The return of five thoughts! I never thought that this year I was going to be able to write five thoughts. After a successful PHL season though, the PZHL hosted the three seas tournament. We got to see the Polish national team in action. Poland took on Estonia, Latvia U23 (or Latvia B, they had a few veterans), and Lithuania. Croatia was also supposed to play in this tournament but dropped out before the tournament began.
The three seas tournament was an interesting challenge for Poland. It is the second national team event of the year after a couple of exhibition games against Hungary. The last time Poland played Estonia at the Worlds, they beat them 3-2 in OT. While Lithuania is a foe that had given Poland quite a bit of trouble recently. Then Latvia was the wild card. Latvia is a great hockey country that if not for their small size, I believe would be among the best in Europe. Their U23 or B team was a wildcard roster. The team was a mix of borderline Dinamo Riga players, Latvian league and MHL standouts, along with a few vets who played outside of Latvia. Could these wildcards pull off a crazy upset though against Poland? Let us find out!
Developing top defensemen has and is still a big problem for Poland. For international tournaments, it is always fun to see which young players have made big strides. Olaf Bizacki took advantage of every opportunity at the three seas tournament. The 5’7 defenseman finished with one goal and three assists in two games. He has also earned himself a spot on Poland’s roster for the national team grouping during May in Slovenia.
A Top Forward Import
As I was writing this piece it was announced that Kazkasthan added former Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Viktor Svedberg to the national team. Poland has added a few forwards to the national team, but none had any major success. In his second appearance for the Polish national team, Christian Mroczkowski once again made an impact. This time recording one goal and two assists in three games. Poland appears to have a long-term impactful import with the Canadian winger.
Zygmunt the New Prince?
When a player plays overseas it can be hard sometimes to look at their stats and see them as a step ahead of a lot of Polish players. Zygmunt kinda fits that billing as his stats in the Tipsport Extraliga are not eye-popping. The physical big forward made a huge impact at the three seas tournament. He led team Poland in goals with four and added an assist on top. While his ceiling might have never thought to be as high as other Polish players he deserves to be in the discussion for the best U23 player.
The Three-Headed Monster in Net.
In recent years, we have seen the national team have quite a few changes in goal. The latest change is Odrobny seemingly being no longer an option for the national team. The three-headed monster was set to be a two-headed one between Murray and Raszka. Murray is soon to be 34-years-old, and Raszka recently turned 31. The national team is going to need to find out who is next behind them. It seems they seem the answer to that is 25-year-old Michał Kieler. He played well at the three seas tournament and got a game earlier in Hungary.
A Clean Sweep, But No True Test For Kalaber.
Poland won each of these games, they beat Lithuania 8-1, Estonia 6-1, and then Latvia 4-1 to end it. All convincing victories against teams that really are not the greatest. This was an improvement on how they finished against Estonia at the last world championship Poland played in, but this was a downgraded roster. This was the correct result. This is what Poland needed to do. It really proves nothing though for the national team or Kalaber. They have a huge tournament with a chance to move on to the Olympics coming soon, I’m not saying Poland has to win that, but it needs to be competitive. We don’t really have a bar to see if Poland is better or worse so far under the current coaching staff. Hopefully, the Beat Covid-19 Cup in May will show us that.
Wronka is still the most fun player to watch in hockey and I will see no arguments otherwise.
Pasuit is back in a Polish uniform and it’s good to see. Easily one of the best centers in the country.
Unlucky injuries were a big story for Poland in this tournament, Oskar Jaskiewicz is going to be out for a bit, while Filip Starzynski missed the final games.
In what is a crazy year that continues to be spontaneous for Poland’s best player. Alan Łyszczarczyk has found himself traded to the Tulsa Oilers. The Orlando Solar Bears have been pretty quick to make moves this year, so this trade comes as no surprise. It seems it was be traded or be cut for the prince of Poland, as the Solar Bears traded him for only future considerations, likely nothing in the ECHL.
Łyszczarczyk started the year with Podhale Nowy Targ in the PHL. He did well in the blue and yellow, recording ten goals and eight assists in 23 games. His return to the ECHL has not been as strong as the forward only has two goals and one assist in 13 games. He has not recorded a point in his past eight games. The 23-year-old recorded 46 points (19-27-46) in 57 games the previous year with the Fort Wayne Komets of the ECHL.
The Tulsa Oilers will be Alan’s third ECHL team. The Oilers are the ECHL affiliate of the Anaheim Ducks of the NHL, and with the San Diego Gulls of the AHL. They currently sit fifth in the Western Conference of the ECHL with 15 wins, 14 losses, and three overtime losses. They currently are second to last in goals for in the ECHL this year with 72. (Fort Wayne has less, but they have only played 14 games.) They have to be hoping Łyszczarczyk can recapture his scoring touch.
Former NHL forward Wojtek Wolski has announced he is retiring from professional hockey. The 34-year-old was born in Zabrze, Poland, but his family moved abroad when he was two. He was a standout in junior hockey, leading to a successful OHL career. In the 2004 NHL draft, the Colorado Avalanche drafted him with the 24th overall pick.
At the end of his OHL season in 2006, he immediately jumped to the NHL with the Avalanche. The 6’3 winger started his career off blazing, posting above 40 points in his first four seasons. The Avalanche would trade him to the Coyotes 2010, for Kevin Porter and Peter Mueller. Despite a point-per-game start with the Yotes, concussions would start to derail his NHL career. After disappointing production, Wolski found himself traded to the Rangers, for Michal Rozsival. The Rangers chose not to re-sign him, and then later signed for the minimum with the Capitals in free agency. During the 2012 lockout, Wolski signed with KH Sanok scoring three goals and seven assists in nine games. He returned to the Capitals after the lockout ended. In total, he put up 107 goals and 177 assists in 480 NHL games, making him one of the most accomplished NHL players to appear in Poland.
He would spend the next six and a half years in the KHL. His KHL career almost matching his NHL career in length. This includes being out eight months after suffering a broken neck during a KHL game. Wolski would battle back and represent Canada at the 2018 Winter Olympics. Halfway through the 2020 season, he would sign with HC Ocelari Trinec in Czechia, where he teamed up with Polish national team star Aron Chmielewski. The 34-year-old winger did not sign anywhere for the 2021 season. For most of the season, Wolski was on the Canadian figure skating competition show Battle of the Blades, which he would win! Following the show, Wolski continued to talk to clubs, but decided to announce his retirement on December 15th via the Spittin’ Chiclets podcast.
In the 2000s, Polish hockey started to go on a downswing. Many national team players that proved their worth with strong performances outside of Poland were beginning to retire. Poland still had NHL talents like Mariusz Czerkawski and Krzysztof Oliwa, but club duties saw their national team appearances few and far between. More and more talent now stayed in Poland. This trend would continue into the mid-2000s, and the talent well was starting to get dry. The lone bright spot in the prospect group was Marcin Kolusz.
The small town of Limanowa was devastated by World War two, with a large part of the population killed by Nazi forces. Since then the population of the town has stayed small with 15,000 residents. The city would be excused for not having a strong athletic background. The local soccer team plays in Poland’s third-tier league. While they have had a strong presence in the skiing world, thanks to their mountainside location. 2018 Olympic bronze medalist Maciej Kot is one of the national team skiers to come out of the town. An ice rink just ten kilometers away in the small village of Tymbark always left the ice hockey option open.
Only two players show up in the EliteProspects database as coming from Limanowa; Bartłomiej Gaj and Marcin Kolusz. Gaj just being one year younger than Kolusz. Both would make the move to Nowy Targ to play for Podhale Nowy Targ, over an hour away from Limanowa, at the same time.
Kolusz immediately made an impact making his senior debut for Podhale in the second division at just 15-years-old. His debut made him the youngest rookie at the time in club history. The following year, he would make his Polska Hokej Liga debut while also playing for the Polish U18 squad. He would continue to earn a larger role with Podhale. 2003 was his real breakout year, where he played for both the U18 and U20 squads, while playing in the PHL full time. This put scouts on notice, including ones who don’t usually give Polish prospects the time of day.
The 2003 NHL entry draft is underway. The first overall pick belongs to the Pittsburgh Penguins, who take franchise goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. Other selections include Dustin Brown, Eric Staal, Patrice Bergeron, and Marcin Kolusz. The Minnesota Wild took a chance on Kolusz 137th overall in the fifth round of the draft. John Mitchell, who went on to play over 500 NHL games, was selected by Toronto the pick after him. It was heavily rumored the Edmonton Oilers were interested in Kolusz at the time, but they took American forward David Rohlfs just a few picks earlier. From Hockey Futures, they wrote about the selection at the time.
“Raised in a country that gets little hockey exposure, Kolusz hired the agent that brought Dominik Hasek to the NHL. He prides himself on hard work and good hockey sense. Wild scouts agreed, and have said he possesses good size very good skating ability. They liked him so much that they tried to move up in the draft to get him. Although unable to move up, the Wild were still able to select him at the 157th spot.”
Kolusz was already on his way over to North America after being selected by the Vancouver Giants in the Canadian Hockey League import draft. He was the first-ever Polish player selected in the CHL import draft. Playing in the Western Hockey League (WHL) was the chance that Kolusz needed. He had his foot in the door, and a strong performance in the WHL would net him an entry league deal. A deal that would likely see him play in the North American minor system or even the NHL.
His run in the WHL was not a success. In 68 games with the Giants, the young Polish forward recorded six-goal and twelve assists. He would add one more goal in six playoff games. The Giants’ year was disappointing considering some of their talents, with five players being future NHL players. The team would swap out both of their imports for the following year bringing in Czech goalie Marek Schwarz and future NHL defenseman Andrej Meszároš. The Giants released Marcin Kolusz to help make room for the new imports.
There were no takers for Kolusz in North America, so he returned to Poland and Podhale Nowy Targ at 19-years-old. After one season back in Nowy Tag, he left once again, signing in the Czech Republic with HC Ocelari Trinec. The first year he spent more time in the Chance Liga, only playing a handful of games in the Tipsport Extraliga. He would spend the next two years with HC Ocelari Trinec full time in the top league but never impacted the score sheet. His total production was six goals and two assists in 86 regular-season games. The 2008 season was the end of his run in the Czech Republic. After Kolusz’s three-year tenure in Czechia, it put his hockey potential in question.
Five years after being drafted, Kolusz was getting another chance in the much weaker Slovakian Tipsport Liga. The 6’1 center joined HK SKP Poprad in 2009 with the hope of jump-starting his professional career. While he produced better results, he only scored one goal and recorded thirteen assists in fifty-three games. Tenth in points among all forwards on the squad. Poprad had a poor season and would just be saved from relegation.
In 2009, Kolusz would return to Poland after just one year in Slovakia. Now back in Nowy Targ, Kolusz was back to producing around a point per game season. Both his career and the league were on a downfall. He established himself as one of the top forwards in Poland. From 2009 to 2015, only three players had more points than Kolusz. He also picked up three PHL championships and two Polish Cups with GKS Tychy, KH Sanok, and Podhale Nowy Targ.
He was not only a top player in the PHL but for the Polish national team as well. Kolusz has been a national team star since his time with the Vancouver Giants in the WHL. During the span, only Leszek Laszkiewicz had more games and points than Kolusz. He represented Poland at ten total world champions, four of which he served as team captain, two of them he served as an alternate. While he may not have lived up to the potential that was once thought of, he was no doubt one of the Polish players of the decade. Top players in Poland no longer played in the top leagues around Europe. They were mostly contained in Poland, with a few in lower clubs around Europe.
Starting in 2016, Kolusz would begin to decline. His PHL season with Tychy was great, but his World Championship run was only two assists. His lowest output at the tournament since 2009, and the only time he didn’t put up a point per game numbers since then. The following season, he would record his worst PHL production since U20 years in the PHL and go pointless at both the World Championships and Olympic qualifiers. He would only record two goals in 15 other international games as well. This lead to plenty of people questioning his position on the national team. One person I talked to at the time referred to it as just paying for him to take a vacation. Kolusz would return to Podhale Nowy Targ after four years with GKS Tychy. Being back in Podhale didn’t change everything, but his production was better than the year before.
The national team itself was going through a more considerable turmoil at the time. Ted Nolan did not work at all, and the team was relegated to division 1 group B. Enter Tomek Valtonen. Valtonen has his own controversial legacy in regards to the national team and the PHL. While coaching Podhale Nowy Targ, Valtonen saw the potential that Kolusz has, especially his skating ability. The Finnish head coach made one significant change for Kolusz, as he switched the long time forward to defensemen. This switch wasn’t the first time he had played the position, but he had to do it full time for the first time. It was the spark that Kolusz badly needed. Despite battling injuries at the time, it was one of his best seasons to date, and he recorded six assists at the World Championship and ten assists in seven national team games.
In 2020 GKS Katowice load up on big name talent in offseason. This included Kolusz and well-regarded Finnish head coach Risto Dufva. The Finnish coach would leave halfway through the year, and the PHL season was eventually canceled due to COVID-19. It was another successful year for the new offensive defenseman though, as he helped Poland advance in the Olympic qualification.
While Dufva may have left Poland mid-season, it did not stop Marcin Kolusz from making a strong impression. Such a strong impression that Dufva brought Kolusz to Finland with him. Now at 35-years-old, Kolusz was receiving the most considerable chance of his hockey career as he signed a one-year deal with an option for another year with Vaasan Sport, who play in Finland’s top league the Liiga. It does include a two-month tryout to start. The most prominent level that a Polish player has played in recently, maybe only comparable to Alan Lyscarcyk playing in the ECHL and Ontario Hockey League. Kolusz is just one of the numerous Polish players that came into the season playing outside of Poland. Something odd for Polish hockey.
Kolusz is the oldest player on Sport’s roster. He turns 36 in January. He is one of only 21 players who are 35 or older in the Liiga. It is not a stretch to say his career is nearing the end. Polish hockey has somewhat followed his career trajectory. Polish hockey was still at a high and had players in top leagues when Kolusz was drafted and played in the WHL and Tipsport Extraliga. At the same time, Polish hockey was on the decline and struggled when Kolusz was in the PHL. Polish hockey has a wealth of young talents, and players like Kolusz are now getting chances in stronger leagues outside of Poland.
The signing was both shocking to Polish fans and celebrated by them. This is the second-ever appearance by a Polish player in the Liiga; Mariusz Czerkawski made a seven-game appearance during the 1995 NHL lockout. The signing, while popular among Polish fans, was not as celebrated in Finland. For many, a team at the bottom of the Liiga signing a Polish player was not worth writing about. Juha Oionen of Jatkoaika, scoffed at the signing and claimed it underestimated the entire Liiga.
“A couple of weeks ago, I already had the joy of the League’s attraction in the player market, but in addition to the rug, Sport’s activities also pulled the floorboards under their feet. It is pointless to dream of top players as long as the B-series national team legends are valid. A veteran player from the Polish main series sounds more like a Kummeli sketch than a thoughtful solution from a professional team. Interesting to see of whether Kolusz is in Finland for longer than Mr.Beginning.”
Juha Oionen – Jatkoaika
To some extent, I understand the points that he and some others in Finnish hockey had. It is odd for a 35-year-old, whom many had felt their career is on the decline. His switch to defense full-time made a huge difference, and he still hasn’t lost a touch of his skating. Things you don’t normally associate with a 35-year-old. It also didn’t help that Kolusz suffered an injury that would leave him out for the first nine games of the year.
Kolusz would make his debut on November 13th on the top defensive pairing for Sport. He would record three shots in 23:22 TOI. This led his team in ice time. He would follow up that performance with six shots in just over 17 minutes of action. His team lost both games that weekend, 3-2 the first game, and 6-0 the second game. Crazy stat, Kolusz was not on the ice for a single goal against and finished with a 58.5 CF%. While it is only two games, that is the best corsi among all Sport players and 14th among all Liiga defensemen. He would then record his first assist on the powerplay in his third Liiga game.
Experts did not believe Kolusz would succeed in the League at all, but he has played flawlessly against at least two top teams, Kärppi and Ilves.
Seppo Hautala – Keski Uusimaa
It is hard to describe Kolusz’s career as a disappointment. He is one of the best Polish players of all time. A five-time division 1 bronze medalist, four time-time division 1 silver medalist, four-time Polish Cup winner, three-time PHL champion, and one of only three Polish players to get drafted in the NHL. He has done a lot for Polish hockey. It has always felt like he could have done more. Him making it to Liiga at 35 shows that. His career is not let down, but more of a what could have been in some regards. He can write a lot of that off with his last chance in the Liiga.
We saw our first national team action of the year and, more importantly, the beginning of the Kaláber era. The last national team head coach’s circumstances were a lot different, but there are some similarities. Valtonen faced a national team with a lot of players striking. They were also facing the reserve teams of a lot of the better European national teams. Teams, I would consider the guard of staying in the Elite division. Beat them, and you remain in the top, lose, and you’re back down to division one. The team had to try out a lot of different and new players. The ice conditions were poor, and I’m sure I could dig up more excuses to lose, but instead, Valtonen and team Poland went out and stayed competitive.
Kaláber saw plenty of top players not join the team as they had club commitments like Chmielewski and Zygmunt, while also being without all three of Poland’s best defensemen. Poland had a different beast to fight in Hungary. Poland’s biggest enemy and a country that is ready to take on the teams that guard the Elite division. This was a team Poland, much like the last, trying out many different and new players. They could have folded and broken and let Hungary just control the matches. They did not though. They fought until the end until Hungary finished them in a close fight. The parallels are there in the beginning, but will the ending be different?
For Valtonen, it all went downhill right away, with his next set of games being devastating losses to Hungary. Hungary controlled the Polish squad and destroyed them. It showed how much of a difference there was between the two countries. The first of game 1 showed that same trend as Hungary went up 2-0 and had a comfortable lead. In the second, though, Poland came out as strong as possible and gave up one goal but got two back. The third period was a mix between the two initial periods, but it never felt like Poland was drowning. The final was 5-2, and there was only a five-shot difference in favor of Hungary. Much different from the games under Valtonen were the shot margins were in the forties and fifties.
The next game was so much better. It was the first time in years we saw the team Poland that won medals in division 1 group A. The team that was on the cusp of making it to the elite. Poland didn’t even have starting goalie Murray in net, but Michal Kieler, who is maybe fourth or fifth on the depth chart. A whole two players in the lineup older than 30. The team got out to an early lead after Canadian import Mroczkowski looked natural sniping one past the Hungarian goaltender. Hungary responded early in the second, but Poland would react on the powerplay with GKS Tychy forward Jeziroski scoring. Hungary would take the game in the end 3-2, after two goals from István Sofron. The shot margin for this 26-25 for Hungary.
The defense is the most underdeveloped area of the Polish national team. The forward and goalie groups feel more than fine to stay competitive with the top teams of division 1. The defense though, is the Achilles heel of team Poland. Holding the Hungary team to 26 shots is a remarkable feat of shot suppression and kept Poland in the game. Allowing 48 shots in game one was their downfall, so game two was a much-welcomed surprise. It wasn’t a significant line-up change either, as only Szurowski swapped in for Horzelski on the bottom pairing.
The young players all delivered on their end. For once, all the imports in the line up seemed like they were making the team better by being there, not just plugging a whole. The goaltending was steady, and made some great saves. The defense was shaky but had one of their best performances in years during game two. I think when you add some of the star power back into this lineup, they definitely will be promoted back to group A. Can they fight and win in group A is a different story. Many players in the line up are already well familiar with the Kaláber style and system, and we will learn down the road how effective that style will be on the international level.
When Robert Kalaber named his first Polish national team group, it became clear that the longtime JKH GKS Jastrzebie head coach would be trying out a lot of new names. Kalaber has been at the head of a Polska Hokej Liga team since 2014. His experience in the PHL allowed seeing most of the talent Poland has to offer pretty frequently. One of those players he has seen plenty of is Damian Szurowski.
Damian Szurowski was born to Polish parents in Ö Husby, Sweden. A lot of his family remained in Poland, where he would often visit a couple of times a year. In Sweden, though, both he and his brother worked their way up the junior ranks. His younger brother Mateusz Szurowski is a top junior player for Linköping HC and just missed being drafted in the 2020 NHL draft. For Damian, he first developed in the Arlanda HC hockey program. At the same time that Vegas Golden Knights forward, William Karlsson played for the team. In 2011, Damian Zurowksi was named the Arlanda HC 18U team captain while also playing for their 20U squad.
He moved the following season to Nynäshamns IF. With Nynäshamns IF, he played up and down their junior ranks and made his professional hockey debut in Sweden’s division one at the age of 17. The 6’0 defender earned more and more trust until spending most of his time with the Men’s team during the 2014 season, where he posted four goals and twelve assists in thirty-two games.
The next year he moved to Bålsta HC in Sweden’s second division, the fourth tier of hockey. Bålsta HC gave him a chance to play a lot of minutes and full time against men. After a second year with Bålsta HC, he made another move, but this time was jumping back to division one. In thirty-four games for Vännäs HC., the defensemen recorded one goal and four assists. Szurowksi would remain on the move once again in his career. This time though, a club was giving him a much more unique opportunity.
In 2017, Cracovia Krakow approached Damian Szurowksi about coming to Poland and joining their defense. The club was coming off a second straight PHL championship and played in the Champions Hockey League once again. The defensemen would spend the next two years in Krakow, playing in 64 games and recording seven assists while winning a PHL silver medal in 2019. He would depart Cracovia but stay in Poland for 2020 after signing with Lotos PKH Gdansk. In Gdansk, he was afforded a much larger role and able to contribute more. Szurowski would post five goals and six assists in forty-seven games. His production beat his point total from the previous two seasons while finishing top 20 in goals among defensemen.
Coming off his PHL career-best season, he was able to return to Krakow. Krakow gave him his big initial chance in Poland, and while playing for Krakow, he received one of the best opportunities of his career. Head coach Robert Kalaber named him to the national team camp for games against Hungary in early November. Szurowski is the only player on the national team from Cracovia Krakow after Damian Kapica pulled out with an injury. While by IIHF rules, Damian Szurowski is an import, there is no doubt that he bleeds red and white, and after four years in the PHL, he gets a chance to show that on the international level.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
After the failure with Ted Nolan, Finn Tomek Valtonen has been assigned with mission impossible to improve the Polish national team. When a house needs a total rebuild, you don't start with the chimney. https://t.co/NzSg6d6pQg
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.
Tomek Valtonen will coach the Ravensburg Towerstars (DEL 2) next season. A big part of the interest in him coaching the national team was the fact he would be in Poland year round. That is no longer the case.
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 #VaasanSport’in päävalmentajaksi! Nyt solmittu sopimus kattaa kuluvan #Liiga-kauden loppuun. Väistyvä päävalmentaja Ari-Pekka Pajuluoma toimi vaasalaisten peräsimessä toista kauttaan.
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.
Considering how anti-import Valtonen is, it would be funny to see him coach Kazakstan. Who can't even win despite having a KHL team to farm for imports. pic.twitter.com/vFEfYpTLPK
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.
Puolan maajoukkuelegenda Marcin Kolusz on tehnyt Vaasan Sportin kanssa sopimuksen.
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.