Category: Opinions

In Defense of An Open League

There is much controversy surrounding the Polish hockey league right now. There are huge disagreements about if the PHL should be an open league allowing more foreign players. Some of the voices that have spoken on the issue include Polish hockey legends, Mariusz Czerkawski, and Leszek Laszkiewicz, along with current Poland national team and Podhale coach Tomek Valtonen. The three of them agreed that the PHL has too many foreign players and increasing the amount would be devastating to the league and Polish hockey. The belief seems to be directly tied into the idea that if foreigners are taking roster spots then there will be no spots, for young players.

I disagree with this idea. The young players should not be the ones in danger of their spots. It should be the players over 22 that wouldn’t be involved in professional hockey outside of Poland. The best players in Poland and young players should be going against the best talent possible. Playing against better talent is how they get smarter and improve their skills. What value do players like Dominik Pas, Kamil Walega, and Jan Soltys get when half the league is not even competitive? What value is there to Patryk Wronka in this league? He could be playing outside of Poland. Wronka has the skills to do it. The PHL is currently an awful place with not even a lot of foreign players. I can’t imagine how low the quality of play would drop with even less of them.

Here are IIHF Men’s teams ranked from 10th to 25th, where a majority of their national team plays, and the percent of foreign talent they go up against. (Teams with no majority not shown, Hungary shown twice as the high number of national team members that appear in both leagues.)

 

Country

IIHF Ranking League That A Majority of National Team Players Play In Percent of Foreign Players They’re Going Against
Latvia 11 Kontinental Hockey League 96.8%
Kazakhstan 18 Kontinental Hockey League 96.5%
Belarus 14 Kontinental Hockey League 95.9%
Hungary 20 Erste Bank Eishockey Liga 95.6%
Hungary 20 Tipsport Liga 91.4%
Great Britain 22 Elite Ice Hockey League 66.0%
Austria 17 Erste Bank Eishockey Liga 60.7%
Japan 23 Asia League Ice Hockey 57.2%
South Korea 16 Asia League Ice Hockey 57.2%
France 13 Synerglace Ligue Magnus 42.6%
Slovakia 10 Tipsport Liga 34.5%
Poland 21 Polska Hokej Liga 31.8%
Ukraine 24 Ukrainian Hockey League 25.0%

Poland ranks second to last just above Ukraine, a hockey country that continues to decline. There are two separate ideals of thought among the rest of the teams in the list. Have strong teams made up of your best players in stronger leagues, or let foreign players elevate your league.  These counties continue to cater to the top players in their country, and that is how it should be. If you’re not good enough to keep up with foreign players in the United Kingdom or France, then you get sent to the NIHL (UK) or FFHG, Division 1 (France). A similar thing happens in the situation, where a country has a top team in another league. Their domestic league takes a step back and can be full of the players not good enough for the team in a higher league. It is sad to say, but if a player isn’t one of your top 30 players, what does it matter where they play? In Poland, most of the league could easily play in Poland’s 2nd league. It would actually elevate the second league as well. You’re not going to develop the sport to the heights of Finland or Finland to where you can not rely on foreign players to elevate your league. Poland either has to get their teams into stronger leagues or let teams have as many imports as they need to make a competitive team.

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The Polish Puck Youtube Channel

I have started a youtube channel for Polish Puck. You can subscribe here. This channel will never have any content that would be regarded as journalism. The channel’s purpose is to try and help archive Polish hockey as well as provide a source for a film of players for interested teams and coaches. A lot of Polish hockey history remains untracked and that is unfortunate. Just about a month ago there was a discussion in my mentions from a hockey fan trying to figure out when the Gdansk jersey he purchased is from. Even though the jersey is thought to be from the 90s no one is exactly sure when.

jm post

When something as a simple as a jersey from less than possibly 20 years ago can’t be 100% tracked you have a problem. There is also a problem of the IIHF not being best at tracking stats for lower tournaments. For example at the recent  U20 World Championships Division 1B, on Poland’s 4-2 goal Kamil Walega carries the puck into the zone and then before goes around the net, he throws the puck to in front of the net to Sebastian Brynkus who snipes it for the insurance goal. The IIHF gave this goal to Kamil Walega with an assist to Brynkus. Here is clear footage and some photo proof that the goal is Brynkus’. In the photo; Black circle = puck, Green = Brynkus, Red = Walega

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is no way this goal should have been credited to Walega and not fixed. It still remains credited to Walega.

So if you have anything footage of Poland hockey especially from before 2010 send it my way on twitter, facebook, or email via PolishPuckContact@gmail.com. Also if you want to help support Polish Puck consider checking out our store. More designs will be added over time!

How I would change the PHL.

The top level of hockey in Poland needs to change. As it stands now the league is not helping Polish hockey as much as it could. The league has teams that are clearly ahead of others, the import rules are harmful, and it is not a good place for young Polish players to develop. Today I present how I would change the league.

GKS Tychy Leaves 

Right now both GKS Tychy and GKS Katowice are reportedly in talks to join the top hockey league in Slovakia, the Tipsports Liga. This upcoming season the league will feature two teams from Hungary and I would love for both Tychy and Katowice to go, but I’ll stay on the safe side and say only GKS Tychy leaves for Slovakia. GKS Tychy lost a single game in regulation last year, they’re too good for the PHL and could be a strong team in Slovakia.

The 6 Team PHL

Less is more in this case. We now cut the PHL down to 6 teams, GKS Katowice, Cracovia Krakow, Podhale Nowy Targ, JKH GKS Jastrzebie,  Unia Oswiecim, and Zaglebie Sosnowiec. This league is now where the best of best Polish players play, there are no import rules, top 4 teams make the playoffs, and there is also no relegation. Too many teams in the PHL cannot keep up with the top teams and the games become meaningless and lopsided affairs. This also allows stronger clubs to get stronger and bring in better talent to Poland that otherwise would be denied by import rules or did not consider, due to the quality of the league. I would also consider expanding this league to 8 if Poland could possibly find some foreign clubs that would like to join.

The Strong 2nd League

Poland’s 2nd hockey league is very weak right now and they just lost Zaglebie Sosnowiec. One team even has their u20 squad competing in it. We get rid of that to make this a much stronger and bigger league. This league will have import rules and be about Polish players. The league features 8 teams; KS Torun, MH Automatyka Gdansk, Orlik Opole, Polonia Bytom, Naprzod Janow, KTH Krynica,  Hokej Poznan, and SMS Katowice u20.  Teams will be under less financial pressure in this league and will play in a more competitive league. SMS Katowice u18 will hopefully move into a foreign junior league like what has been discussed. While there has been a discussion about making SMS Katowice a u23 team to make them more competitive in the PHL, I would rather drop them down a league and keep the u20 status. Players who are older than 20, but not able to make it in the PHL yet can be loaned to a team in this league.

Conclusion

A very basic outline of my idea to make Polish hockey leagues strong and grow the sport. Yes, I can see how having 6 teams is a problem, it could be a massive failure. It addresses most of my major problems though. It especially addresses my current biggest problem with the PHL, the import rule. The idea of protecting Polish players via no import rules isn’t working. Look at the EIHL in Great Britain, that league is dominated by imports and this had lead to nothing, but the growth of hockey in Great Britain. The league has passed the PHL and is pushing past a few others. British players in the league have secured KHL, AHL, and more contracts. Liam Kirk even got drafted from the league. The league promotes the performances of its British stars and the top percentage of British players meanwhile the rest are in the NIHL. This has also allowed them to attract better quality imports for their national team. Something Poland has been trying to do for years with a lot of imports, but only a few can be called successful. More countries are passing Poland, and all of these countries have made major changes to their leagues and are putting their top teams in better leagues. Poland needs to make changes soon.

Expectations for Ted Nolan.

In February, Poland will compete in their second Euro Ice Hockey Challenge this year. The first was a great success, they finished first with 2 wins and 1 loss to Italy. The roster for this EIHC is much weaker than the one they showed back in November. This one seems more like a tryout for the World Championships. It gives us a chance to see some players who have yet to represent Poland or haven’t in a long time. It is good to see Ted Nolan is leaving no stone unturned in my opinion.

The Ted Nolan era is now well underway as we grow closer to his first huge challenge the Division 1 Group A World Championships in Hungary. Poland hasn’t been to the top division of the World Championships since 2001-2002 with last year being an embarrassing performance that ended with an 11-0 loss to Austria.  What should we expect this year out of Nolan and Poland? It feels like in Men’s hockey, Poland just keeps being on the edge on moving up a level. It has been consistency problems haunting the team for awhile. Is Ted Nolan the answer to fixing those? Are some players the problems? Nolan is definitely bringing a different team than we have seen in the past. Right now I set the expectations at least a silver medal and promotion.

It is that a bit much? Maybe. Before last year’s 4th place finish. Poland finished 3rd with a bronze medal in back to back years. Alan Łyszczarczyk will be on this team and if not Nolan loses my trust in that he is the right person to lead Poland right now. Some people choose to believe, Łyszczarczyk wasn’t good enough for the senior team, but he should have been on the past 2 years and I will die on that hill. I know Ted Nolan is retooling the national team in a way by doing things like getting more imports, but I also want results in his first year. Jacek Plachta was able to get this team within a few goals of promotion. If Nolan doesn’t push them over the edge is he really the better coach?

Comparing SMS PZHL Katowice to Team Belarus U20 and Team Slovakia U20

Let’s talk about SMS PZHL Katowice, a team that competes in Poland made up of players under the age of 20. This is not a thing that is unique to the PHL. Today I wanted to look at other U20 teams and how they have fared in their country’s top league in comparison to Poland. The two countries we’re looking at are Slovakia and Belarus. Both better than Poland at hockey that is a fact that is not up for debate, but I also believe Poland and PHL are slowly getting closer to them.

Team Belarus u20

Founded: 2015

2015-16: 12th out of 12

2016-17: 8th out of 12 (Made playoffs)

2017-18: 7th out of 13 (On pace to make playoffs)

Team Belarus has actually been an above average team outside of their first year. A big part of this is top under 20 players being apart of the team. Since the team’s creation, they have had a big uptick in players taken in the Canadian Hockey League import draft. In the 2016 and 2017 import drafts, Belarus had 12 players selected. All but 3 have played for Team Belarus u20 and the 3 that did not, played for Team Belarus u18, which plays in Belarus’ second league. Playing on the team has also been a good place for USHL exposure, the USHL is the top junior league in the United States. Belarus has also seen a better performance at the World Juniors. After finishing 2nd in Division 1A for a long time. They now bounce between the top division and division 1A, but a better performance nonetheless.

Team Slovakia u20

Founded: 2007

2007-08: 12th out of 12

2008-09: 13th out of 13

2009-10: 13th out of 13

2010-11: 11th out of 11

2011-12: 11th out of 11

2012-13: Did not compete

2013-14: 11th out of 11

2014-15: 11th out of 11

2015-16: 10th out of 10

2016-17 11th out of 11

2017-18: 11th out 11

Team Slovakia u20 also competes in Slovakia’s 2nd league, but we are just going to look at their performance in the top league. Team Slovakia also does not play the full season in the top Slovakia league. Their performance is closer to what you get in Poland. Team Slovakia u20 has yet to have a season with more than 4 wins and they averaged 2 wins a year. There has been no uptick in players moving up to better leagues and if any a decline in regards to the CHL import draft. The team has done better at the World Juniors, but the leaders of those teams have not been Team Slovakia u20 players.

SMS PZHL Katowice

Joined the PHL: 2015

2015-16: 12th out of 12 (1 win)

2016-17: 11th out of 11 (0 wins)

2017-18: 11th out of 11 (0 wins)

1 win in three years. They have been worse than terrible. The biggest thing is most older u20 players don’t play for the team. Only 5 regulars in the line up were 19 years old.  The average age is 17.65. They’re not really being put in a position to succeed. When you look at the top u20 players in the PHL most of them are with their traditional team instead of being loaned because of the fact they too important to that team. The perfect example is Dominik Pas, the top scoring u20 player is too important to JKH GKS Jastrzebie for him to be loaned long-term to SMS. It is also hard to judge the success of the team. No player promotion to speak of and it is hard to judge national team performance at u18 and u20 events after a poor u18s last year and otherwise dominating performances from players not playing for SMS leading the way.

The success that Belarus is having with their u20 team is what you want to replicate. You want a team that is both competitive and beneficial to the development of the players while also serving as a possible launching pad for bigger things. I’m really not sure SMS PZHL Katowice is offering any of those things right now. It should still be good for national success. This year the team has quite a few 17 and 16-year-olds who will be on the u18 team, especially Jan Soltys. Soltys has been quite impressive in his young career and played well at the u20 world championship. The players should be able to build up valuable chemistry, but I have to question how much are they gaining from embarrassing loses every game? I feel it is better for players like Jan Soltys and others to play in leagues outside of Poland or with a competitive PHL team, where they can get meaningful games and have experienced teammates to help them out.

Poland and Imports.

4-1 is the final score of the game between Poland and South Korea. Poland put up 33 shots and only managed to get one past South Korea’s goalie. Who was in net for Korea and able to backstop them to victory against Poland?  Canadian goalie Matt Dalton.

Dalton is in import. An import is a player who represents a country in which he was not born. In total at this year’s world championship division one A, Korea had 6 imports, silver medalist Italy had 6, while Poland, Slovenia, Austria, and Japan had zero. For next year’s worlds, we will see the return of the South Korean team, Hungary who have 5 imports, and Kazakhstan who have 3. The three Kazakhstan has will do the most damage though. The three are  Brandon Bochenski (A polish American, how dare he turn against Poland..),  Dustin Boyd, and Nigel Dawes. In the KHL those three form a dominant line and at the World Championships, they were all top scorers for Kazakhstan.

Now a look at Poland. Despite neither making the World Championship roster, Poland naturalized two players this year; Mike Cichy and Mike Danton.

EIHC_Katowice_Polska_Poland_Slovenia_Słowenia_Michael_Cichy_02
Import Mike Cichy playing in the red and white.

Ondřej Raszka is also an import and after next season so is Frank Slubowski and there are rumors that  Alex Szczechura could represent Poland. So far none of them have represented Poland at the IIHF event, but they have represented Poland at other international events.

Imports are bad in my opinion. I even believe the IIHF needs to put a limit on how many imports a country can have on its roster. I do not want Poland to rely on imports and see them as a way to improve the team. Cichy, Danton, Raszka, Sublowski, and Szczechura are all tremendous players and would improve Poland’s team and possibly finally take Poland back to the elite division, but they can’t and should not be our team. I would say my limit is two and out of the players I just mentioned I would take Cichy and Raszka.

Poland and the KHL.

In recent months there have been a lot of rumors concerning Polish teams playing in different countries and different countries playing in Poland’s league. When these get brought up, the KHL is also brought up. I hate to say it, but Poland is not getting a KHL club.

Poland had a chance at a KHL club in 2013. Olivia Gdańsk applied for expansion with, Latvian football director, Antanas Sakavickas leading the team(EuroHockey.com). The club would also have a VHL team and a youth hockey league team. The youth team would be Poland’s best young players and compete in the Russian youth hockey league. The team would play its game at multiple arenas around Poland. The club looked promising, but things took a downturn and the club was rejected for financial reasons.

Now to the current day of the KHL.The deadline to apply for a franchise was April 1st, and as expected, no polish clubs applied. That is just for the 2016-17 season though, but what about the future. The KHL currently has 28 teams with an expansion coming that will have a team in China and possibly Estonia, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. Sweden seems unlikely as the Swedish Ice Hockey Federation is saying no to any club trying. Estonia and United Kingdom probably have a pretty good chance and China is a lock. That puts the KHL at 31 teams, how many more teams will the KHL accept?  Past 2016-17, there is the possibly KHL expands to Norway, Italy, more teams in Russia and China, and a chance that Ukrainian club, Donbass Donetsk, could return. From the KHL side, it looks very slim that a Polish club still could join.

Today a KHL team in Poland is something that’s still desired and would be very beneficial. The youth part would be the best part as having players develop in one of the best youth hockey systems in the world would ensure a very bright future for Poland. Also, the added bonus of Wolski potentially representing Poland after playing two years with Poland’s KHL club, just a wish though.. We could sit and dream, but it’s not going to happen. Time to forget about the KHL and focus on Poland’s top league and the champions hockey league.