughts I have to point out a weak penalty kill or power play. That is now the case for Poland this time. Poland’s powerplay was the best in the entire group with a 35.7 powerplay percentage. The penalty kill was even better not allowing a single powerplay goal on all eight kills.

A Much Needed Win

The first article I wrote this year was looking at who had the most to prove in 2020. The number one person on that list was Tomek Valtonen, I kept his short basically saying it was time to win or get out. Valtonen picked up the biggest win of his Polish hockey career today. The team looked fantastic and really seemed to be clicking in his system. When I defended Ted Nolan I said it would take more than a year to install a system. While his start may have been rougher, the same goes for Valtonen. In a time where the men’s team was appearing as dark as could be this was a much-needed win. There is a light at the end of the tunnel again.

Quick Thoughts

– Oskar Jaskiewicz had a great tournament, not only did he score two goals, but he also added an assist. He tied Krystian Dziubinski for the lead in shots on the team with 12.

– Three of the six defensemen on this team were 25 or under. Defense is probably the position Poland lacks the most depth at. This tournament saw them missing three national team regulars. The defense was able to thrive though.

– Martin Przygodzki is one of the numerous players that never had any national team chances until Valtonen arrived, in his IIHF senior debut he scored two goals.

– Congrats to Michal Kieler on stopping the lone shot he faced in the tournament. The young goalie does actually have a bright future for Poland.

Pawel Zygmunt Career Continues To Skyrocket

Coming into this year, I had Pawel Zygmunt ranked as the sixth-best U23 Polish player. As I began to create the list for 2020, Zygmunt has certainly moved into a top-five spot and may even have made a case for the number one spot. Zygmunt has been able to play 18 games this year for HC Litvinov in the Tipsport Extraliga. In those 18 games, he has posted 1 goal and 3 assists.  While those numbers are not world burning, for Poland the production is just a bit better than how other national team staples fared in their rookie Tipsport Extraliga seasons

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Zygmunt also has a couple years on them for his debut season. The 6’3 forward sits seventh in Points-Per-Game among U21 players with ten games in the Tipsport ExtaLiga. In the Chance Liga, the second Czechia league, Zygmunt has 3 points (1-2-3) in 9 games between HC Stadion Litomerice and SK Kadan. HC Litvinov has mostly used Zygmunt has as a fourth-line forward or extra forward. He has mostly averaged around eight minutes a game in the Tipsport Liga, only receiving over ten minutes three times. In the Chance Liga, though Zygmunt has seen his ice time skyrocket with an average just over 16 minutes (Data is missing for one game). 

His rookie season in the Czech Republic appears to indicate he will have a future career in leagues stronger than the PHL, but one of the biggest endorsements that the young forward has earned is from Tomek Valtonen. Pawel Zygmunt earned a place on Poland’s roster for the Olympic Qualifiers. Tomek Valtonen had a chance to evaluate Zygmunt earlier this year, at a non-IIHF event. This will his IIHF senior debut for team Poland. Zygmunt will be the youngest player on team Poland for the event, and one of only two born in 1999 (Dominik Pas). Zygmunt maybe relied on heavily as well for Poland, as Patryk Wronka has pulled out of the tournament. This leaves Poland without one of their most talented forwards. Zygmunt’s size and shot may have in line for more offensive chances in Wronka’s absence.

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The Polish National Team’s Poor History of Imports

I once was showing the Polish national team roster to a friend of mine, he made a joke involving John Murray. It is funny to look at the Polish roster as for most North Americans, most player names just seem like someone smashed their head into the keyboard. Then there is John Murray. The plainest and simplest name possible.

As an import on team Poland, his name easily stands out. In recent years Poland has had a lengthy history of players that they hoped to turn into imports like Murray for the national team. I mean, it is all the rage for some national teams. As team China gears up to the host the Olympics, they have pretty much signed any North American player with Chinese heritage. I question if there will be a single player on that team that was actually born and raised in China. You can’t also forget about Kazakstan, who have taken full advantage for their KHL team to stock their national team. If the Polish KHL team actually came to fruition, I’m sure Poland would have used it as well.

The problem with imports in Poland and countries like Poland is when you’re using imports that are playing in your own league, are they pushing the needle? There is no doubt that players Poland has tried to bring to the national team are among the best players in the PHL. The question is, are they going to have the impact that even a Tipsorts Extraliga player like Aron Chmielewski has?

They’re also only bandaging for temporary problems. Imports are usually already nearing or past their late twenties. If they can elevate the national team and bring more attention to the team, they do provide significant benefits for the sport in a country.

One of the biggest stories in international hockey this year was Great Britain. The British were behind Poland in hockey just a few years ago, but they have been able to rise up from Division 1B to the Elite and stay there. That Great British team features seven imports on their 25 man roster, including leading scorer Mike Hammond. The team was big news in the country and probably inspired a whole new wave of talent and money into the sport. Thus meaning when those imports are gone, there should hopefully be an ample amount of players ready to take their place.

I am often critical of the import system but completely understand. It is a better system to develop the sport in one’s country, to be honest. You also have the downside of developing players that are too good for your domestic league. The IIHF almost punishes small country talent that gets into higher leagues. If a player gets to a high enough level, they’ll probably never be able to represent their nation due to club commitments. This is due to the World Championship schedule.

The best example of this is Australian forward Nathan Walker. Walker plays mostly in the American Hockey League (AHL). The AHL regular season ends on April 13th, while Australia’s World Championship division began on April 9th last year. The IIHF has moved the dates back this year. In all three of the North American professional leagues, 50% of the teams make the playoffs. This means it still just takes one playoff round to wipe out a player’s chances. This year in Division 1 Group B, the Netherlands was pretty much without 40% of their roster as they all had club commitments to the Dutch club in the Oberliga.

There are valid reasons for why every team should pursue the import route. Poland has definitely fallen on the believer side of that. Former head coach Ted Nolan often stated it as part of his big plan for the team, but only added one import to the team. In fact, John Murray maybe the only successful import for Poland. The recent history of Poland is filled with Polish Americans and Canadians that once came to Poland intending to represent Poland, only to disappear within a couple months. I wanted to take a look at some of those names and why they turned out as they did.

The first of these imports was Ondrej Raszka. Raszka came over to Poland for the 2010-2011 season to start his professional career. He would play in Poland for two years before returning to the Czech republic for a season. He then came back to Poland, earning his Polish citizenship in 2015. Since then, he has firmly planted himself among the top three Polish goaltenders and is continuously among the best in PHL save percentage.  It is actually kind of a shame that Raszka has not been able to make his senior IIHF debut. He has continuously been the third goalie for Poland. The time will come as he is younger than both Odrobny and Muray by three years. Overall you can call Raszka a success as he provides Poland with some excellent goaltending depth and a possible starter for the future.

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The next two players are going to have a combined entry. In 2010, Dave Kostuch and Rafal Martynowski were both brought in by Wojciech Śniegowski. Śniegowski led a group of Polish Canadians that wanted to help further Polish hockey by supplying players. Both players spent two years with Cracovia Krakow. Rafal Martynowski had an okay minor league career in some third-tier American leagues and also spent some time in the Oberliga. His first year in the PHL showed some promise with 42 points (22-20-42) in 47 games, including a very strong playoff run. Martynowski next season saw a 12 point drop while playing 49 games. Dave Kostuch had an amazing first year recording 55 points (34-21-55) in 47 games. He returned the following year, but only managed three regular-season games, despite that he did play in the playoffs and overall posted 16 points (9-7-16) in 12 games. Both players had gained their Polish passports but never represented Poland.

Nick Sucharski was the next to arrive in Poland. The 6’1 Left Winger came in with am an impressive resume that included being a 5th round pick in the 2006 NHL entry draft after the Columbus Blue Jackets selected him 136th overall. Sucharski would play five years with Michigan State being named the captain for his final year in 2009. He would spend a year in the Central Hockey League before signing in Poland with Cracovia Krakow in 2011. Sucharksi spent the next two years in Poland recording 72 points (28-44-72) in 75 games with Katowice and Krakow. He would retire the following year after his season with GKS Katowice.

Justin Chwedoruk entered during the 2012-13 season with the goal of representing Poland. His grandparents were Polish, and he was excited about honoring his heritage in such a significant way. Despite being undersized, Justin Chwedoruk battled and fought hard. He excelled in a power forward style, and it helped him remain a top 6 forward in leagues like the Central Hockey League, ECHL, and International Hockey Leauge. Chewedoruk posted above a point per game season with GKS Katowice in his first PHL year. For his second year, he moved to KH Sanok, there he suffered a concussion in the fourteen game of the year and was forced to retire.

Poland then became home to Mike Danton in 2014. Danton was a controversial player, to say the least. He was a promising young NHL player until he hired a hitman to kill his agent. Danton was in prison from 2004 to 2009. After being released in 2009, Danton enrolled in Saint Mary’s University in Canada. He later joined their hockey team for two seasons. In 2011, Danton would return to professional hockey for the first time since 2004 when he signed in Sweden’s Division 1. Danton played in quite a few countries before signing with STS Sanok in Poland. Danton spent parts of the next 2 and half seasons in Poland. He was a physical force in the league and eventually was offered a spot on the Polish national team. Danton played six games at non-IIHF events. Drama arose though towards the end of his time in Poland. Danton alleges that the PZHL did help him obtain legal documents needed to represent Poland at IIHF events. He accused of the PZHL of not being paid for the two tournaments he did play with the national team. I have been told that Danton’s deal with the national team was pro-bono. Danton left Poland after the 2016 season and played one last year in a semi-professional Canadian league.

Former Montreal Canadiens 7th round pick, Mike Cichy arrived in Sanok during the 2014-15 season. Since then, he has become one of the most known players in the PHL. Since 2014-15 no player has more points in the PHL than Cichy, the next closet, Damian Kapica, is 88 points behind. Cichy also set the record for points in PHL season during the 2015-16 season with 113 beating the previous record by ten. He also has Polish heritage, which made offering him a spot on the Polish national team a no brainer. His offense in the PHL did not translate to the international stage. In 17 games with team Poland, he only recorded 4 points (2-2-4). He also made what has to be one of the worst plays in recent history for team Poland.

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Cichy is currently apart of the group of players boycotting the Polish national team participation. His lack of production and poor defensive play already put his further inclusion in doubt, though. The 29-year-old is in the midst of his sixth straight season in the PHL, and his second with GKS Tychy.

John Murray was never intended to play for team Poland. He first came to Poland in 2013 after a solid junior and minor league career in North America. He played in the; American Hockey League, Central Hockey League, ECHL, Ontario Hockey League, and United States Hockey League. Murray is an outstanding goalie and one of the best in the PHL, this has always led to rumors that the tender had offers from clubs in stronger leagues. He took one of them in 2015 and left Poland after 2 years to go to Kulager Petropavlovsk in Kazakhstan. This team offered him a potential path to the Kontinental Hockey League, the top league in Europe. After a stellar year in Kazakhstan, Murray would return to Poland and has played there ever since. He meant his wife in Poland while playing in the PHL, her being Polish-made, gaining a passport easy. Murray has become a part of the great duo that Poland has in the net. He gives the red and white eagles a chance to win every game. He is the biggest import success Poland has ever had.

While Murray was never supposed to join team Poland, there was a goalie that arrived in Opole, that was supposed to. In 2015-16, Frank Slubowski signed a deal with Orlik Opole with the eventual goal of representing team Poland. The young goalie had two steller years at Western Michigan University that lead to him getting a lot of professional interest. His junior and senior did not go well at all, both being his two worse NCAA seasons by save percentage. Slubowski did fine his first year in Poland besides a poor playoff run. It would be his only year in Poland, and he has retired since.

Another significant import joined Slobowski on that Opole team though in Alex Szczechura. Szczechura was a top player at Ohio State from 2010 to 2014. It didn’t look like professional hockey was going to be a long time thing though for the 5’9 forward. After graduating college, he only played 7 games during the 2014-15 ECHL season. In 2015-16, he had signed in Poland and played in the PHL ever since. He has always been teammates with fellow national team imports Mike Cichy while playing in Poland. Since he entered the league in 2015, he has the second-most points among all players. Szczechura was not able to obtain his passport as easy as longtime teammates Cichy and Murray. He was not able to represent Poland at any IIHF events but did play 8 non-IIHF games recording four points (2-2-4). He is currently part of the group of players that are choosing not to represent team Poland over benefits disputes.

The newest import came under Ted Nolan, who wanted imports to be a big part of his early teams. Jan Steber was the lone import that Nolan added to the national team. The Czech forward had an interesting career, he showed some promise early in his career. Steber was able to post respectful numbers in the QMJHL enough that the Toronto Maple Leafs drafted him in the 8th round of the 2004 NHL draft. He would never make it the NHL and only spent a year in the ECHL before returning to the Czech Republic. In 2009-10, after an unsuccessful stint with a Czech2 team, Steber signed in Poland with Stoczniowiec Gdansk. In Gdansk, the Ostrava native posted two strong years before not playing in 2011 and 2012. Steber would return to professional hockey in 2013, after a successful tryout with GKS Tychy. Then the following year, he moved to JKH GKS Jastrzebie.

Steber left pro hockey again for the 2015 season but played for some lower-level teams in Gdansk. The next year, he decided to return to professional hockey again playing for Gdansk and serving as their captain for the past 4 years. Ted Nolan had named Steber to the Polish national team in 2017. He played at three games for Poland during an EIHC tournament but would get injured before the World Championships. He has yet to represent Poland since.

In the end, Poland has had a long history of failed imports. The strength of the PHL in the past years just wasn’t strong enough to attract players that would push the needle. Poland did gain some excellent goaltending depth, while the jury will always be out on what Cichy and Szczechura could have provided. The current head of the national team Tomek Valtonen is not a big fan of the import idea. But we once again have a Polish North American tearing up and making headlines in the PHL with Christian Mroczkowski, who has expressed interest in joining team Poland. His talents and abilities are something Poland should not deny as he excels in a much stronger PHL. Only time will tell if any more non-Polish players will be wearing the red and white.

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Does Mike Szmatula Have A Shot At The PHL Scoring Record?

It could be argued that Mike Szmatula is the biggest North American signing in the history of the PHL. While Wojtek Wolski and Zenon Konopka may have brought more attention to the league due to their NHL background, neither had a long or impactful stint in Poland. Mike Szmatula has a huge chance to make an impact in the PHL after signing a one-year-deal with GKS Tychy.

The 5’9 left winger has an impressive hockey resume. He posted a .78 point per game (PPG) in the NCAA and a .80 PPG in the ECHL. His NCAA PGG is the second highest ever by a player to sign in the PHL within three years of their final NCAA season. His .80 PPG was the highest for an ECHL player within three years of their most recent ECHL season. Most players who come over from these North American leagues have been able to excel in the PHL.

PHL PPG vs. NCAA PPG (2)A lot of the players are able to more than double their production in the NCAA. This includes Mike Cichy, the current holder of the PHL scoring record. Cichy came in with a .31 PPG between the University of North Dakota and Western Michigan. The average player from the NCAA has a PPG of .98 in the PHL. The players who have been able to jump to the first level of professional hockey in North America have fared much better with an average PPG of 1.21. No player that has signed in the PHL has been such a recent dominant player like Szmatula was, and that was just his rookie season in professional hockey. The second highest ECHL PPG is Jordan Pietrus with .58.

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Based on his background Szmatula would easily be inline to break the record, but let us take at look Cichy’s record breaker season. Cichy was playing for Orlik Opole in 2015-16. It was his second year in the league after playing for KH Sanok the previous year. Teammate wise Cichy had Alex Szczechura on his right side, and on the left multiple wingers including Branislav Fabry and Edgars Cgojevs. Szmatula will be able to match that as he may play on a line with Cichy and Szczechura next year with GKS Tychy. That season Opole was not the strongest club. They were placed in the second group and got to play a lot of lesser competition more frequent. Cichy along with Szczechura would later be loaned to STS Sanok for the playoffs extending their season. There Cichy added 18 points in 13 games.

Szmatula will not have the same luck as being in the second group for a long time as Cichy had. GKS Tychy will be trying for their third straight championship and will remain at the top of the PHL card for the entire year. You also have to add in that PHL scoring, in general, has dropped since Cichy’s season. Only one player has reached the 70 points mark (Patyrk Wronka, 2018-19) since Cichy and Szczechura both broke 90 points.

Average of Top 10 Scorers Per Season

It will be interesting to watch Szmatula’s season in the PHL. Going by what previous players of his pedigree have done the record seems to be in his reach, but the history of Cichy’s season and the current scoring trends of the PHL tell a different story. Either way, it appears that the former ECHL All-Star should be one of the top scorers in the PHL next year.

If you want to keep up with all the offseason news, make sure to follow us on Twitter @PolandHockey and like our Facebook page.

What is Next For Michael Luba After A Career Year?

I have always wanted to write a piece on Michael Luba. At one point, he appeared to be Poland’s best goaltending prospect then seemingly disappear off the hockey map once he turned pro with Cracovia Krakow. This offseason seemed like the perfect time to finally write the piece. He had a career year with Cracovia Krakow setting a career high in games played with 28 and posted a .919 save percentage in those game. Krakow did later add another goaltender to the mix in veteran Czech netminder Miroslav Kopriva. Kopriva was the main goalie in the playoffs performing excellent and being a huge part of Krakow’s run to the finals. His success resulted in Luba not playing a single playoff game.

Despite the bump in the road during the playoffs, it seemed to me that Luba should be the future starting goaltender for Krakow. There were a lot of positive signs that it appeared to be the path they were taking. Luba had been a member of the Polish senior team during the year. Krakow had chosen him over former NHL goaltender Jason Bacashihua. It was also Luba’s fourth year with the team and he appeared to have finally paid his dues. Add in that Kopriva was an import and 35-years-old he seemed unlikely to be re-signed despite his success. Then hokej.net reported that Luba would be leaving the team to continue his career abroad. Then later it was announced that Kopriva had been re-signed. It leads me to wonder who Luba is and what is next for him.

One of the reasons that Luba has always stood out to me is because he is technically an import for the Polish national team. Luba was born in Montreal, Canada. He grew up there and played hockey in Quebec til he was 16. At the age of 16, he decided to make the move over to Europe and play junior hockey in Poland. When asked why he made the move to the Polish junior system Luba told me, “Because I wanted to play for the Polish national team.

Luba played in the Sanok junior system from 2011 to 2014. Excelling in the Polish system, he then moved over to the Slovak junior system with HK SKP Poprad U20. There in 2014-15, he was the starting goaltender and posted a .911 sv% in 32 games. “Obviously at the junior level in Slovakia there are so many goalies so much more than in Poland and the quality is better. They have more teams and more games and they have a lot of goalie coaches so they could improve.” Luba said commenting on the difference between the Polish and Slovak junior leagues for goaltenders. His performance in the Slovak junior leagues earned him the starting job for Poland at the U20 World Championship. There he probably played some of the best hockey in his career. His .933 save percentage lead Poland to a bronze medal. Luba was named the best goaltender in the tournament and best player on team Poland.

After a strong season in Slovakia and on the international stage, Luba signed with Cracovia Krakow to begin his professional career. He served as the backup goaltender for Krakow from 2015 to 2018 playing a total of 23 games across 3 seasons.

Going into the 2018-19 season, it appeared though that Luba was in line to finally move out of the background role. Krakow did not add a goaltender during the offseason. During the season, Luba was starting Krakow and again posted career-high numbers in games played. More games played this year than across his previous three years. “Yes the league got really better and finally the coach got some confidence in me and I think showed that I deserved a chance to play else were,” Luba when asked on if the PHL has gotten better and how it felt to play so much this year.

Luba also earned a chance to travel with team Poland to Finland. There the Polish national team played in two exhibition games against Metsis clubs. Luba played in first of the two games. On what he took away from the experience, “I gained a lot of confidence that I am closer and closer on my dream playing for the national team. I learned a lot from Tommi Satosaari the goalie coach there and know what to work on to get even better.” Luba will most likely be on the shortlist with a few other goaltenders for national team games next year.

Now though what is next for Luba? “I don’t have any contracts now. I am open for any offers we will see what will happen.” Luba definitely has the skills to play in a higher league or be a starter in the PHL in my opinion. He is a victim of a young player not getting enough chances in the PHL. His resume looks a bit bare after playing so little games his first three years in the PHL. He may have to play in the PHL again next year. I think the best situation would be in GKS Katowice. There he and fellow young goaltender Michal Kieler could split starts. Hokej.net recently reported that Luba was in negotiations with Naprzod Janow and a Metsis club.

Luba has been chasing the dream of playing in the national team for a long time and despite some bumps along the way it appears next year may be his chance to finally start a game for Poland. He needs to find a club though first. His chance to go aboard, the small sample size in the PHL, and former junior success; make him one of the most interesting Polish free agents.

If you want to keep up with all the offseason news make sure to follow us on Twitter @PolandHockey and like our Facebook page.

A look at Past Polish Players Who Have Made the Jump to the Tipsport Extraliga from the PHL

There have only been four Polish players to make the jump from the PHL to the Tipsport Extraliga. So when Hokjet.et reported that Pawel Zygmunt was going be trying-out for HC Litvinov, a team in the top Czech league,  every polish hockey fan was instantly behind him. The 19-year-old would be making quite the jump and not precedent one for Polish players by appearing in the Tipsport Extraliga at such a young age. The team confirmed that Pawel Zygmunt was in training camp with the team. In the press release, they mentioned this is not the first time they have seen Zygmunt. Head Coach Jiri Sleger commented Three years ago five talented Polish hockey players had the opportunity to see the difference between Czech and Polish hockey.They spent two weeks in our club and looked very good. Paweł was the best of this group. We were in constant touch with him, and we decided that we would like to see how he developed over the years and whether we will be able to use him in our junior team or in the club with whom we established cooperation (HC Stadium Litoměřice). We will know the answer to this question when we start preparations on the ice.” 

The first was Waldemar Klisiak in 1995-1996. Klisiak was 28-years-old when he made the move. It came after he had a 50 point (29G, 21) in 37 games with Unia Oswiecim. He actually had a decent season with HC Vitkovice, putting up 3 goals and 14 assists in 35 games. This would be his lone season in the Czech Republic before returning to Unia Oswiecim. He left Poland again to play in Italy in 1997-1998, before again returning to Poland where he played with various teams til 2010-11. He is currently the Sports Manager for Unia Oswiecim.

The next player wouldn’t move to Poland til Leszek Laszkiewicz in 2002-2003. He made his debut in the Czech league at the age of 24. Laszkiewicz had already played outside of Poland from 1997 to 1998 in the DEL with the Nürnberg Ice Tigers. He then played in Poland from 1999 to 2002 with KTH Krynica and Unia Oswiecim. In 2001-2002, he had 45 points (21G, 24A) in 46 PHL games and 2 points (1G, 1A) in 6 games at the World Championships. This earned him a shot with HC Vitkovice. He had 8 goals and 2 assists in 43 games before switching squads to HC Havirov Panthers. He had 14 points, and only one assist as HC Havirov Panthers fought off relegation. Like Klisiak, this would only be a one year trip for Laszkiewicz til returning to Poland for the rest of his career besides a single season in Italy. He now is a sports manager for JKH GKS Jastrzebie.

Marcin Kolusz was next and the closest to Zygmunt in terms of age. He entered the Tipsport Extraliga just a handful of months before his 21st birthday. Zygmunt will turn 20 in November. Marcin Kolusz had been drafted by the Minnesota Wild in the 5th round of the 2003 draft. He spent the 2003-2004 season in the Canadian Western Hockey League. There with the Vancouver Giants, he had 7 goals and 12 assists in 70 games. He would return to Poland and Podhale Nowy Targ after the year. In his return season in Poland, he had 14 points (5G, 9A) in 26 PHL games. In 2005-06, he would sign with HC Ocelari Trinec. In his first season in the Czech Republic, he only played 2 games scoring one goal while spending most of his time in the second league. The next two seasons he played a lot more with 102 games over 2 years, but only 8 goals and 4 assists. Kolusz would then spend a year in Slovakia with HK SKP Poprad, before moving back to Poland where he still plays today.

Aron Chmielewski was the most recent and most successful of players making the jump. Chmielewski had spent a couple of years in the German junior system before returning to Poland in 2008-2009. He made his debut in the PHL just shy of his 18th birthday. He posted solid numbers in the PHL til 2013-14 when he had a breakout season putting up 73 points (35G, 38A) in 53 games. He also made his senior IIHF debut for Poland recording a goal and 3 assists at the World Championships. This earned him an opportunity with HC Ocelari Trinec. It wasn’t an instant success, and Chmielewski kept improving his game in the Czech second league. In 2017-18  a majority of his games were in the Tipsport Extraliga. This season he only played a single game in the second league, while playing 69 games with HC Ocelari Trinec across the regular season and playoffs where the team won a championship. His 11 goals were tied for 4th on the team.

Chmielewski is the most likely path that Zygmunt could and may follow. The second Czech league will be a step up for Zygmunt and allow him to continue to develop his skills and get chances in the Tipsport Extraliga. It is extremely rare for Polish players to make the jump to the league. Three of the players were not really afforded the chance to develop their skills and were more expected to produce right away. On the one hand, it makes sense that Czech teams don’t do this often as to why should they develop another countries player? The other hand is sometimes you may get a player like Chmiewlewski who becomes a significant contributor to your team. Zygmunt getting called back and specifically mentioning their affiliation with HC Stadion Litomerice makes me think they may take a development route. Zygmunt is an exceedingly talented young player, and if he doesn’t get a contract from this tryout, I believe he will be able to secure one down the line.

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