Category: Mens Hockey

2020 Top 50 Men’s U23 Players. #3

We have now reached the top five of the list. When making the list, I had about three tiers of players divided by what I believe the player was most likely capable of. The top five are their own tier of players that I would label as the definitive players that are the future of Polish hockey. These five players have the potential to elevate Polish hockey to a new level. They’re all more than capable of being top players in Poland, or key players outside the country. Poland reaching the elite division and staying there relies a lot on these players reaching their full potential.

Players 50-41 Players 15-13 Player 9 Player 5
Players 40-31 Player 12 Player 8 Player 4
Players 30-21 Player 11 Player 7
Players 20-16 Player 10 Player 6

Rank – Player Name (Position), Age During Next Hockey Season, Team (Ranking in 2019, change in rankings

3 – Paweł Zygmunt (F), 21, HC Litvinov, (6 +3)

Making it outside of Poland is something that a very few select Polish players ever try, and even fewer succeed at it. You can’t call Zygmunt’s career outside of Poland a success after one year. But unlike a lot of Polish talent that have ventured outside their homeland, this is not a one and done season for Zygmunt. The talented young forward has already re-upped on another one-year-deal with HC Litvinov.

It was quite a busy year for Zygmunt in his first year in the Czechia. He earned a lot of praise from Jiří Šlégr, a former Czech hockey star, and HC Litvinov head coach. In total this year, he recorded four points (1-3-4) in 20 Tipsport Extraliga games, along with three points (1-2-3) in nine Chance Liga games. His season would end in February with a broken hand he suffered while representing Poland at the Olympic qualifiers.

Among U23 players, Zygmunt .20 PPG ranked 32nd, it was 11th among U21 players. His point per game comparables is actually quite an interesting list, with quite a few NHLers and NHL draft picks, like Dominik Kubalik, Dominik Simon, Karel Plasek, and Tomas Nosek. He had a total of 34 matches. A vast majority of which went on to at least play 100 Tipsport Extraliga, or a league of similar status, games. 8 played 100 games in minor leagues around Europe like the PHL or lower Czech divisions. Then the remaining 7 have played 100 plus AHL, KHL, NHL, NL, or SHL games. Overall three-fourths of Zygmunt’s comparables have been able to play a large majority of their careers in leagues stronger than Poland, which bolds very well for Zygmunt.

The big 6’3 Polish forward is only the second Polish player to re-sign with a Tipsort Extraliga team after their debut season. This draws a lot of comparisons to Aron Chmielewski, the only other Polish player to do so. When Chmielewski made the jump to the top Czechia league, he was a few years older than Zygmunt though.

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Like Chmielewski, Zygmunt is going to need more time to prove himself in the lower Czech leagues at first. This is just not to earn a spot, but to improve his skills and continue the adjustment to Czech hockey. It may be a couple years before Zygmunt is a full-time player in the Tipsort Extraliga, but he is on the right path.

The Krynica native is one of four Polish national team members slated to the play in the Tipsport Extraliga this year; Chmielewski, Lyszczarczyk, and Raszka the other three. He is the youngest one of them and was the youngest member of Team Poland at the Olympic qualifiers. The Olympic qualifiers were his senior IIHF debut that was unfortunately cut short when he suffered a broken hand in the first period against the Netherlands.

This injury would be the end of his year, as mentioned earlier. It was a very promising year for the big forward. Continuing to use his size to his advantage, and improving his skating will only do him wonders. He turns 21 in November and is already a lot further than most Polish players will ever be. His development will be exciting to watch, but his floor is already leaps and bounds above most players in the Polish system. While it would be great for Poland to have an NHL or KHL player, having a stream of players like Zygmunt that can make it in stronger leagues like Czechia’s top league is a sign of things to come and the first step to NHL quality players.

Player #2

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Hockey Heartbreak in Gdańsk. The Disappearance of Light at the End of the Tunnel.

When you look at hockey in Poland, there is one big thing that sticks out on the Polish hockey map, and that is Gdańsk. Most teams are close to the borders of Czechia and Slovakia. You go to Northern Poland, and there are just two teams, KH Torun and PKH Gdańsk. The coastal city of Gdańsk is positioned all the way on the coast on the baltic sea, the most northern club in the PHL. Their nearest rival, Torun,  is almost two hours away by car. PKH Gdańsk was pretty isolated from the rest of the league. It was a hockey family that had risen from the ashes of an extremely prominent fall. PKH Gdańsk restored hockey in the city, and now their own fall has come. Their fall at the hands of the same group that orchestrated the ashes they formed from.

Stoczniowiec Gdańsk was a prominent member of Polish hockey, as other northern clubs in Poland fell, they stayed alive into the 2000s. The team didn’t achieve great success during this time. They made it to the bronze medal game quite a few times and won bronze in 2003. They also just escaped relegation multiple times during this span. Things were not on the way up, and the 2011 season hit. The team was in financial ruins.

I remember how in 2011 Stoczniowiec’s band broke up. There were large arrears and we know that this happened thanks to President Marek Kostecki. He could come before Christmas when he hadn’t paid players for months and told them to enjoy having dinner before the match. I had a full fridge as a young boy with my parents, but older players with their own families had tears in their eyes. They could not buy gifts for their children, and they had debts and loans themselves. As I watched it, something burst inside me. What happened when Stoczniowiec fell apart is unthinkable. – Aron Chmielewski

The team did not pay their players, and according to Jan Steber, PKH Gdańsk’s captain, and former Stoczniowiec Gdańsk forward, those debts are still not paid to this day. The conductor of this orchestra of chaos was team president Marek Kostecki. His acts in the final days of the original Stoczniowiec Gdańsk would have tainted his reputation forever and had him exit the field entirely, but not in Poland. 

 I will start with the history of years ago, when before the first season in the Premier League I was at talks with president Marek Kostecki. The conversation was conducted as if he did not even know what position I was playing. He offered me a contract for 5 years for PLN 800, and the contract did not provide for the possibility of raising it in subsequent years. President Kostecki noted that he gave me the opportunity to sign the contract, just because I’m a Polish youth representative, he also mentioned that if I don’t sign this contract I won’t be able to train with the senior team. I was there with my father who, after leaving, laughed and advised me not to sign anything with this man. – Szymon Marzec

Despite winning their placement game to end the 2011 season, the team would not play in the PHL the following year. They wouldn’t play anywhere, and Gdańsk fell off the hockey map. The Stoczniowiec Gdańsk organization would play in 2013 in the Polish second league, under the name KH Gdańsk. This would be a one-season show, and the team would not return afterward.

In 2014, there was a light in the tunnel for the first time. A new Gdańsk organization was formed, PKH Gdańsk. The team would assume the Stoczniowiec Gdańsk name, but they were not at all the same organization. In their first season, they lost in the semi-finals of the Polish second league.   The following year though, they would defeat UKH Debica in four games to earn promotion to the top league.

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Once being promoted to the premier league, the team would assume the name MH Automatyka Gdańsk. They had a long way to grow, as Stoczniowiec Gdańsk’s destruction really impacted the junior divisions in Gdańsk. In the first two seasons, they barely stayed in the top league, being saved in the relegation round twice.

People behind PKH are not motivated by financial reasons . All volunteers – to which I myself belong – support this project free of charge, often investing their own resources and time to implement the mission of popularizing ice hockey – a sport forever cursed for underfunding. – Maciej Kołek

PKH Gdańsk was a family of hockey supporters hell-bent on growing the sport in the city. They were a team facing a lot of roadblocks. The deflated junior system, high travel cost, were just some of the things the team was up against. The biggest thing building walls for them to try and smash through was Stoczniowiec Gdańsk. Stoczniowiec Gdańsk and team president Marek Kostecki charged an enormous amount for rent and didn’t give the team anything return. Almost zero maintenance was done to the arena under their watch. 

I have always said that for 6 years we even played “away” in Gdańsk. During these 6 years. Spilled water, holes in the gate, it’s only me and Adam Rozenberg know how many times we cleaned the locker room of our team and guests 2 hours before the match. The first two years we had a counting office 2 by 2 meters, between two halls, there was half a shower, there were rats, and the holes in the walls were filled with pucks, which we exchanged as they were bitten. And so it looked. Then two years we had two rooms, and the last two years just one. Me, Adam, Aneta, two trainers, equipment, sometimes CEOs came, everything was there. In addition, each time an hour before and after the match we had to spread all the ads, extension cords, dryers and promotional materials because the hall host refused to leave them in a visible place. Everyone in the hall tried to help us. But when it comes to the management board of GKS Stoczniowiec, never, never. People in the hall tried to help, selflessly, often on a “just don’t tell anyone” principle. As for the cloakroom, Adam and I bought the carpet ourselves, we made all the cabinets, hooks, names, GKS Stoczniowiec did NOT do anything. There was a movie from the 50th anniversary of Hala Olivia and what cloakroom is shown? Ours, they’re ashamed of others. The showers for this year only had one working, shared with youngsters, pathology. Nothing has changed for 20 years – exactly so many years ago I was on the slide, this season we played the first match with SMS and the same, for those 20 years, water drips from the roof into the player bags. The guys have not yet gone out for the first shift and are already soaked from this water. – Krzysztof  Mieliński. PKH Gdańsk Technical Manager

At one point, Stoczniowiec Gdańsk did not even have the strength to run the junior teams. PKH Gdańsk took control of the development system. This led to the junior championship in 2016, along with a decent junior system starting to develop in the city. Stoczniowiec Gdańsk would retake control of the junior system but had an agreement to lend young players to PKH Gdańsk.

PKH Gdańsk began to flourish with growing fan support and climbing up the PHL ladder. The 2019 year saw new highs in wins and points, and a spot in the PHL playoffs, after beating Opole in two games. This led to an exciting series with eventual champions GKS Tychy. They took the back to back champions to game seven, where they lost 2-0.

This past season the team once again posted new highs in wins and points with a 16 point improvement from the previous year. They allowed the least amount of goals in club history while scoring the most. This year would be another first-round playoff elimination, this time at the hands of Unia Oświęcim in five games. Despite the quick exit, things were looking up for the club.

Covid-19 would end the PHL season in the semi-finals. The virus continued to hit the world harder and harder. It had its effects on the economy of Poland as well, with sponsors and cities not being able to offer much. To accommodate this, the PHL decided to lower the requirements needed to play in the PHL, and a much cheaper wild card for teams that did not compete in the league the previous season.

The lower cost led to a few teams to throw their hat in the ring for a hopeful return to the PHL, including STS Sanok and KTH Krynica. The third team was Stoczniowiec Gdańsk, led again by Marek Kostecki. When I first heard the news, I honestly didn’t think they would get off the ground, but they kept advancing. Mid-June, it was announced that Stoczniowiec Gdańsk was ending its player loan agreement with PKH Gdańsk.

Stoczniowiec Gdańsk kept advancing in the licensing process, and with another enormous rent bill coming, the writing was on the wall for PKH Gdańsk. On June 26th, they announced they would not be playing in the PHL during the 2019-20 season. There was immediate sadness and outcry from fans and the Polish hockey community. In the days following, so many people released letters appealing to the city of Gdańsk to save the team. Along with criticism of Stoczniowiec Gdańsk. They have been quoted all throughout this article. I encourage you to read all the letters from players, supporters, and staff. They have all be complied here.

I don’t think PKH Gdańsk is dead entirely, and I hope to see the organization return in the future. This will only happen though with the construction of a new rink in Gdańsk or the removal of Marek Kostecki. While not everything about the team was perfect, I believe, at the professional level, they did a fantastic job of being a great sign of how good Polish hockey can be. The team finished towards the top of PHL attendance, and I have a feeling in the next decade, we will have a whole new crop of Gdańsk natives in PHL thanks to their short run.

It is my opinion that the set up of Stoczniowiec Gdańsk is both bad for hockey in Gdańsk and for Poland. Lotos PKH Gdańsk was a very competitive team that appeared very professional in their actions and transactions. Their supporters were rabid and passionate. It is the kinda team that helps lift up the reputation of Polish hockey, that is has been too easily spoiled by organizations that should have never been in the PHL in the first place. You just need to look at how many imports, have made Gdańsk their new home after playing for the club. Listening to players, staff, and supporters of Gdańsk hockey, it appears that Stoczniowiec Gdańsk is the exact opposite of them.

I wish Josef Vitek, Mateusz Rompkowski, and Michał Kieler the best in trying to lead this team, but a group of twenty junior players with a few random veterans is not going to succeed in the PHL. The league doesn’t need Janows, Opoles, or Polonia Bytoms anymore. That is the road I see the team heading down, and it is going to drag some talented players down with it. I hope that at the least, the players are treated better than the ones, who were there to witness and be apart of Stoczniowiec Gdańsk’s first unraveling.

I wanted to finish my career in Gdańsk, not in Silesia or somewhere else. In Gdańsk, but not under Mr K. Even if he paid with gold. I wanted to end up in our club with honest management, loyal sponsors and real supporters. With people who love hockey. – Jan Steber 

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Robert Kalaber Named Men’s National Team Head Coach

Robert Kalaber has been named the head coach of the Polish national team. Kaláber replaces Tomek Valtonen, who led the team for two seasons. The new head coach will also be consulting on the youth national team and supervising the Szkołę Mistrzostwa Sportowego (School Of Sports Champions). Kalaber is currently the head coach of JKH GKS Jastrzebie and has been since 2015. He will be combining his national team duties with coaching Jasztrezbie. He has served as the head coach of the Bulgaria Men’s national team for the past two years. He helped Bulgaria earn promotion to division two group B after being stuck in division three sine 2014.

The 50-year-old Slovak has been coaching since 2006. From 2006 to 2008, he was the head coach of HC Dukla Senica in the second tier of Slovak hockey. In his final season with the team, he led them to a fourth-place finish, which stands as one of their best seasons to date. He would take a break from coaching hockey, until replacing Dusan Gregor midseason for HK Dukla Trencin, who play in the Tipsort Liga. Kalaber would coach both the senior and U20 team for Trencin, til being recalled and replaced, by Milan Stas, in 2014. During this time, he attended Comenius University in Bratislava, where he studied hockey management.

Kalaber than came to Poland and was named the head coach for JKH GKS Jastrzebie. The team was slowly rising up the ranks of Polish hockey, coming off a bronze game win during the 2014 season. In his first year with the club, he took JKH GKS Jastrzebie to the finals, losing to GKS Tychy, who were about to begin their reign of terror. Jastrezbie has lost in the quarterfinals every year since that first finals run. Their core was aging, and the team needed a substantial injection of youth talent. Kalaber and Jastrzebie have become the model that every PHL team should strive to be. No team has the amount of strong young players that they do. Although this year resulted in another disappointing quarterfinals loss, JKH GKS Jastrzebie did capture both the Polish and Visegrad Cups. The Visegrad Cup being a significant achievement as it showed their core and young talent could beat and compete with clubs from the Chance Liga, Erste Liga, and Tipsport Liga.

There are a lot of benefits to Kalaber. He will be in Poland full-time, and that shows no signs of changing. He has been in Poland for over five years now. He has seen the turmoil that the national team and league have gone through. He better understands the problems than any other foreign coach. Not only that, but he has helped build a successful hockey team in Poland based around young talents. Something that some people would claim is impossible based on the training conditions for U20 players in Poland. Kalaber may not have the pedigree or name-value like Ted Nolan or Tomek Valtonen, but his success and time in Poland are more critical to the team right now. I give his hire an A-plus, and I’m excited to see what he and his staff can accomplish.

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A Band-Aid Over A Bullet Wound. The End of the Tomek Valtonen Era

When you were a child, and you tripped and fell scraping up your knee. Your skin burned, and the scrapes started to turn red as blood filled the knicks in your skin. It could be cured by just a simple band-aid, especially if you had the Pokemon-themed ones; they were super effective. The Polish national team was bleeding and put a band-aid over the wound. This wasn’t a small cut though, it was a bullet wound.

Poland had been demoted to Division 1 Group B, and the Ted Nolan experiment was a complete failure. Ted Nolan was a high profile hire. It was kinda embarrassing how quick it went bad and failed. Poland was relegated to Group B after a 6-1 loss to Kazakhstan. Six goals against are fitting because it probably matches the number of times Ted Nolan was in Poland. Ted Nolan and Poland parted way pretty quickly after the tournament. Now, although Poland did do a formal coaching search, it seemed from the start there was only one true candidate; Tomek Valtonen.

Valtonen was the dream candidate. A young coach with Polish roots, he was going to be coaching in Poland with Podhale, he spoke Polish, and he had a background being a head coach in Finland at both the Liiga and top junior level. I don’t think there was another coach that checked off the number of boxes that Valtonen did. It looked to be off to a great start as well when Valtonen added well-decorated Finnish coach Risto Dufva as an advisor to the team.

From the coaching standpoint, it seemed everything had fallen into place for Poland, but in reality, everything was close to burning down. The financials for the team was not in a good position by any means. Then many prominent players joined together to form the Polish Ice Hockey Players Association (PIHPA). The PIHPA fought for better conditions for national team players, as they felt pay and training conditions were not adequate. Most of the players’ association would boycott the Euro Ice Hockey Challenge tournament that Poland was hosting.  Quite a few players retired from the national team overall. Then on day 1 of the competition, the ice conditions were so terrible that games had to be canceled.

Despite everything going against them, it was a success for Poland. Tomek Valtonen and his staff created a roster of players that usually may be far off the usual Polish national team radar that was able to compete with the B teams, maybe C teams, of Austria, Denmark, and Norway. Poland was even beating Denmark until the game was suspended due to the poor ice conditions. Despite everything going wrong off the ice and with the ice, Valtonen and his staff put in an excellent performance.

The Finnish head coach continued to stick up for the players as well. He applauded their efforts to unionize together and fight for the conditions they deserved. While the heads of the PZHL didn’t seem to want to negotiate with the PIHPA, Valtonen’s support and strong relationship with players seem to get a lot of them back in the fold. He was the peacekeeper that Poland needed in the situation. Valtonen himself had also criticized the conditions that Polish players play in.

In Podhale, Valtonen created a team with plenty of national team talent mixed with an influx of Finnish imports. The group seemed to be quite promising and a possible contender to win the entire league. This was the beginning of the end of the honeymoon period with Valtonen because pretty much everything after that initial sign of hope before the hockey year never showed up again.

Podhale was progressing as the same team they were the previous year with the massive influx of import signings not being that impactful. Poland would then travel to Finland to train and face off with two Metsis teams. Both of these games resulted in one-goal losses, but nothing too wrong yet. It was also a pretty valuable training experience, along with showing how much work team Poland needed.

The next couple of tournaments would just be embarrassing for Poland. They suffered shutout losses to Lithuania and Romania while getting destroyed in matches against Hungary. The games against Hungary just showing how quickly Poland’s former rivals jumped past them on the development stage. The Lithuania and Romania were especially troubled as Poland was set to face them in their bid to return to Group A.

Back in Podhale, the team did improve their record and moved in the overall standings by one place, but would lose in the bronze medal game this year. While it may have not lived up to the pre-season hype, there was still a lot to be excited about as the team showed a lot of promise. It would already be the end of the Valtonen era in Podhale though, as the team announced he would depart from the team at the end of the season. Unchecking one of the biggest boxes and reasons, he got the national team gig.

Now came the big showing of the year, Poland was once thought to be a favorite that would easily win their way back to group A, but now that was rightfully in doubt. These doubts happen further when Cracovia Krakow seemingly refused to send the equipment of a few national team players that had yet to re-sign for the following season. Valtonen claimed he reached to Krakow, but they didn’t reply, Krakow later released text messages showing they did in fact reply. In the end, the national team lost defensemen Maciej Kruczek, as his equipment never arrived. This didn’t help team Poland at all that already had a few players drop out with injuries.

The tournament itself pretty much told the story of Valtonen’s first year in Poland. The team starting off strong with great showings versus the Netherlands and Ukraine, only for everything to go drastically wrong as they lose to Romania. Then with nothing on the line, they beat Estonia and Japan in games where you could see no one on team Poland really was giving their best. Their faith was already sealed with the loss to Romania.

It seemed Poland was destined for another coaching change. Valtonen was making more enemies than friends in Poland, as he wasn’t afraid to speak publically about some of the problems he saw with the sport in Poland. Him leaving Poland was also still a sore spot, along with a very disappointing World Championship and the international year overall.

Valtonen remained the national team coach in a bit a surprise announcement. Risto Dufva was also now added to his coaching staff and would be coaching GKS Katowice during the upcoming year. Valtonen was now set to coach in Germany and brought some youth players along to train and try out for German youth teams as well. It seemed like the positives were starting to rise up again!

With Valtonen gone to Germany, it was mostly a pretty quiet year. Poland competed in one Euro Ice Hockey Challenge tournament versus Hungary, Italy, and Japan. They won against Japan and stayed competitive against the first two. Nothing big of note from the two matches. It was all quiet, too quiet.

Risto DuFva would leave Poland just a couple weeks after the Euro Ice Hockey Challenge. Leaving GKS Katowice and the national team in pretty quick fashion. It came out of nowhere,  and only worsened the relationship between Poland and their Finnish staff.

It felt like a sure thing this staff would be gone the following year, and it was just getting through the final two tournaments. There is a magical cure for it all though. That is winning. Poland went into the Olympic Qualifiers without multiple top players and only six total defensemen after players having to drop out. Then in the first period of game 1, Pawel Zygmunt would break his arm and be done for the season. They steamed rolled over the Netherlands and Ukraine, setting up a winner take all game versus Kazakhstan.

Kazakhstan is a literal KHL team loaded with talented imports as well. Poland beat them in the biggest upset in Polish hockey in years. It did take John Murray making an insane amount of stops, but Poland had done what looked to be close to impossible. Poland now advanced to the final round of Olympic qualification. There seemed to be a lot of optimism in the air, and renewed excitement for the team.

Then Covid-19 hit. The World Championships were canceled, and Tomek Vatlotnen’s contract had expired. It didn’t seem like this would be the end at all though. Valtonen seemed very excited for the future and looked like he expected to be behind the bench for team Poland when they played the final round of qualifications in August. The qualifiers were once again delayed meaning Poland would have to wait till next summer.

Meanwhile though in Kazakhstan, the loss to Poland rung hard. The team fired their national team head coach Andrei Skabelka. Skabelka was also let go from his position with Barys Nur-Sultan, the Kazak KHL team. They needed a new coach and who better than the man who got the original coach fired. Tomek Valtonen was announced as a candidate for the position, along with a few other Finnish coaches. Kazakhstan’s offer would one hundred percent be better than Poland’s offer in every way.

Throughout their coaching search, it was never known how serious a candidate Valtonen was for the position, but at the moment of writing, he is not considered the favorite. With the coaching search in Kazakhstan coming to an end. Tomek Valtonen returned to Poland to meet with PZHL leadership. This meeting could have gone plenty of different ways, but at the end of the session, it was announced that Valtonen was out as the head coach of the Polish national team. The end of the Valtonen era was official.

The team was at its highest that Valtonen had taken them. It seems like an odd time to split ways, but maybe winning didn’t heal all the past drama and disputes. Hokej.net reported that they wanted a coach in Poland, along with some financial constraints, also being a problem. Tomek Valtonen is a great coach that quickly made some necessary changes to the national team. Him moving Marcin Kolusz to a full-time defenseman revitalized Kolusz’s career at a time when people were questioning if he should be included on Poland’s roster anymore. Now Risto Dufva even took Kolusz to Finland with him, signing him to a Liiga contract. Some necessary young and new blood was injected into the line-up.

Tomek Valtonen is a good coach. His players seemed to like him, and I believe he could have taken Poland to the elite division of the World Championships if given the time and support that was required. The problem is Poland’s issues are not that small. They are much larger than what Valtonen could have fixed. The PZHL is not to blame for everything during the Valtonen era, but they shoulder a large amount of it. Poland still has so much left to work on and improve. Valtonen definitely helped slow the bleeding but didn’t stop it. No single band-aid can.

On a side note. I would just like to thank Tomek Valtonen for his professionalism that he always showed myself and other Polish hockey media members. He always made himself available for questions about anything at any time.

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10 Possible Tomek Valtonen Replacements for Team Poland

Things can move really fast in Polish hockey. One second Tomek Valtonen fails to earn promotion at the World Championships and leaves Podhale, leaving people wondering if he is the right coach for Poland. The next second he leads Poland to an upset win over Kazakhstan to move on in the Olympic qualifiers. His victory at the Olympic qualifiers had many people back on the Valtonen train as he was entering his second World Championship leading team Poland. Of course, in the end, everything was canceled due to the Covid-19 outbreak. But it seemed like the relationship between the PZHL and Valtonen had vastly improved. Despite no longer being under contract, Valtonen was still planing to coach Poland at the final round of Olympic qualification, along with seeming open to a contract extension.

Everything was looking good for Poland, then came the rumors of him possibly joining the team that took the loss in his biggest international career win. It is currently being reported that Tomek Valtonen is a candidate to take over as head coach for Barys Nur-Sultan in the Kontinental Hockey League, along with the head coaching duties for the Kazakhstan national team. At the end of the day, that is a much better job then what Poland can give the young coach.

If Valtonen gets the job, Poland will need to find a new national team leader. National team head coaches can be hard to predict. Sometimes there might be a natural candidate that is the same nationally of the team, or you get crazy outside hires like Ted Nolan. With that said, this list is nothing more than some coaches I think fit or would have a chance at taking over the reins of Poland. The first five are more realistic candidates with the bottom five being more out there candidates with little to zero chance.

1. Piotr Sarnik

One of Poland’s top coaching prospects is former national team forward Piotr Sarnik. Sarnik mostly played with Cracovia Krakow and GKS Tychy during his playing days but has been a vital member of the coaching staff for a different GKS team after his playing days. Sarnik is currently the head coach for GKS Katowice after taking over mid-season last year. Before that, he served as an assistant coach for Katowice since 2017. The 43-year-old is also the head coach for the Polish U20 team. While I might not agree with Sarnik on everything, there is no doubt his resume is quite impressive with a potential national team spot in the future coming soon.

2. Krzysztof Majkowski

I don’t think you could find someone with a more similar career to Sarnik in coaching. Majkowski was a former Polish defenseman appearing at a few non-IIHF events while playing his entire career with GKS Tychy. After retiring in 2013, he joined the team as an assistant coach and served in that role until mid-way into last season, when Andrej Husau re-signed mid-season. This gave the 42-year-old longtime assistant his first chance to lead a team. GKS Tychy continued to dominate, like years past, finishing atop the regular-season standings again. Majkowski has also served as an assistant coach on the Men’s senior and U20 teams. He was a candidate to take over as Poland’s head coach before Valtonen was hired in June 2018.

3. Tomasz Demkowicz

Demkowicz has been an essential part of hockey in Sanok, serving as the team’s head coach while still playing at times during his career. After his playing career was done though, he went into coaching full time. His biggest achievement being the head coach of Sanok for their championship season in 2014. He also led Polonia Bytom during their bronze medal season in 2017. He has always been busy with the national team as well, serving as an assistant coach for both the men’s and women’s U18 squad, along with the senior women’s team. Since 2018, he has served as the head coach of the Polish U18 squad. Where he won gold and promotion in 2019.

4. Robert Kalaber

Maybe the perfect candidate is in Poland, but not Polish. Slovak head coach Robert Kalaber has led JKH GKS Jastrzebie since the 2015 season. In that time, he has taken Jastrzebie to the finals once while making Polish players, especially younger players, a priority and essential part of his line up. Kalaber deserves a lot of credit for helping to develop the wealth of young talent that Jastrezbie has. This year may have been his best despite a disappointing run in the PHL playoffs. This was one of his best years coaching in Poland because he won the Visegrad Cup and the Polish Cup. He is also the head coach for the Bulgarian national team.

5. Jacek Płachta

What is once old is new again. There is no doubt that Jacek Płachta took the Polish team to heights that Ted Nolan and Tomek Valtonen failed to achieve. Płachta has also continued to grow as a coach, returning to Germany, where he was an assistant coach in the DEL2, and a head coach for Crocodiles Hamburg in the Oberliga the past two seasons. Plachta himself said in an interview to Hokej.net never say never when it came to returning behind the Polish bench. He also was reportedly close to landing the GKS Katowice job before Risto Dufva accepted the position.

6. Nik Zupančič

The Slovenian head coach is the biggest reason for Unia Oswiecim’s turn around this year. He legit made Oswiecim an excellent destination for players in just one year. He is returning to the team once again this season, and keeping most of his core intact, it seems. Well, it doesn’t sound like he wants to be away from his home too long, and he has offers from inside Slovenia. Maybe the national team job could convince him to stay in Poland. He has a long career coaching the Slovenian men’s team at the senior level both as a head and assistant coach.  It may be hard to get him to cross enemy lines over to the Polish side, but no coach has impressed as much in their debut season in Poland.

7. Andrej Husau

Andrej Husau made GKS Tychy into a winning machine and wanted to coach team Poland when Valtonen landed the job. Though he left GKS Tychy on some uncertain terms mid-season. The 50-year-old head coach has yet to take another job and has a great resume. I was a huge fan of the idea of Andrej Husau leading the national team and even thought at points he should have received the job over Valtonen. It is hard to say whether or not the PHL championship-winning coach would return to Poland, but it couldn’t hurt to try.

8. Ernest Bokros

Bokros also applied for the job in 2018 but did not get it. The 60-year-old is a staple of the Slovakian national team. He has served as the assistant coach on their World Championship teams and has held basically every role for their u20 and u18 national teams. He also served as the head coach for HC Zlin in the Tipsport Extraliga for five years. Bokros has had plenty of other head coaching jobs across Czechia and Slovakia, but the biggest one for Poland to pay attention to is his work as head coach of Team Slovakia U20. This past year Bokros served as the general manager for MsHK Zilina in the Slovak second league. Poland could potentially convince the strong junior coach to take the reigns of the national team and help shape Poland’s future.

9. Glen Hanlon

Hanlon was reportedly interested in the 2018 opening, but that interest never went too deep. After that initial interest, he did coach the Hungarian team DVTK Jegesmedvék, who play in the Tipsport Liga. Hanlon has served in a head coach role for Belarus, Slovakia, and Switzerland senior men’s teams. Not to mention being the head coach of the Washington Capitals in the National Hockey League. He has already signed on as the head coach for Krefeld Pinguine next year in the DEL. Quite a few Polish prospects play in Krefeld. He brings a lot of name value and experience to Poland, and could be what Poland thought they had in Ted Nolan.

10. Daniel Tkaczuk

The Polish-Canadian forward was once a top prospect in the NHL after being a sixth overall pick in the 1997 NHL draft. While Tkaczuk would reach the NHL with the Flames in 2000 for a 19 game stint, that was the height of his playing career in North America. He went on to have a great career in Europe with strong performances in Germany, Finland, and Italy. He finished his career in 2011 after splitting the season in the Austria second league and Elite Ice Hockey League. After his playing career, he joined the Owen Sound Attack in the Ontario Hockey League as an assistant coach. He stayed in the role until 2015 when he moved over to the Kitchener Rangers. Since 2016, he has worked as a skill and assistant coach for the St Louis Blues organization both at the NHL and American Hockey League levels. There is practically zero chance of him ever being remotely interested in the Polish job, given his position with the defending Stanley Cup champs. He is still a promising young coach with Polish roots that could teach players offensive skills that would take Poland to the next level.

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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.

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