Category: PHL

The NHL Players Who Played In Poland. Part 3

The PHL started to take a lot of strides in terms of skill growth. Import rules started to become laxer. Polish clubs began to regain a lot of credibility lost during a poor run in the 2000s. While this brought in players with more experience in top European leagues, it also saw the rise of players from the North American minor league system. This resulted in more players who reached the NHL for a handful of games signing in Poland.

Mike Danton

The first player did not take that path at all. Mike Danton was a standout in the OHL for his fast and aggressive play. This led to him being drafted in the fifth round of the 2000 NHL draft by the New Jersey Devils. His first NHL taste would come after his final junior season when he jumped up to the NHL for a couple of games after a 34 point 195 penalty minute AHL rookie season. Despite that on-ice success, Danton reportedly faced many demons relating to alcohol abuse and behavior issues. He would sit out the entire 2002 season and only played 17 games in 2003 due to injuries and team suspensions, including refusing to go down to the minors. He would also change his last name to Danton from Jefferson during the 2002 year due to an undisclosed issue with his family that left them estranged. 

He would find himself traded to the St Louis Blues during the 2003 NHL draft, with a third-round pick (Konstantin Zakharov), in exchange for a third-round pick (Ivan Khomutov) 8 slots higher in the draft. His career seemingly got back on track with the Blues. Two days after the Blue’s season had come to an end though, Mike Danton was arrested. Danton was arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit murder. The Blues’ player was in contact with whom he thought was a hitman but was a police dispatcher. The target reportedly was his agent David Frost, though it has been disrupted that target was Danton’s father. The full story of his arrest is very long and something I’m not fully qualified to cover. He pleaded guilty and received a seven and a half year sentence. 

The former professional hockey player would transfer to a Canadian prison toward the end of his sentence and begin to take college classes. At the end of his prison release, he would apply to get into  Saint Mary’s University. Once getting accepted, he joined their varsity hockey team. Later being named an Academic All-Canadian. Danton would resume his professional hockey career in Europe after two years with Saint Mary. This included stops in Czechia, Kazakhstan, Romania, Slovakia, and Sweden before signing in Poland to end the 2014 season. 

Danton had signed with STS Sanok, one of the top Polish clubs. In that 2014 season with Sanok, he posted five goals and eighteen assists in twenty-five games, helping them to a PHL championship. The Ontario native would return to Poland for two more seasons. He would even attempt to gain Polish citizenship to represent the Polish national team. He would represent Poland at two Euro Ice Hockey Challenges. Danton became well known among Polish fans for his physical and aggressive style of play. He recorded 133 PHL games, 38 goals, 93 assists, and 266 penalty minutes. He also led the PHL in penalty minutes with 166 during the 2015 season. His 133 PHL games are the most by any former NHL player in Poland.  

After the 2016 season, Danton would leave Poland. He signed in Canada in the semi-pro Ligue Nord-Américaine de Hockey. After one season back in Canada, he would retire. Danton currently coaches junior hockey and is working on a master’s degree. 

Roman Tvrdon

Roman Tvrdon would also join Poland halfway through the 2014 season. Tvrdon was a rare case being drafted out of the Slovak U20 league, with zero professional games under his belt. After representing Slovakia at the 1999 U18s, the 6’2 winger was drafted in the fifth round of the 1999 NHL draft by the Washington Capitals. He would jump to the Western Hockey League for the next few years before signing his three-year entry league deal with the Capitals. The Trencin native would spend most of the next three years with the Portland Pirates in the AHL. Although he did play nine games with the Capitals during the 2004 season, posting one assist. He would return to Europe the following year, playing mostly in Belarus and Slovakia. He joined Unia Oswiecim halfway through the 2014 season and posted a point per game regular season and ten points in fourteen playoff games. Tvrdon would leave Poland after one season and would play a few more years in lower European leagues. He retired in 2017. 

Anton Klementyev

The defensive-minded Anton Klementyev was the next player to arrive in Poland. The stay-at-home defenseman was never the most significant prospect, but after a few strong years in the Russian third league, he was drafted in the fifth round of the 2009 NHL draft. After being drafted, he signed his entry league deal and made the jump to North American professional hockey. He would represent Russia at the World Juniors, winning bronze, and play his only NHL game during the 2010 season. Halfway through the 2012 season, the Islanders placed him on waivers for the purpose of a buyout. He would return to Russia and play in the Russian lower leagues. In 2015 he moved to Poland to play for Naprzod Janow. He was one of Janow’s top players and posted his professional career-high of 20 points. He left Janow late in the year to join Sanok for their playoff push. In Sanok, he recorded four more assists in fourteen games. After one year, he left Poland to play six games back in the VHL before spending his final two years in Belarus. He retired in 2017 at 27-years-old. 

Zenon Konopka

Zenon Konopka has a journey that not many on the list can match. Konopka was born to a Polish father and an American mother in Ontario, Canada. During his junior career, he played the enforcer role but showed some decent offensive skills. He would go undrafted after four years with the Ottawa 67s. In 2002, Konopka went to the minors and lit up the ECHL posting 70 points and 231 penalty minutes in his rookie year. He would make the jump to the AHL for the following two years. His minors’ success led to him signing an entry deal with the Anaheim Ducks. He would make his NHL debut in 2005. He would bounce around NHL teams serving as their enforcer. In 2014, after the Wild placed him on waivers, he was claimed by the Buffalo Sabres and spent the rest of the year in blue and yellow. In the offseason, now a free agent, the NHL suspended Konopka for 20 games after testing positive for performance-enhancing drug dehydroepiandrosterone. He played 354 NHL games, recording 12 goals, 20 assists, and 1,084 penalty minutes. 

With his 20-game suspension, the decline of enforcers, and Konopka almost out of his mid-thirties, there were not many offers waiting for him. Towards the end of the 2015 season, Konokpa would join the Polska hockej Liga playing in his father’s old home country. The signing was one of the first few times Polish hockey got coverage from mainstream North American outlets. Konopka would play eleven games in Sanok, posting two goals and one assist, along with 39 penalty minutes. He took the chance in Poland to see if he could still play, not wanting his suspension to be the final note of his hockey career. While he never made it back to a higher league and retired following the short stint in Poland. Playing playoff games in the country of your heritage is a nice way to end your hockey career. 

Conclusion

Poland saw a couple of former NHL tough guys try their hands in the PHL, both making quite the impact in attention for the league. Danton is no doubt one of the most impactful imports to play in Poland this century. He was the most long term player of any former NHL player in Poland. Klementyev and Tvrdon were among the best players on their team for their lone season. That is a different change from the past imports, which would leave shortly after arriving, or where way too past their prime to make a sizable impact. The next part will see a continued trend of former NHL players providing teams a proper top-line veteran.

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The NHL Players Who Played In Poland. Part 2

Reaching the National Hockey League is the peak of many players’ careers, while the PHL is usually at the end of their long journey for most top imports. In the late 1990s, the eleven round draft saw many teams taking plenty of chances on European talent late. Quite a few teams took chances on older European talent, like Tomáš Jelínek, who performed well in top European leagues. There were also many junior players selected, but European scouting was still very raw for most teams. The poor scouting resulted in many players going to North America for a single year before returning to Europe. The amount of failed picks resulted in plenty of European NHL draft picks playing in smaller leagues across Europe, quite a few of them playing in Poland. 

It had been six years after the last former non-Polish NHL player set foot in Poland. The next player would be one of the most impactful as Roman Šimíček came for one of the longest PHL careers among former players to reach the hockey world’s peak. Šimíček established himself as one of the top power forwards in the Czech Republic before signing in the Liiga. After two successful years in the Liiga, he was drafted in the 9th round of the 2000 draft by the Pittsburgh Penguins at 29-years-old. He would debut for the Penguins straight away in the 2001 NHL season. He would get traded to the Minnesota Wild, for Steve McKenna, halfway through the year. He would spend the next year with the Wild and their AHL affiliate. In total, he played 63 NHL games, recording seven goals and ten assists. 

 In 2002, he returned to Europe, mainly playing in the Czech Republic, until 2010, when he signed with GKS Tychy. He would play with GKS Tychy until 2013, winning bronze and silver. He played in 117 PHL games, scoring 44 goals and 69 assists. His 117 games are the second most among former NHL players in Poland. In his final season with Tychy, he served as a player-coach. A role he has continued working in, as he has been a head and assistant coach across the Czech Republica and Slovakia. He currently serves as the sports manager for HC Vitkovice.

Roman Šimíček’s rookie card for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

One of Šimíček’s teammates with the Wild in 2001 would join him in signing in the PHL. Peter Bartoš was one of the top Slovakian forwards in hockey early in his career. He would move to the Czech Republic to advance his career. After succeeding in Czechia, he was selected in the 7th round of the 2000 NHL draft by the Minnesota Wild. He would make his NHL debut as a 27-year-old. His NHL stint was pretty brief as he mainly played in the AHL but did record two goals and four assists in thirteen NHL games.

 He left the Wild after one year, returning to the Czech Republic for the next four years. After another stint in Czechia, he played the next six years in Slovakia with  HC Kosice. During the 2012 season, he signed with KH Sanok for one year, recording 52 points in 47 games. He returned to HC Kosice for another four years in the top Slovak league before settling into the Slovak third league. In 2018, he would return to Sanok, who was now playing in Slovakia’s third league. Bartoš retired in 2020, playing in over 1,000 Tipsport Liga games and winning five championships. He currently works as an assistant coach and has since 2017. 

In 2012-13 the NHL was in the third lockout of the past 20 years. With half of the season gone, plenty of players took a chance to get a decent payday and training in Europe, mostly in the KHL, NL, and SHL. Some players took smaller opportunities, while Wojtek Wolski returned to his first home. Wolski 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 has yet to sign anywhere for the 2021 season. The talented Wolski is currently on the Canadian figure skating competition show Battle of the Blades. He has also continued a relationship with Polish hockey as a trainer and special guest at the World Championships and other events. 

This last one doesn’t count, but I am going to mention it. Zane Kalemba was a talented goalie at Princeton. During his senior season, his save percentage drop below .900. His first professional year would be spent playing for six clubs across the AHL, CHL, and ECHL, trying to find a fit. The New Jersey native would settle as the starting goalie for the Bloomington Blaze in the CHL. The following year, he jumped to Poland, serving as the starter for GKS Katowice in 2013. His .919 SV% was tied for second among all PHL goalies. He would spend the next three years starting in various leagues, including a final year in the EIHL with the Manchester Storm. He would make one comeback serving as an emergency backup goalie for the Winnipeg Jets on March 8th, 2018. He has quickly worked his way off the ice in the hockey world and currently serves as the Direction of Hockey Operations for Princeton University. 

This group of players was one who made more of an impact on Polish hockey. Two of them played for more than one year in Poland. At the same time, Wolski is one of the best players to be born in Poland. Every single player here single handily played more games than the imports in part 1. The next group of former NHL players coming in would leave an impact and come with a fair bit of controversy.

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The NHL Players Who Played In Poland. Part 1

The National Hockey League is the premier hockey league of the world. A height that almost all hockey players strive to reach, with the hope of playing at least one NHL game. The Polska Hokej Liga is far far away from the NHL. They are at two opposite ends of the hockey spectrum. Only three players have appeared in Poland and then made it to the NHL. For them, it is an honor and a massive sign of their career reaching a possible peak. On the opposite end, there are quite a few more players that soaked in the NHL life before having to ride the bus across Poland in the twilight of their career. Today we take a look at the NHL players who played in Poland. 

The Polish prince Mariusz Czerkawski was the first ever to have the honor of playing in both leagues. As a junior, he played with GKS Tychy in the PHL. His junior career in Poland included a 24 game 40 point season that resulted in the Boston Bruins drafting him in the fifth round of the 1991 NHL entry draft. He would spend the next three years in Sweden before making the jump to North America at the end of 1994, making an immediate impact by posting three points in the first four games. The playmaking winger then added six more points in thirteen playoff games. Czerkawski would play 787 NHL games recording 223 goals and 227 assists for the Boston Bruins, Montreal Canadiens, New York Islanders, and Toronto Maples Leafs. After leaving the NHL, he would spend two years in Switzerland’s National League with the Rapperswil-Jona Lakers. The Polish prince would play one last game in Poland for GKS Tychy during the 2008 season before retiring. Since then, he has served as a team manager for the Polish national team while also working as a TVP Sports commentator. 

In 1990 Poland had their only two NHL players, both playing in the PHL. Both Oliwa and Czerkawski suited up in that year. After Czerkawski left for the NHL, Krzysztof Oliwa left the NHL prospect sized whole in the GKS Tychy lineup. The 6’5 physical forward left Poland the following year to play for the Welland Cougars in Canada. His performance got him quite a bit of attention, and he was drafted in the third round of the 1993 draft by the New Jersey Devils. Following the draft, he would jump straight to the professional ranks. Oliwa would fight his way around the minors until 1996 when he made his NHL debut. He became a full-time NHL player the following year. He would win a Stanley Cup in 2000 with the Devils, being the only Polish player to win a cup. During the 2005 NHL lockout, Oliwa returned to Poland, playing in two playoff games for Nowy Targ. He returned to the Devils following the lockout, playing three games before being sent down to the minors, where he chose not to report and retired instead. In total, the Polish Hammer played in 442 NHL games, recording 19 goals, 28 assists, 1,494 penalty minutes, and 180 fights. Since retiring, he has coached both in Poland and junior hockey in the United States. 

Tomáš Jelínek was a pretty distinguished player in the Czech Republic. He played most of his career in the Tipsport Extraliga and made sporadic appearances for the Czechoslovakia national team. In 1991, he went to Finland and recorded above a point per game season, later heading to Switzerland’s second league playoffs to double his game total in points for HC Sierre. This got him noticed by the Ottawa Senators, who would draft him in the 11th round of the 1992 draft. The Czech winger would head right over and appear in 49 games, putting up thirteen points (7G-6A-13PTS) as a 30-year-old NHL rookie. He would return to the Senator’s system the following year, playing for their AHL affiliate in a couple of games but return to Europe shortly afterward. After a couple more years in the Czech Republic, he found himself on the SMS I Warszawa roster for a pre-season tournament. His only hockey action in Poland. Following the tournament, he played in the Czech third league for what would be his final season. He was the first to go all the way from the NHL’s bright lights to Poland. Since retiring, he has worked behind the scenes, including as a scout for the Calgary Flames. 

Tomáš Jelínek’s Upper Deck card from his lone NHL in 1992-1993

SMS I Warszawa was just looking for all the big-name talent they could get for this preseason tournament as their goalie for it was Milan Hnilička. Hnilička was already a solid starting goalie in the Czech Republic at 17 years-old. This led to the New York Islanders taking him in the fourth round of the 1991 NHL draft. The young goalie went over to America for a couple of years in the Western Hockey League and minors but would return to the Czech Republic in 1996. Once again, he established himself as one of the best goalies in the league. The Litomerice native led the league for save percentage in 1998, the same year he won an Olympic gold medal. His success made the NHL come calling, and in 1999 he signed with the New York Rangers. Before he could do that, he had to do something more meaningful. Play a PHL pre-season qualification tournament for  SMS I Warszawa. Cracovia Krakow qualified over them. Despite his failure to help Warszawa advance, the New York Rangers still brought him to the big leagues. His success came with him as he won a Calder Cup for their AHL franchise in year one. Hnilička would play 121 NHL games with the Atlanta Thrashers, Los Angeles Kings, and New York Rangers. He would return to dominating the Czech League in 2004 and did so until he retired in 2010. His trophy case was pretty full with one Olympic gold, three World Championship golds, one world silver, one Olympic bronze, and three world bronze medals at the end of his career. He also won champions in the AHL, Russia, and the Western Hockey League. He has worked behind the hockey scenes as the general manager for various Czech national teams after retiring. 

It wouldn’t be till four years later when the next former NHLer appeared. This happened when Podhale added Jason Lafrenière for a short cup of kawa plujka. Lafrenière was a second-round draft pick of the Quebec Nordiques in 1985. A standout in the Ontario Hockey League, he had made the NHL jump after one more season the juniors. He recorded 29 points in 40 points. Despite strong offensive production, he would mostly spend a lot of time in the International Hockey League. After 1994, Lafrenière would start to become a journeyman player with multiple stops in Germany and the United Kingdom. He had one-offs or even just a couple of games in Austria, Central Hockey League, Italy, Netherlands, Spain,  and the West Coast Hockey League. That would lead to him signing in Poland with Podhale Nowy Targ for the 2004 season. He would play two games, recording one assist and one penalty, then promptly retire.

Lafrenière would be the last time a former NHL player would step foot in the PHL until Czerkawski and Oliwa came to play their final PHL games before retiring. It is a weird group of former NHL players compared to the next decade. Two of them are the most influential and prominent players in Polish hockey history. While the other three combined for at most eight games. The next five years would bring more former NHL players into Poland, some fresh out of the NHL even. 

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Polish Puck’s 2020-21 PHL Predictions: The Champions

We have reached the number one spot in our predictions. The shame in making a list in this format is that the champion has already somewhat been revealed if you followed closely enough. The reign of GKS Tychy is over. All hail the new king. 

1. Re-Plast Unia Oświęcim

2019-20 Finish: Second

What a season it was for Unia Oświęcim last year. Their initial head coach left after just a couple weeks to coach in Slovakia. The team hired a new head coach that might be one of the best hires in PHL history. Former Slovenian national team coach Nik Zupančič took over the team. He combined strong Polish talent with quite a few strong imports from his past. The team’s style clicked right off the bat, and the team only got better as the season went on. This resulted in them making it to the semi-finals and a possible chance at dethroning GKS Tychy. Then COVID-19 hit, and all of that went away.

Every PHL team fought or succumbed to the virus, with various cuts and departures that were pretty much out of their control. While the Oświęcim squad saw some critical departures in Andrej Themár, Dariusz Wanat, and Jakub Šaur. These were more regular departures who were replaced by quite a few new stars. In net, the team retained both their goalies. Clarke Saunders was fantastic in the regular season posting a .923 save percentage and somehow was even better in his one playoff series. Behind him, Sebastian Lipiński continues to develop into a future starter for both Oświęcim and the Polish national team. 

On the defense, the team once again retained most of their core, while making a few new substantial additions. On the import side, they are the strongest. Miroslav Zatko is back for his 13th season in the PHL, which has to be some kind of record among imports. Peter Bezuška returned for his sixth season with the club, playing in over 200 matches for the blue and white while bringing a strong two-way presence. Slovenian Klemen Pretnar brought a similar presence and finished tied for second among goals by defensemen last year. The team also added Finnish defensemen Lassi Raitanen, who has yet to debut due to injury. He posted 32 points in 40 Metsis games the previous year. He should help provide offense on the back-end. To replace him during his injury, the team added veteran Canadian defensemen, Ryan Glenn. The 40-year-old defenseman has looked impressive so far, recording seven points in six games. Jakub Wanacki is the Polish leader on this defense and one of the league’s top Polish defensemen. While Patryk Noworyta still has a lot left in the tank. Miłosz Noworyta has a pretty bright future, and his development this year should be fun to watch. 

Offensively you see a club that is rejuvenated completely. They are so exciting and dangerous to watch. The offense didn’t need an overhaul in players, just a bit of tinkering. Alexei Trandin is a guaranteed point per game player, as seen in the past three years in the PHL. Polish veteran Sebastian Kowalówka remains a strong producer. Simultaneously, Slovenia duo Gregor Koblar and Luka Kalan should again post strong production and two-way play. Russians Daniil Orekhin and Semyon Garshin both look to return to their KH Torun production highs, after up and down last years. Martin Przygodzki is still a great offensive addition to any team, with a chance to break out huge numbers if he is consistent. I still believe Łukasz Krzemień has a lot of potential and can show more than he did last year. 

There are a handful of new forwards to the squad as well. Teddy Da Costa has joined the team from GKS Katowice, and the France national team forward remains one of the top players in Poland. The team also added young Finnish winger Jere Helenius, who posted 36 points in the Metsis last year. Patryk Kusak also returns from the Czechia juniors, continuing to help shore up the youth talent in Oświęcim.

The most significant addition was Eliezer Sherbatov. Sherbatov is just pure charisma on the ice. The 5’9 forward is easily one of the most entertaining players in European hockey. He is also Jewish and an Israeli native that is playing in Oświęcim. Many people may know the city better by its German name, Auschwitz, where Germany ran the concentration camp with the highest death total during World War 2. One of the darkest places in human history. Due to this, some felt Sherbatov signing with the team did not feel right. I understand where they are coming from, but for Sherbatov, this is a chance to be a hero in the city and take back the town. The modern-day Oświęcim is not the place it was in World War Two. His play has already made him a fan-favorite in the town, as he attempts highlight-reel moves that are just woven casually into his game. The rest of the PHL and Polish hockey scene also immediately welcomed him to the league and offered their support. 

I think the top three clubs’ skill level is all pretty similar in terms of who is the best. Sometimes having a bit better goaltending or worse defense, but overall it levels out. So why Unia Oświęcim the champions? It comes down to two main reasons. The first is the depth they have. I think, especially on defense. They’re just able to outmatch any team. While some teams may have bigger stars at the top. Up and down every line, Oświęcim is my pick as the best squad. The second reason why is they are more of a cohesive unit than other teams. The team bought into Nik Zupančič’s system last year and only swapped out five players. This is a team built to win, and they don’t have the longest window. I would like to see younger talent featured in the lineup, but it is hard to take away a spot from their roster’s talent. This was a championship-caliber roster last year, and they only improved on it during the offseason. That is why from the start, they were my championship pick.

Role: The Top Dogs

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Polish Puck’s 2020-21 PHL Predictions: Bronze and Silver

The PHL continues, and so do our PHL predictions. We are now at the final three teams that all earn a nice shiny medal. Depending on how you look at it, these medals can be a huge disappointment. The silver meaning you finished second just a couple wins away from winning it all. While a bronze win means you didn’t even make the championship. For our rankings, that Bronze is a step back.

3. GKS Tychy

2019-20 Finish: 1st

The PHL will have a new champion, and it feels insane to be predicting that. On paper, the offseason went as good as it could. They retained the three-headed North American monster of Alex Szczechura, Christian Mroczkowski, and Mike Cichy. Goaltender John Murray once again is holding down the fort in net. While the team added further Canadians in Jason Seed and Jean Dupuy. Ladislav Havlík and Szymon Marzec also joined after solid years in Gdansk. The most significant addition though, was one of the best Polish players on the planet in Patryk Wronka.

So why am I not repeating them as the champions. Because those significant additions are about all that is left on a team that has become a bit stale. They’re not bad by any means, but everyone keeps getting better and better. While GKS Tychy has just slightly altered their roster year by year, sometimes a little better, sometimes a little worse. Murray is a great goalie but beatable, as seen by his beginning five-game stretch to start this PHL season. Their defense is not that good still. It is more offensive focused, but they lost three critical defensemen from last year, and I would say they only replaced two of them.

On the offensive side, they have the big North American trio, Wronka, and Koromski. After that, depth is a bit dry. Jean Dupuy is an interesting import. He struggled in the EIHL but excelled in the Ligue Magnus. Something that doesn’t bold well based on past imports. Bartłomiej Jeziorski and Mateusz Gościński still really haven’t taken the next step in their hockey development, leaving a bit to be desired on the production end. Szymon Marzec is coming off a career year in Gdansk, but I would bet he doesn’t match that production.

On the bright side, there is a wealth of young talent in the GKS Tychy system. This is something that hasn’t been common in past years. In net, both Kamil Lewartowski and Jakub Zawalski have a lot of potential. Each of them has a chance to be a starter in the PHL eventually. Olaf Bizacki has been on my favorite defensive prospects for a bit now. His short stature is always going to limit his ceiling a bit. He has a strong way two-game, and if the offensive side keeps improving, he will find himself on the national team radar. Kacper Gruźla, Jan Krzyżek, and Mateusz Ubowski all appear to be close to being PHL regulars. Ubowski shows a lot of promise to be a great PHL player.

The team is at the top of the PHL mountain, there is no higher to climb, but that just means other teams are climbing and approaching the top of the mountain.

Role: The King Must Fall

2. JKH GKS Jastrzebie

2019-20 Finish: 4th

JKH GKS Jastrzebie is one of the teams that felt like it hasn’t experienced that many shake-ups in recent years. This year though, the team had a major shakeup, and it appears to put them in an excellent position to win a PHL championship finally. Artem Iossafov, Henrich Jabornik, Jesse Rohtla, and Ondrej Raszka all departed the club. Losing Raszka had to be the hardest as he is one of the best goalies the PHL has seen in a long time. The team responded to these losses with some of the most significant transactions, possibly in PHL history.

The first was bringing home Polish national team defensemen Mateusz Bryk after a few years in GKS Tychy. Bryk is the perfect piece to solidify a strong defensive presence in the team’s top 4. The team filled their void in net with former longtime EBEL starter Patrik Nechvatal. Marek Hovorka was the next to join on a two-year pact. Hovorka has been a great player in both the top leagues of Czechia and Slovakia. A highly respected player, his signing was some pretty positive attention for the PHL. Following Hovorka was another Slovak, Roman Rác, having shown a lot of production potential in Czechia.

Just before the season started, they made two more big additions. Jiří Klimíček was first added to shore up the defensive end. He represented the Czech Republic at the U18s and has been a solid player in France the past couple of years. Next was former Minnesota Wild 2011 NHL first-round pick, Zack Phillips. Phillips had a couple of decent years to start his AHL career but never seemed to take well to North American pro hockey. He has shown much more potential in smaller European leagues. He currently is an early pick to take the PHL scoring title.

JKH GKS Jastrzebie is the team that all PHL clubs should strive to be, and no one is ever going to come close to matching their young talent. The time for them to strike is now, as that young talent maybe soon leaving for larger leagues. The defense remains one of the best in the league, which should help some small uncertainties in the net. The offense is going to be so exciting this year. Phillips already has nine points in four games. The young talent is all there and healthy. I’m excited to see how Jan Soltys does in his return after missing most of last year.

So why second place? There is no reason for them to be in second place. They have the depth that only one other PHL club has or can outmatch. I have small concerns about the goaltending situations, but I think they will be more than adequate in net based on early performances. If it isn’t this year, JKH GKS Jastrzebie will win the title soon. Even if they lose a couple of young players, they have more waiting for their shot.

Role: Perennial Contenders

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Polish Puck’s 2020-21 PHL Predictions: Middle of the Pack

Just a few games into the PHL season and I already feel a bit uneasy about my predictions. KH Torun is now undefeated and leading the league while shutting out their opponents twice already. I haven’t changed my predictions though. The five remaining teams all hold a solid chance of winning the PHL championship. Everyone is going all out this season in the hopes of ending GKS Tychy’s reign of terror.

5. Comarch Cracovia Krakow

2019-20 Finish: 5th

This is my hottest take and the ranking I feel I am most wrong about. You just can never count out Krakow. The offseason was rough for the team as they had to say goodbye to basically every non-young Polish player on their roster. In fact of the nine non-U23 Polish players on the team’s roster from last season only two, Filip Drzewiecki and Robert Kowalówka, are returning. The team is solely made up of imports and young Polish talent.

On the Polish side, all the young Polish players are in for larger roles with the holes in the line-up. Dawid Musioł already made his senior national team debut. Łukasz Kamiński and Sebastian Brynkus really needed more time to further their development. Igor Augustyniak, Mateusz Bezwinski, and Patryk Gosztyla all have great chances to earn full-time spots in the PHL.

Now the imports, they have a major Czech flavor with ten of the eleven imports being from Czechia. Five of them are defensemen. Aleš Ježek and Jiří Gula return to the team after solid seasons in the red and white. Michal Gutwald is a big defenseman at 6’3 and spent the last three years in the Elite Ice Hockey League in the UK. Jakub Šaur joins after quite a few strong years with Unia Oswiecim, including finishing fourth in points among defensemen for the 2019 season. Martin Dudáš returns for a third stint in Krakow. Dudáš has been named captain of the team. In net Michael Petrásek will hold down the fort after posting a .918 SV% in the Chance Liga.

On the forward end, five imports join Filip Drzewiecki and Krakow’s young talent. Erik Němec joins after spending a year between the top two Czech leagues, but posted 70 points in 103 EBEL games. Richard Nejezchleb is a former New York Rangers fourth-round pick in 2014, and spent last year in the second Czechia league. Štěpán Csamangó returns to Krakow after spending last year in the Erste Liga. Csamangó previously posted 41 points (22G, 19A, 41 PTS) in 42 regular games during the 2019 PHL season. Tomáš Franek posted a point per game regular season last year with Podhale Nowy Targ. The lone Finnish import is Taavi Tiala, who posted a .40 point per game average in 322 Mestis games.

Damian Szurowski was the only non-import player to join Krakow from another Polish club. Imports can be very hit in and miss in the PHL. Sometimes you get players that are top scorers and key players easily. Other times you get players that don’t even hold up after a few games and are quickly released. That is the risk Krakow is taking, and they don’t have the depth to make up for the handful of players that won’t live up to what the team hoped. But it feels weird counting them out, even after early struggles.

Role: The New England Patriots

4. GKS Katowice

2019-20 Finish: 6th

Every year GKS Katowice has championship expectations but comes up short. Each year this has resulted in quite a few massive roster changes. This year is no exception to that as the team saw quite a few Polish stars like Marcin Kolusz and Oskar Jaskiewicz head abroad. Top imports like Robin Rahm and Teddy Da Costa also departed. There was a lot of talent coming in though.

On the Polish side Bartosz Fraszko, Maciej Kruczek, and Mateusz Zielinski all joined from rival PHL clubs. Polish players were not the only ones jumping ship to GKS Katowice. As the team signed Filip Stoklasa and Matej Cunik from Zaglebie Sosnowiec, while also bringing back Jesse Rohtla after a year with JKH GKS Jastrzebie. The team made their new goalie, former HK Nitra starter, Juraj Šimboch.

Patryk Krezolek is really poised to be a star on this team. The club also made sure to retain key pieces like Grzegorz Pasiut, Mateusz Michalski, and Patryk Wajda. GKS Katowice has a lot of talent. It is also really nice to see how much of the team is Polish national team talent. This roster is one of the top in the PHL, but not one that I can see taking down the teams I have ranked ahead of them in a best of seven series.

Role: Reloading

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Polish Puck’s 2020-21 PHL Predictions: The Bottom Five

Another PHL season is here with the first game day already in the books. The league has a different shape this year as due to COVID-19, there is no PZHL U23. Add in both Stoczniowiec Gdańsk and STS Stanok joining the battle, while PKH Gdansk and Janow departing it. The league is a different world and feels a lot more open than in recent years. Of course, there are still favorites, but it feels like someone might finally dethrone the three-peat champions* GKS Tychy.

10. GKH Stoczniowiec Gdańsk

2019-20 Finish: NA (New to PHL)

Every year the PHL has a team that can only be described as the thing everyone in the world just hates and does nothing but rightfully beat with no mercy. This year that role belongs to GKH Stoczniowiec Gdańsk. This Gdańsk club took the spot of beloved Gdańsk club, Lotos PKH Gdańsk. I wrote more about the disaster that is the Stoczniowiec Gdańsk management staff here.

In the end this team will go as far as their few veteran players can take them. Josef Vítek, Mateusz Rompkowski, and Michał Kieler are really all the team has to offer, besides a few younger players stuck in a rough place.

Role: WASTE OF TIME

9. Zagłębie Sosnowiec

2019-20 Finish: 9th

Zagłębie Sosnowiec is probably going to lose a lot this year. COVID-19 has hit the team very hard. The team lost many key veterans like Filip Stoklasa and Rafal Radziszewski. They may have some of the best young talent in Poland though. Eleven players on their roster were ranked inside our top 50 men’s U23 player list. That is the most in the entire PHL. That eleven includes the huge additions of Igor Smal and Michał Naróg from PKH Gdańsk.

Sosnowiec will need those young players to all take substantial jumps if they want to compete. As most of their imports are not going to be impact players. The exceptions are Danil Kulikov, Maksim Tsitok, and Mikhail Syroezhkin; whom all had shown potential or excelled in the PHL previously. Dominik Nahunko is their best Polish forward right now. Retaining him during the off-season was the club’s biggest priority. The biggest challenge the young team faces is in their youthful goal-tending tandem of Michal Czernik (24) and Marcel Kotula (19) Both goalies have high ceilings, but are not ready to steal any games yet. This whole squad is love-able underdogs.

Role: Young loveable underdogs

8. Ciarko STS Sanok

2019-20 Finish: NA (New to PHL)

This one was really hard to place. STS Sanok returns to the PHL after a few years away. The Sanok roster is pretty similar to the one seen recently in a the third tier of Slovak hockey. That group does include great young players like Karol Bilas, Konrad Filipek, Maciej Witan and Szymon Dobosz. Along with some veterans who had success in the PHL like Marek Strzyżowski. Marek Ziętara then brought promising young players Jakub Bukowski and Tomasz Skokan back to Sanok.. The squad is pretty light on imports, but Sanok did add a solid trio of Finnish imports and former KH Toruń star Patrik Spesny.

They’re the second youngest team in the PHL. This year is the start of something bigger for Sanok hopefully. 2020 is year one of that journey and it is hard to predict them doing well. I am willing to bet they will be a competitive team. I mean in their first game back, Sanok only lost to GKS Tychy by one goal.

Role: The comeback team

7. KH Energa Toruń

2019-20 Finish: 8th

Toruń had an up and down off-season, as per usual for a club that relies strongly on imports. The bad came in the form of losing Bartosz Fraszko, Mateusz Zielinski, and Patrik Spesny. There were further departures when quite a few long time Toruń players retired . The good came in bringing home Kamil Kalinowski, adding back Łukasz Podsiadło, while also grabbing Yegor Rozhkov from Gdańsk.

The Torun team is in usual form with a lot of imports from smaller leagues around Europe. They did bring back quite a few from last year like Denis Sergushkin, Dmitri Kozlov, and Yegor Feofanov, whom were among the team leader in points. Some of the new interesting imports include Swedish goalie Anton Svensson, who has big shoes to fill but has done good so far in early outings. Gleb Bondaruk has a chance to be offensive leader after coming off a point per game season in the Ukraine. While Finnish forward Ville Saloranta is an easy pick to be a star in the PHL, after a solid career in the Mestis. It is hard to predict how high Toruń will go. They could lose one game 7-0, but then beat the league leader the next day. A true wildcard.

Role: The wildcard

6. Tauron Podhale Nowy Targ

2019-20 Finish: 3rd

I believe there are six teams with a true chance to take the PHL championship this year, which makes ranking them so hard. Podhale doesn’t make it in the top five though, by a very thin margin. The biggest thing for me that causes doubt with Podhale is on the defensive end. Their defense has a lot of solid players no doubt, and Ričards Birziņš could be a top import in Poland. I also hope to see Damian Tomasik play a larger role again. I just don’t really see any star power on it though. The club’s defense is going to play rough and make it hell for opponents, but they’re beatable. At least behind them Przemyslaw Odrobny is still a brick wall.

They really rebuilt their offense this year and it looks fantastic. Top scorers Alexander Pettersson and Bartlomiej Neupauer were brought back. Then they brought in a lot from Krakow, Polish national team fowards Kasper Bryniczka and Mateusz Bepierszcz both came aboard, as well as Czech import Michal Vachovec. Vachovec has posted back to back above point per game seasons in the PHL. Former KHL player Andrei Ankudinov and Latvian winger Lauris Rancevs both have the potential to make an impact as well. Podhale also seemingly addressed their lack of younger Polish talent in recent years. The yellow squad returned Ernest Bochnak and Fabian Kapica home to Poland from strong junior leagues in Czechia and Germany. Their biggest signing though happen right before their first game, as top Polish player Alan Łyszczarczyk joined the team, while he waits for the ECHL to start back up.

Role: Not expected to win, but wouldn’t be shocked.

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5 Pitches for 2020-21 PHL Season

The PHL season is coming to an end soon as the playoffs are in full swing, and already GKS Tychy eliminated KH Torun in the first round. This year showed a much stronger and competitive league, but nothing is perfect, and today I make five pitches for what the PHL should do in the 2020-21 season.

Include the Lithuanian Team

It was reported earlier this year by hokej.net that a team from Lithuania is in talks to join the PHL.

Now, as I said in my tweet, it does come under the condition that the team is strong enough, and this will not result in too high of travel cost for PHL teams. This would most likely result in PHL playing one game in Gdansk and then one in Vilnius on an away trip. This team would have to buy their way into the PHL, meaning more revenue, along with more exposure for the league and Polish hockey across Europe.

The Polish Player Rule for Teams Outside of Poland

The import rule has been a great success for Poland, as the league quality is much higher, and top players can test and improve their skills against much better competition. The team from Lithuania should also be allowed to carry as many imports as they desire, but with one catch. They have to carry at least three Polish players. Now this one might be tough to enforce as you also need three Polish players who are willing to play in Lithuania. I thought about having the rule set at five or seven players, but felt it would be hard to convince that many players to leave Poland.

This rule would be in place to help one provide a few Polish players with jobs. It would also benefit the Lithuanian team to have Polish players that, of course speak Polish, know the culture, and the cities. It would be a great aid for their teammates on some long road trips that would likely happen due to travel.

Polish Hockey Night on Twitch

Right now, there is a lot of debate about the future of broadcasting for Polska Hokej Liga games. There is even a petition that has gathered 1,912 signatures pleading for PHL games to be on TVP Sport. For the 2019-20 season, the games were streamed in a pay per view system on polskihokej.tv, with each game costing around 15 zl ($3.80) to stream, with each team receiving 4 zl ($1.04). It would cost around 400 zl ($100) for a fan to stream the entire season. While I do commend the PHL doing the best they could with this system, it is not going to grow the game or be financially beneficial in the long run. If the system is to return for next year, I would give one game away a week for free on Twitch.

For those that don’t know Twitch is a popular site that is mostly used for live streaming video games, especially E-sports. The site averages 1.38 million concurrent viewers. Despite video games live streams being their main course, they have been branching out in other areas. In the United States, politicians have streamed their rallies on it and Impact Wrestling stream their flagship show on the site. The hockey world has also already made its jump onto the site as well. The National Women’s Hockey Leauge broadcast all their games on Twitch, and the results have been pretty strong. They often average over 5,000 viewers per game.

E-sports are quite popular in Poland, and that is especially true with younger audiences, something the PHL needs to attract. Polish is also the language with the 12th highest average concurrent viewers (TwitchTacker.com). Twitch is quite the popular site in Poland, with 99% of E-sport community members saying they watch Esports on the site, and 27% of gamers saying they stream other non-Esports content.

graphic
Leading video game streaming platforms in Poland 2018, by type of gamer. (statista.com)

Even if the league got a better deal for streaming or a tv deal for the following season, I would still recommend streaming one game a week on Twitch, on a set day of the week, to help promote the sport with people that might not otherwise watch it.

Broadcast PZHL U23 Games

Last season the only team not to have their games broadcast by the PZHL was PZHL u23. The team is filled with the next core of the Polish national team. One of the biggest things that young players need to survive in the modern hockey place is film to showcase their skills. PZHL u23 games would be an excellent chance for scouts and coaches to view the current crop of Polish players not currently playing a crucial part for another PHL team. It would also allow fans to see more of their favorite team’s games, where there is almost a guaranteed victory with lots of goals.

Stricter conditions for teams to enter the PHL

The PHL cannot have another Janow, Opole, or Polonia. These are embarrassing to the league and Polish hockey. The conditions to compete in the PHL need to be much stricter. There can be no more teams that claim they have the money but show no proof. If the Polish hockey league is ever to reach the next level in regards to being taken seriously, the conditions to enter the league must be stricter.

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“The Kings Are Not Being Dethroned” 2019-20 PHL Team Previews: GKS Tychy

The back to back champions are on their way to a possible third straight title. The team was able to retain most of their championship core along with adding some big free agents. More young players should also be pushing to become major contributors. The rest of the PHL got a lot better during the offseason and this will certainly be a much more difficult season compared to their last two championship seasons. Will GKS Tychy pull off the three-peat or will a new king rise in the PHL?

Forwards 

Mike Szmatula – Alexei Yefimenko – Christian Mroczkowski

Gleb Klimenko Mike Cichy – Alex Szczechura

Bartlomiej Jeziorski – Filip Komorski  Mateusz Goscinski

 Jaroslaw Rzeszutko – Jakub Witecki – Radoslaw Galant

Other forwards: Adam Baginski, Patryk Kogut

This offense has too much talent and potential. Every line has the potential to produce at a high rate in the PHL. There is just too much talent it is almost absurd. It starts at the top with former ECHL all-star Mike Szmatula, based on his stats in the ECHL and NCAA, he is the biggest North American signing in league history. I wrote earlier about why he might have a chance to claim the PHL scoring record. Despite Szmatula having the more impressive resume, Christian Mroczkowski has been the North American player to hold the spotlight. Mroczkowski has played fast and physical and posted 8 points (4-4-8) in 6 PHL games, which is tied for the lead on GKS Tychy in scoring. Mike Cichy and Alex Szcechurea still make for one of the best duos in Poland, the two North Americans have now played with each other in Poland for five straight seasons. They should be among the top scorers in Poland as always. The best of the Polish players is Filip Komorski. The 27-year-old center is in his fifth year with GKS Tychy and has finished as one of the team’s best scorers each year. Last year, he had a standout performance at the World Championships for Poland. GKS Tychy also has some impressive young talent in Bartlomiej Jeziorski and Mateusz Goscinski. Both forwards are ready to be taking big steps in their professional careers and should be strong contributors. One of the top offenses in the league that is a threat no matter what line is on the ice.

Defensemen

Bartlomiej Pociecha – Michael Kolarz

Bartosz Ciura – Peter Novajovsky

Michal Kotlorz – Mateusz Bryk

Denis AkimotoAlexander Yeronov

Other defensemen: Olaf Bizacki

The defense doesn’t really have a clear identity like GKS Katowice does, rather there are plenty of different styles among its players. You have some very strong defensive only types that are not afraid to get physical if needed, two-way types that are strong passers and electric puck rushers, then game-changing offensive dominant defensemen. The defense features some of the best Polish players at the position on the planet and some of the strongest imports the league has. Bartlomiej Pociecha is a fantastic two-way player and he continues to increase his production in the PHL. He is the perfect type of player to be the leader of any defense. Mateusz Bryk is another prominent Polish player thanks to his strong defensive play, but has some decent skills on the offensive end. For his entire career, he has been a valuable part of some of the PHL’s best teams. The most prominent import to me is Peter Novajovsky. The veteran Slovak defensemen is in his fifth and potentially final year in the PHL, as he has expressed interest in returning to Slovakia. Since he arrived in Poland though, he has always been towards the top in defensive scoring and only two defensemen, Bartlomeij Pociecha and Maciej Kruczek, have more points. Both players also had a 50 game plus advantage on the 30-year-old Slovak. Olaf Bizacki is the young player on the defense that deserves to be highlighted. Watching him at junior events, you could see that he had the makings of a special player. Really sound at both ends of the ice and steadily improving. I think it is only a matter of time before he really makes a huge jump that is going to show he is a big part of the future of Poland on defense.

Goalies

John Murray 

Kamil Lewartowski

Jakub Zawalski

GKS Tychy has it really nice in net. John Murray is one of the best goaltenders in Poland and one of the most important national team players in the PHL. Murray now in his sixth season in Poland is looking for his fourth PHL Championship and will be a major part if GKS Tychy can pull off the three-peat. Behind Murray is two younger goalies in Kamil Lewartowski (21) and Jakub Zawalski (20) both goaltenders have the potential to one day be starters in the PHL. Kamil Lewartowski was able to play multiple games in the Championship Hockey League, where he performed well at times, but also seemed very overwhelmed at moments. Murray should continue to be one of the best in the PHL, while GKS Tychy is developing two potential replacements.

Prediction: 1st

There is just no stopping them. They will be the champions for the third straight year in my opinion. The PHL is getting better as a league and there are a lot of strides being taken to make it more competitive. It should be a great year and with many big changes, but the kings of the league are not being dethroned yet.

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“Team Finland” 2019-20 PHL Team Previews: KH GKS Katowice

Leading up to the start of 2019-20 season, we will preview every team in the PHL

Lets put yourself in the shoes of KH GKS Katowice. After making it to the finals in the 2017-18 season, KH GKS Katowice had to settle for a bronze medal in 2018-19. This was a very disappointing result when the team finished first place in the PHL regular season. This included just losing 7 games along with scoring 200 plus goals while allowing less than 80. Now, of course, this was a disappointing result, but that regular season was so dominant can you really afford to make changes? KH GKS Katowice had an aggressive offseason. Only 10 players are returning from last year’s bronze medal team. This includes a change in the head coach as Tom Coolen is replaced by Risto Dufva. Are these new players enough to finally take Katowice to the top though?

Forwards

Nestori Lähde – Grzegorz Pasiut – Patryk Krezolek

Tuukka Rajamäki – Jussi Makkonen – Jaakko Turtiainen

Tadej Cimzar – Oula Uski – Teddy Da Costa

Mateusz Michalski – Filip Starzynski – Kamil Paszek

Other forwards: Mikolaj Lopuski, Szymon Mularczyk

This offense features some great Polish players and a lot of talented players with a majority of the imports coming from Finland. This is easy explained by Finnish head coach Risto Dufva, we saw the same thing happen with Tomek Valtonen last year in Podhale. Jussi Makkonen is the most notable of those Finnish players, he has recorded over 700 games in the Liiga and over 330 points. I’m really curious to see how he will produce in the PHL. I have to imagine he should at least be a point per game player. Slovenia player Tadej Cimzar is a player that I’m really curious about. He had a really strong year in the Alps Hockey League, a breakout performance that it seemed like he once had the potential to achieve his junior days and finally hit it at 26-years-old.  Teddy Da Costa also returns to Poland after a year away. It will be his ninth PHL season. The talented French forward is honestly one of the biggest players to come out of the PHL this century. In terms of Polish players, the biggest name is Grzegorz Pasiut. Pasiut is such a talented player and a joy to watch. He has been a key member of 7 championship teams both in Belarus and Poland. Patryk Krezolek is the biggest young name of this forward group and I expect him to do quite well offensively this year. This could be a huge breakout year for him and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him representing Poland at quite a few international events. This group is supremely talented and there is no line here that wouldn’t be in the top 6 of most PHL teams. A lot of teams would love to even have Lopuski or Mularczyk, whom I couldn’t find a spot for in my initial roster. This group should have no problem being as strong as the one GKS Katowice showed last year.

Defensemen

Martin Cakajik – Dusan Devecka

Patryk Wajda  – Oskar Jaskiewicz

Damian Tomasik – Marcin Kolusz

Juuso Salmi – Miika Franssila

Other Defensemen: Oskar Krawczyk, Tomasz Skokan

The defense posses some of the top Polish defensemen. There are some really good imports surrounding them making this one of the best defenses in Poland. A big thing I like about this group is how many players are able to contribute on the offensive end. You don’t see a lot of defenses in Poland with such an aggressive defense attack. Oskar Jaskiewicz joined the team from Podhale. The 23-year-old is a really strong two-way defenseman with a preference for the defensive side. He reportedly had offers to move over to North America but chose to stay in Poland with a big part being head coach Risto Dufva. Patryk Wajda also made a similar choice of jumping from Podhale to GKS Katowice. The national team defender is a force on the back end. The best things come in threes and Marcin Kolusz was the third defensemen to make the move from Podhale. Kolusz already had a great career as a forward, but has found a second life to his career as a defenseman. His strong skating and puck handling skills really compliment the position well. He is able to effortlessly rush the puck up the ice. Dusan Devecka and Martin Cakajik are very similar, both are 39-year-old Slovakian defensemen in their third season with GKS Katowice. They are both all-around players that really bring a lot to the team as well. They are the kinda players you like to have young players learn more from, giving their longevity in leagues stronger than the PHL. One of those young players is Tomasz Skokan who plays a similar game to them. He will be out for a while with an injury, but when he returns this should be a big year for the 21-year-old defensemen. I love an aggresive defense that contributes offensively and GKS Katowice has that. This unit could contend for the best in the PHL.

Goalies

Robin Rahm

Michal Kieler

The goaltending group is just as good as the offense and defense. Robin Rahm was a great choice to take over the reins from Kevin Lindskoug. Though If I had to bet my life on anything it would have been GKS Katowice signing a Finnish goaltender to be honest. Rahm made it to the Swedish Hockey League and posted okay numbers there, but also had a two-year ban for steroids. Rahm was a much better goaltender in the Allsvenskan posting save percentages in the .920%s. He also did well in Denmark but last year posted his lowest career save percentage, .901%, since 2013-14. This came in the EBEL, which is a very strong league. Rahm should be a great goalie in the PHL, but the goal is a championship and GKS Tychy’s offense showed no struggles against HC Bolzano goaltender Leland Irving, who posted a .922 SV% in the EBEL. Now, this is a very minor thing, but again the goal for GKS Katowice is a championship and the biggest roadblock to it is GKS Tychy. Both teams are so close so extremely minor things were used to make my decision.

Prediction: 2nd 

Yes GKS Katowice is an all-around good team. Every aspect of this team is at the top of the PHL. There is just one team that is slightly better in my opinion, but hey GKS Katowice won the first battle of the two teams 4-3, so maybe they can pull it off.