Category: PHL

The All-Time North American PHL Squad.

This year has seen a huge influx of North American players in Poland, with quite a few big names like former NHL players Gilbert Brule, Paul Szczechura, and Victory Bartley recently signing. This trend started earlier in the year with JKH GKS Jastrzebie picking up former Minnesota Wild first-round pick Zack Phillips. There is certainly an arms race going on in the PHL right now. You can even build a pretty good team out of just North Americans.

Most of these players though, won’t leave a lasting impact on Polish hockey directly. Of course, big names are good for the league, and if they have a good experience, it will encourage more players to take a chance in Poland. These names are a result from the COVID-19 pandemic causing many leagues to be canceled, delayed, or without a majority of the teams participating. Most of them will play 20 or so games in the PHL and then return to a stronger league.

With all this in mind, it got me thinking about the most important North American players to play in Poland. A player like Mike Cichy, for example, is crucial to the history of the sport. Cichy set the PHL scoring record, and since he arrived in the PHL in the 2015 season, he has 89 more points than the next closest player. On the other hand, while a player like Wojtek Wolski may have been a bigger name to play in the PHL, his direct impact on the league wasn’t that large, as he just played in just nine games.

Today I decided to take on the challenge of making an all-time team out of just players from North America who played in the PHL. For this, we will only consider what they accomplished in the PHL. What they did before or after does not matter. The player must have also played at least ten PHL games. We will select 13 forwards, 7 defensemen, and 2 goalies.

Forwards

Christian Mroczkowski – Mike Cichy – Alex Szczechura

Dave Kostuch – Jared Brown – Samson Mahbod

Nick Sucharski – Zack Phillips – Jordan Pietrus

Rafal Martynowski – Mike Danton – Kelly Czuy

Extra: Justin Chwedoruk

Mike Cichy – Cichy and Szcezchura are players that are not just on the North American all-time team but the all-time PHL team. Cichy arrived in Poland with Sanok in 2014 and since has played for Opole and Tychy. In 2015, Cichy set the record for points in a PHL season with 113, nine more than the previous record. Since he arrived in Poland, he has 437 points in 324 games, the most by any player during that time frame. His 188 goals and 249 assists are also both the most by a player since 2014. To top it off, Cichy is a three-time PHL champion.

Alex Szczechura – The year after Cichy arrived, Alex Szczechura arrived in Poland with Opole. He and Cichy had instant chemistry, becoming two of the best offensive players the PHL has ever seen. He has played for Opole, Sanok, and GKS Tychy. In 253 games, he has 298 points—the second-most points since 2015, behind only his duo partner, Cichy. The former Ohio State forward has three PHL championships with GKS Tychy.

Christian Mroczkowski – The perfect third piece of the Cichy and Szczechura line has long been searched for. In reality, any player you paired with the duo will succeed. In 2019, Christian Mroczkowski arrived in Poland on a tryout with GKS Tychy. The young power forward has instantly impacted the league, leading the 2020 regular season in points. The 6’0 right-winger has only repeated his success in 2021 as he currently sits tied for third in the PHL for points. So far, he is one for one in seasons with a PHL championship.

Samson Mahbod – For someone to break a record, there has to be a record in place. The scoring record that Cichy broke was held by Samson Mahbod. Mahbod arrived in Poland very late to the 2013 season with GKS Katowice. The high-scoring forward returned the following year to appear for KH Sanok. That year was one of the best seasons in PHL history as he recorded 36 goals and 68 assists for 104 points in 53 games. His 104 points setting the new PHL scoring record at the time. Mahbod used his PHL success to jump to stronger leagues in the VHL, Liiga, and KHL. It showed players that the PHL could be used as a launching pad for stronger leagues in Europe.

Jared Brown – Brown is a mainstay of Europe’s lower professional leagues. Playing for multiple teams in Hungary and Poland, along with stops in France and Romania. In Poland, for three separate teams, he had above a point per game regular season. While his trips were not always the longest, he racked up 71 points across 51 PHL games with Katowice, Opole, and Sanok.

Dave Kostusch – Kostuch left Canisius College after two years to play for Krakow in the PHL during the 2010 season. In his first year, he was a star posting 55 points in 47 games, good for ninth among all Polish players. He would miss most of the following season but return for the Polish Cup and playoffs, recording 23 points in 15 games. He retired after the 2012 season.

Jordan Pietrus – Pietrus came from the ECHL with a very good resume, more than 150 ECHL points in 272 games. In his lone PHL season, he would finish with 70 points in 53 games. His 66 regular-season points led the league. He also had a strong continental cup with 5 points in 6 games. The talented center with Polish roots posted one of the best years ever by a North American.

Zack Phillips – Phillips makes the list despite 2021 being his first PHL season. The former first-round pick currently sits second in PHL, scoring 35 points in 29 games. In just one short year, he has proved to be a valuable forward for JKH GKS Jastrzębie.

Nick Sucharski – Sucharski was a 5th round pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets and a captain at Michigan State. He joined Krakow in 2011 and recorded 38 points in 37 games. The Polish-American jumped ship to GKS Katowice the following year. This was another strong year with 34 points in 38 games—a top-line forward for two different clubs, who also served as an assistant captain with Katowice.

Kelly Czuy – Czuy is an interesting player. The physical winger with Polish roots bounced around the AHL, CHL, and ECHL. He started a couple of seasons in the PHL with Podhale Nowy Targ but would end the year back in the United States. In total, he recorded 62 points and 218 penalty minutes in 60 games. This included leading the league in penalty minutes with 123 in 2011.

Mike Danton – A controversial figure in hockey, but no doubt proved to impact the lower leagues of Europe, including Poland. He joined KH Sanok for the 2014 playoffs and went on to play two more years with the club. He recorded 132 points and 266 penalty minutes in 133 games. Danton won a championship in 2014 and led the league in penalty minutes for the 2015 season.

Rafal Martynowski – Martynowski came to Poland in 2010 after spending two years in the fourth tier of German hockey. In two years with Krakow, he recorded 72 points in 96 games. His highlights being a point per game continental cup and playoff run in 2011.

Justin Chwedoruk – A talented, hard-working, and two-way forward, Chwedoruk dreamed of representing Poland on the international stage. He signed in Poland with GKS Katowice before the 2014 campaign. The former Edmonton Oiler minor league player recorded 42 points in 35 games but would miss most of the playoffs with an injury. He returned the following year with Sanok but would suffer a concussion that ended his career after 14 games.

Defenseman

Zach Josepher – Jason Seed

Matt Williams – Adrian Gajor

Sam Roberts – Ryan Barlock

Quinn Sproule

Defensemen are really a weaker portion of the team as strong defensemen are really hard to come by for almost any league. Despite that, there have still been some North American defensemen to impact the league—especially those with an offensive or physical presence.

Zach Josepher – Josepher was seemingly bouncing around from ECHL and semi-pro teams multiple times a year. Gdansk signed him for the 2016 season, their first back in the PHL. While it was a rough year for the team, it was great for Josepher. He recorded 39 points in 37 games. 9 points coming in 6 relegation games. The fourth-best point per game posted by a PHL defenseman since 2000.

Jason Seed – When it seems imports are coming from stronger and stronger leagues, a guy coming from France’s second league is not the biggest move. Seed has proved himself to be a solid defenseman in the PHL over the 2020 and 2021 seasons. The strong two-way play resulted in him with 38 points in 76 games. He served as an assistant captain with Podhale in 2020. For 2021, he joined three-peat champions GKS Tychy.

Matt Williams – Williams was a physical force on the defensive back end. He contributed at both ends with 35 points in 54 games. That was 6th among defensemen in points for the 2015 season. Williams posted 131 minutes in the box, which was second in the league during his lone year. He was the typical import that Sanok recruited at this time, bringing an offensive and physical presence.

Adrian Gajor – Gajor was a player who I often overlooked. He came to Poland last playing inline hockey, with really no major league to his name. He was still young and had Polish roots, but it seemed like an odd move when Krakow signed him in 2018. The guy who was playing roller hockey, before coming to Poland, has now played 109 games putting up 23 points. A point total that is seemingly increasing each year. He also has been named to a Polish national team international roster.

Sam Roberts – Roberts was a strong two-way defenseman in the QMJHL, ECHL, and lower European leagues. In his lone PHL season, he posted 33 points in 49 games. The third most in points and PPG among defensemen in 2016.

Ryan Barlock – Barlock impressed in France with his defensive and physical pace. He brought that same play to Poland, even earning a leadership role with GKS Katowice as their assistant captain. In his lone year, he posted 19 points in 39 games.

Quinn Sproule – Sproule came to the PHL after one ECHL year. In his lone PHL year with Sanok, he provided the club 7 goals and 18 assists in 54 games. His .46 PPG was 7th among PHL defenders in the 2016 season.

Goalies

John Murray

Clarke Saunders

John Murray – When the Polish national team had so many top goalies, it seemed the depth chart was air tight with no room to break in. Instead, John Murray forced his way into becoming Poland’s national team starter. Murray bounced around the CHL and ECHL before signing in Poland for the 2014 hockey year. Murray was a brick wall in the playoffs with a .958 SV% in 14 games leading KH Sanok to a PHL championship. He would move on to Opole the following year and post a .920 SV%. He would leave in 2015 for Kazakhstan but return to Opole the following year. Since 2017, he has represented the colors of GKS Tychy. Murray is a four-time PHL champion and easily one of the best PHL goalies in history.

Clarke Saunders – Saunders had a star-making MVP performance with Unia Oswiecim in 2020. After coming over from the Alps Hockey League, it was hard to predict what he would achieve in the PHL. The Brockville native posted a .932 SV%, good for third among PHL starting goalies. His playoff run appeared to be off to an even better start with a .955 SV% after just five games. He returned in 2021, and well not as strong as his previous year, he remains a solid PHL goalie. Saunders has come clutch on many occasions for Unia Oswiecim. He has kept them in a top PHL spot, despite early struggles.

If you want to keep up with all the Polish hockey action, make sure to follow us on Twitter @PolandHockey, like our Facebook page, and add us on Instagram @PolishPuck_.

GKS Tychy Adds Former NHL Forward Paul Szczechura, And ECHL Forward Alex Tonge

The Covid-19 pandemic was at one point thought to potentially have the power to kill off the PHL. Instead we are now having a arms race the league has never seen. So many teams are adding talented and well-kwon players to their ranks. That trend has continued as current champion GKS Tychy added former NHL forward Paul Szczechura and ECHL forward Alex Tonge.

Paul Szczechura is well known to Polish fans by being the brother of GKS Tychy forward Alex Szczechura. Alex, the younger brother, has played in the PHL since 2016. Paul, 35, during that time was playing in the top hockey leagues around the world. The Brantford Ontario native took the college hockey root playing for Western Michigan. After a standout career at Western, where he was the assistant caption in his final year. He would sign in the AHL with the Iowa Stars as an undrafted free agent. From 2007 to 2012, he played in three NHL organizations mostly for their AHL squads. He signed his first NHL deal with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2008. He did play in 92 NHL games recording ten goals and assists for the Buffalo Sabres and Lightning. He owns a .71 PPG in 271 AHL games.

The 5’11 center has played in the KHL since the 2012-13 season, most recently with Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod. He appeared in five different clubs and four different countries during his KHL time. In 395 regular season games, he has 244 points (100G-144A-244PTS). The fourth most points by a Canadian skater in KHL history. He was named a KHL all-star during the 2018 season.

Alex Tonge joins GKS Tychy as well after playing in the ECHL. Tonge was an all-star in the OJHL during his junior career. The Canadian forward went the American academic route playing for Robert Morris University. In four years and 146 NCAA games, Tonge recorded 56 goals and 82 assists. Following his college career, he went pro in the ECHL bouncing around between three clubs, but posting strong offensive production for each. In 52 ECHL games, he owns a .71 PPG.

If you want to keep up with all the Polish hockey action, make sure to follow us on Twitter @PolandHockey, like our Facebook page, and add us on Instagram @PolishPuck_.

Former NHL First Round Pick Gilbert Brulé Signs In Poland.

Unia Oswiecim continues their string of big moves under new head coach Kevin Constantine. This time it is former 6th overall pick Gilbert Brulé. The 34-year-old Brulé is a physical forward with 299 NHL games, along with 278 KHL games. He joins ECHL top scorer Brett McKenzie and former NHL defensemen Victor Bartley in recent big moves by the club.

Brulé was drafted 6th overall by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2005 NHL entry draft, after a successful junior career with the Vancouver Giants. He made his NHL debut during the 2006 season playing in seven games recording two goals and two assists. After a few years in Columbus, he was traded to Edmonton for Raffi Torres during the 2008 offseason. Struggling with consistency he found himself scratched, injured, or playing in the minors a lot during his time in Edmonton. After a strong start to the 2012 AHL year, he earned a call up to the Oilers. He had to pass through waivers first, which is when the Arizona Coyotes placed a claim. He played the rest of the year in Arizona, along with getting his only NHL post-season action during the Coyotes’ playoff run. The following year, he signed in Switzerland during the lockout. He would request to terminate his contact though after just 14 games with the ZSC Lions. The Edmonton native would return to the Coyotes for the 2014 season, but would retire from professional hockey on January 1st, 2014.

This retirement would not hold as Brulé signed in the Kontinental Hockey League for the 2015 season. He would play the next six seasons in the KHL with six different clubs, most recently with Kunlun Red Star. In 2018, he was named to the Canadian Olympic team that took bronze at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. Now in 2020, he signed in Poland with former Kunlun Red Star teammate Victor Bartley.

The expectations were high for Unia Oswiecim after their second place finish in 2020. Injuries and few disappointments among imports led to the team struggling from the start. Things reached a peak when head coach Nik Zupancic resigned from the team after an altercation with an official. The team hired former NHL head coach Kevin Constantine in his place. It appears they are making a quick turn around as well, as the team has made it to the finals of the Polish Cup vs. JKH GKS Jastrzebie.

If you want to keep up with all the Polish hockey action, make sure to follow us on Twitter @PolandHockey, like our Facebook page, and add us on Instagram @PolishPuck_.

Unia Oswiecim Sign Top ECHL Player Brett McKenzie

Unia Oswiecim had championships goals that they wanted to reach this year, after not getting a chance to win a championship last year, due to COVID. The team that was awarded the silver medal went out and made some big offseason moves like acquiring forward Eliezer Sherbatov. The team did not get off to the hottest start and after an incident with a official, Nik Zupancic was let go. Despite that setback, Oswiecim made it clear the goal was still to win a championship, as they hired former long-time NHL head coach Kevin Constantine. Now we have the first addition of the Constatine era as the team signed ECHL forward Brett McKenzie.

The Canadian forward was standout in the Ontario Hockey League, eventually being drafted by the Vancouver Canucks in seventh round of the 2016 NHL draft. The Ontario native played for the North Bay Battalion most of his junior career till a trade to the Owen Sound Attack mid-way through his final OHL year. With the Attack he played on a line with Polish forward Alan Lyszczarczyk. The two ended up being the top line throughout the end of the regular season and playoffs. In total he recorded 224 points (101G-123A-224PTS) in 328 OHL games.

McKenzie would start his professional career the following season in 2019, when he signed with the Providence Bruins of the American Hockey League. He would only play 5 games in the AHL spending a majority of his time with the team’s ECHL affiliate the Atlanta Gladiators. With the Gladiators, he would post 16 goals and 29 assists in 62 games for his ECHL rookie year. The 6’2 forward would sign with the Fort Wayne Komets for the 2020 season, there he reunited with Alan Lyszczarczyk, the two often playing on a line once again. In 56 games, he recorded 23 goals and 37 assists for 60 points. He also earned one call up to the Chicago Wolves of the AHL, where he played one game. Brett McKenzie originally had re-signed in the ECHL with Fort Wayne for the 2021 season.

Unia Oswiecim currently sits fourth in the PHL with 41 points. The team is out of first place by 16 points, where JKH GKS Jastrzębie’s 57 points are at the top. The team is coming off a big 1-0 win over fifth place GKS Katowice. The team recently released Finnish players Jere Helenius and Lassi Raitanen, while giving Canadian defender Ryan Glenn another chance.

If you want to keep up with all the Polish hockey action, make sure to follow us on Twitter @PolandHockey, like our Facebook page, and add us on Instagram @PolishPuck_.

The NHL Players Who Played In Poland. Part 4

We are now coming into the most recent seasons of Polska Hokej Liga action. Many players who were part of those late 90s or early 2000s draft classes were in their final years playing in smaller leagues. Poland saw a substantial influx of those players, who became valuable veterans for their squads. These players helped the growth that Polish hockey has seen in recent years. The import rule was abolished during this time, which also really helped the development of Polish hockey. Having these talented players come to Poland and raise the quality of play will only result in a better product for the fans, whom the younger ones make take up hockey one day. While this year, due to COVID-19, there are no fans in the stands, the previous years saw attendance increases.

Bryan Pitton

Bryan Pitton was another successful North American goalie in Poland, which has been a recent trend. The Brampton Ontario native played for the Brampton Battalion in the OHL, where the Edmonton Oilers drafted him in the fifth round of the 2006 NHL draft. In 2008, he would start his professional career after signing an entry league deal with the Oilers. He would mostly start for their ECHL team, the Stockton Thunder, while also appearing for the Oklahoma City Barons and Springfield Thunder in the American Hockey League. He earned a few NHL callups where he served as a backup. Back up duties and pre-season games were his only NHL appearances.

Pitton would then head over to Europe after his entry league deal. He signed with the Fire Flyers in England. He would return to the North American pro scene in the Central Hockey League the following year with a standout performance for the Allen Americans. He helped the team claim a championship as the starting goalie. Following the CHL’s demise in 2014, he signed in Poland with KH Sanok posting one of the best saves percentages of the decade. After one year in Poland, he would return to Brampton, playing a few games for the Brampton Beast in the ECHL when needed until he retired in 2018.

Toni Dahlman

Finnish players have continued to become more common in the PHL, especially after the influx of Finnish coaches bringing in Mestis players. Toni Dahlman is one of the few former Liiga players to play in the PHL. Dahlman was apart of the Finnish team that won their second world juniors gold in 1998. The Helinski native developed in the Jokerit system before moving to Ilves to play in the Liiga full time. In his lone season, he led rookies in points with 28 and was named the Liiga rookie of the year. The Ottawa Senators drafted him in the 9th round of the 2001 NHL draft. The 5’11 right winger signed a two-year deal with the Senators. He mainly played with the Grand Rapid Griffins, their AHL affiliate. He would play 22 games with the Senators recording a goal and an assist.

He returned to Ilves after his deal with the Senators was up. He would play in the Liiga until 2010, except for a season with Mora IK in the SHL. Dahlman would then make a few stops around Europe in the DEL, EBEL, Kazakhstan, and the VHL. Shortly after the PHL season started in 2016, he signed with KH Sanok. He recorded four goals and thirteen assists in twenty-two games. He would leave Sanok in February and sign in the EIHL with the Braehead Clan. He retired after the 2016 season.

Jason Missiaen

Another player to join Sanok after the 2016 season got underway was Jason Missiaen. Missiaen stands at 6’8, making his size his strongest attribute. The Ontario native was in between the posts for the Peterborough Petes. His OHL success would see him drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in the fourth round of the 2008 NHL draft. He would not sign with the Canadiens, and eventually move away from the Petes as well, switching to the QMJHL with Baie-Comeau Drakkar. After his final junior season, he would sign an entry league deal with the New York Rangers. Missiaen would prove to be a great ECHL goalie but struggled when called up to the AHL. He still was able to earn a few call ups to the NHL, backing up Henrik Lundqvist in a couple of games for the Rangers.

The Rangers signed him to a one-year extension, but with no progress in the AHL and a down year in the ECHL. He was not re-signed in the offseason. The towering goalie would join Sanok in October of 2015. He would play in 29 games for Sanok, recording a .913 SV%. He would leave Sanok after one year and join the French team Chamonix-Morzine. He retired after one year in France and currently works as a goaltending coach.

Jaroslav Kristek

Jaroslav Kristek was a standout in the Czech Republic during the late 90s. After a strong rookie year in the Tipsport Extraliga and U18 appearance, he was drafted by the Buffalo Sabres in the second round of the 1998 NHL draft. He would move over to North America the next year to play for the Tri-City Americans in the WHL. In 2000, he would help the Czech Republic win gold at the World Juniors. The same year, he signed his entry deal with the Sabres and reported to the Rochester Americans in the AHL. In 2003, Kristek would make his NHL debut playing six NHL games. He would return to the Tipsport Extraliga the following year, playing in Czechia until 2010. Picking up a Tipsort Extraliga championship in 2009.

Following a departure from Czechia, he would appear in the KHL, among other leagues. He would win two championships and a Continental Cup in Belarus while also picking up a Tipsport Liga Championship. The Zlin native would sign with GKS Tychy for the 2017 season. While helping Tychy to a Polish Cup and Silver medal season, he recorded 34 points in 43 games. Kristek would spend the next three seasons in the lower French leagues before retiring.

Petr Kalus

Kalus is one of the rare players on this list to make NHL appearances for multiple NHL squads. The Czech power forward was drafted by the Boston Bruins in the second round of the 2005 NHL draft. At 18, he would move over to the WHL with the Regina Pats. That lone season was enough for the Bruins, who signed him to his entry deal and sent him to the AHL. In his rookie AHL year, he earned a call up to the Boston Bruins. In his first NHL appearances, he  recorded four goals and an assist in nine games. During the 2007 offseason, he was traded to the Minnesota Wild, with a 2009 fourth-round pick (Alexander Fallstrom), for goaltender Manny Fernandez. After one year with the Wild’s AHL affiliate, he would sign in the KHL with HK MVD for the 2009 season. He returned to the Wild in 2010, mainly playing for their AHL team, but appeared in two games with the Wild. Still playing in the AHL, Kalus would be traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets for future considerations in 2011. He never appeared for the Jacktes, but did play eight games for the Springfield Falcons in the AHL.

The Ostrava native returned to Europe the following year. In his first season, he appeared in both the SHL and Tipsport Extraliga. He would become a journeyman soon after switching teams frequently. From 2012 to 2017, he appeared in Czechia, Denmark, England, France, Italy, Slovakia, and Sweden. To end the 2017 season, Kalus joined Krakow in Poland. Kalus would help Cracovia Krakow capture the PHL championship. After a successful end to the regular season and playoffs, Kalus would return to Krakow for another year. The first time he had played for the same team two seasons in a row with no stops in between since he was in the AHL. He would retire after his second year with Krakow. In total, he recorded 26 goals and 32 assists in 75 PHL games. He currently works as a hockey agent.

If you want to keep up with all the Polish hockey action, make sure to follow us on Twitter @PolandHockey, like our Facebook page, and add us on Instagram @PolishPuck_.

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.

If you want to keep up with all the Polish hockey action, make sure to follow us on Twitter @PolandHockey, like our Facebook page, and add us on Instagram @PolishPuck_.

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.

If you want to keep up with all the Polish hockey action, make sure to follow us on Twitter @PolandHockey, like our Facebook page, and add us on Instagram @PolishPuck_.

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. 

If you want to keep up with all the Polish hockey action, make sure to follow us on Twitter @PolandHockey, like our Facebook page, and add us on Instagram @PolishPuck_.

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

If you want to keep up with all the Polish hockey action, make sure to follow us on Twitter @PolandHockey, like our Facebook page, and add us on Instagram @PolishPuck_.

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

If you want to keep up with all the Polish hockey action, make sure to follow us on Twitter @PolandHockey, like our Facebook page, and add us on Instagram @PolishPuck_.