Category: PHL

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.

“Breakout Stars?” 2019-20 PHL Team Previews: JKH GKS Jastrzebie

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

JKH GKS Jastrzebie is the team that it would be great if every other PHL team could be them. They are the best at developing talent by far. This has created an amazing young core of talent that will have them being a contender for years to come if players stay.  Last year, after a strong start their season ended quickly at the hands of Cracovia Krakow. There is no doubt that they have the young talent and potential, but the production hasn’t been there. 40-year-old center Peter Fabus led the team in points last year. Fabus and Tomas Kominek were the only two players with more than 25 points last season and now both are gone. They found upgrades over both in my opinion, but if they’re going to win it all, they need their young talent to start producing offensively.

Forwards

Dominik Jarosz – Jesse Rohtla – Maciej Urbanowicz

Artem Iossafov – Radoslaw Sawicki  – Dominik Pas

Martin Kasperlík – Jan Soltys – Kamil Walega

Radoslaw Nalewajka – Kamil Wróbel – Patryk Pelaczyk

Other forwards: Lukasz Nalewajka, Patryk Matusik, Tomasz Kulas

The offense has a lot of young talent and they have done a better job of surrounding them with strong veterans then in years past. Jesse Rohtla is one of the biggest free-agent additions of the PHL offseason. The talented Finnish center spent the last two seasons with GKS Katowice ranking up 117 points during that time. That is the third-most points by a player in the PHL since the 2017-2018 season. He is the exact player that Jastrzebie needed. Rohtla was not the only major addition from GKS Katowice, as Maciej Urbanowicz joined the team as well. Urbanowicz returned to the team after four seasons away. The power forward is always good for around point per game production and someone younger players would really benefit from having on their wing. Now to the young talent that needs to start producing at high levels. Dominik Jarosz has been quite impressive in pre-season action scoring quite a few goals. The 20-year-old winger had only 15 points last year and did attract some national team attention. Dominik Pas is a great two-way player and strong forechecker. He has had 20 points in each of the past three seasons despite being only 19. Jan Soltys and Kamil Walega are one of the best duos in Polish hockey. The two have produced great numbers on the international stage and in the PHL. Both forwards will be leaders on Poland’s U20 team and should be leaders on Jastrzebie. If young talent produces at high levels this could be one of the most fierce offenses in the PHL.

Defensemen

Jakub Giminski – Henrich Jabornik

Kamil Gorny – Maris Jass 

Arkadiusz Kostek – Grzegorz Radzienciak

Jakub Michalowski – Kordian Chorazyczewski

This defense isn’t exciting but is still above average among PHL squads. Henrich Jabornik was the first new import to the PHL this year and is a pretty interesting player. Jabornik was a highly thought of player in his junior days, he appeared at the U18 IIHF championships and World Juniors for Slovakia. He has played in over 250 Tipsport Liga games, but has spent four years in the Erste Liga as well. There in Hungary, he has shown a lot more recording at least 10 goals and 17 assists in each season. Kamil Gorny is a really solid defensemen and maybe the best Polish defensemen on the roster. Gorny returns to JKH GKS Jastrzebie after a three-year stint with GKS Tychy. Maris Jass will be a fun player to watch this season. The veteran Latvian defensemen has played in 15 different hockey leagues and represented Latvia at plenty of international events. He is not afraid to play physical or rush up the ice. Jass plays an all-around solid game. Grzegorz Radzienciak is one of the best young defensemen in Poland. His defensive skills are ready for professional hockey, but the other end of his game has kinda flatlined since his final junior days. The defense is a lot of like of the offense featuring some strong young talent with the right amount of imports and veterans insulating them.

Goalies

Ondrej Raszka

David Marek

Oskar Prokop

In net JKH GKS Jastrzebie has a three-headed dragon of Czech goaltenders. Ondrej Raszka is the third best goalie in Poland behind Odrobny and Murray. It is a shame that he has yet to play a game for Poland at an IIHF event. He is the youngest of the three though so he has time. Raszka is vital to his team’s success and led the league in save percentage last year. A better team around him offensively should make his job easier. Now the back-up position is a bit odd to me. This offseason, Jastrzebie added young Czech goalie David Marek. Now Marek seemed to have an inconsistent career in the Czech junior leagues and lower Czech pro leagues. As a backup, I’m sure he will be fine. The thing that is odd to me is that the team also has Oskar Prokop. Prokop has a similar story to Raszka. A decent, but somewhat inconsistent career in the Czech Republic before coming over to Poland, and later representing team Poland. Prokop had a rough year last year, he only played 12 total games and was left off the roster for Poland at the U20 World Championships. I don’t know if he was injured or what was the reason for his lack of appearances. This year already Prokop has played two games in the first league, posting strong performances in each match. My guess is the goal is to allow him more playing time, while Marek can take the few times Raszka doesn’t play.

Prediction: 3rd

This team has an above-average offense and defense that is combined with one of the best goaltenders in Poland. Their team as it is should be a contender in the PHL, if young players are ready to start producing and contributing a lot more though this team could be in line for a championship run. That is betting on a lot of players taking big steps in their career.

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“Can Never Count Them Out” 2019-20 PHL Team Previews: Cracovia Krakow

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

There are just some sports teams that never seem to lose, no matter how the odds are stacked against them, they just seem to still be there contending for a shot at the title. Cracovia Krakow is the New York Yankees or New England Patriots of the PHL. Last season, they struggled, and it seemed that Cracovia was done for. Torun had taken their place in the standings at times and every part of the team seemed inconsistent. Then they went to the finals anyway losing to GKS Tychy. Since 2007-08 they have appeared in the finals 9 out of 12 times. There is just no counting them out. ITS A TRAP THEY LULL THE OTHER PHL TEAMS INTO BEFORE STRIKING LIKE A VIPER.

Forwards

Ondrej Mikula – Michal Vachovec – Damian Kapica

Mateusz Bepierszcz – Kamil Kalinowski – Michal Barta

Filip Drzewiecki – Adam Domogala – Sebastian Brynkus

Lukasz Kaminski – Kasper Bryniczka – Mateusz Bezwinski

Other forwards: Antoni Dziurdzia

The offense is similar to most years with Cracovia, some familiar faces with talented imports surrounding them. Damian Kapica is the best Polish forward in the PHL without a doubt. He is an incredibly gifted goal scorer as shown by his five-goal performance against Ukraine at the World Championship. Michal Vachovec returns after finishing third in scoring during the 2018-19 PHL season. Vachovec is a really skilled player and a joy to watch. Ondrej Mikula is the most significant addition to the team this year. The Slovakian winger has played 480 games in the Tipsport Liga, recording 239 points. In pre-season matches, he has produced quite well for Krakow. Cracovia will now also have Kamil Kalinowski for a full season. After coming over from GKS Tychy, he had 16 points in 22 games. Michal Barta is currently on a try-out and an interesting import. Barta has produced well in the top two levels of Czech hockey and had an above-average season in the Tipsport Liga. Adam Domogola is a personal favorite player of mine, and I was glad to see him post career-high numbers in the PHL last season. He is finally starting to break through and reach the potential he showed as a younger player. Then there are key pieces to the national team’s future like Sebastian Brynkus and Lukasz Kaminski. It is an ideal offense in the league without import rules.

Defensemen

Miloslav Jáchym – Bartlomiej Bychawski

Maciej Kruczek – Mateusz Rompkowski

Ales JezekJiri Gula

Patryk Gosztyla – Bartosz Dabkowski

Other defensemen: Adrian Gajor

The defensive group is one of the best in the PHL and features some of the best depth in all of Poland. Miloslav Jáchym came over mid-season from Unia Oswiecim and was impressive. Like a lot of defensemen on Krakow, Jachym is a defensive first guy and doesn’t really offer a lot at the offensive end. I usually prefer defensemen that have stronger offensive tendencies, but none of the defensive only guys on Krakow can be upgraded that easily. Bartlomiej Bychawski is a fun player to watch. You never really know what you’re going to get. He is good at both ends of the ice, but also can be overly physical and take a lot of penalties. Maciej Kruczek is one of the top defensemen in Poland. He plays a strong two-way game. You know he is going to play a reliable game if Cracovia supplies his equipment… Patryk Gosztyla returns to Poland after developing in the Slovak junior system since 2015. Gosztyla has polished his skills and is ready to try his hand at professional hockey. This is a great defensive group with a lot of depth. I would prefer more offensive types, but this model as never dragged down Cracovia before.

Goalies

Miroslav Kopriva

Robert Kowalowka

The goaltending for Cracovia should be near the top, as Miroslav Kopriva showed a lot during his 16 game stint last season. Kopriva also has a strong history in the Central Hockey League and Tipsport Extraliga. The problem is his more recent performances in the Czech Republic’s first league and the Elite Ice Hockey League. There he posted back to back seasons with save percentages under .900. If Kopriva does struggle that could be the kiss of death for Krakow, as they no longer have a ready to start back-up like Michael Luba to turn to. Robert Kowalowka has been pretty inconsistent in his career so far and never played more than 11 games. Part of me wishes he played more though given his success in juniors and in small sample sizes in the PHL.

Prediction: 4th 

I am not as a big of a fan of Cracovia’s roster as I am for some teams. They still have a solid roster that should contend for a championship, but I feel there are more skilled and exciting teams. You can never count them out though, whenever things are bleak they still find a way. You also can’t forget about late-season transfers with them. Kalinowski, Kopriva, Jachcym, and Jezek all arrived halfway through the season last year and that isn’t counting ones who didn’t re-sign like Marek Tvrdon. You just can’t count them out.

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Is the Tipsports Liga Worth It For Polish Clubs?

There was a time where I was a huge supporter of a Polish team joining the Tipsport Liga. There is a lot of value to the idea. This would be great exposure for Polish hockey and a great experience for Polish players. A lot of the benefits would be for the national team in the short term. Long-term though it could have some risk for Poland. Losing top clubs would result in a weaker Polish Hockey League. The league is undoubtedly on the rise now and has as much talent and competition as ever. The vital question becomes what is best for the growth of hockey in Poland. What will help the game grow more, a strong domestic league or a strong national team?

The benefits to the national team may not be that strong anymore. This year so far, PHL teams have a record of 6-4 against Tipsport Liga teams. There is no doubt in my opinion that the top half of PHL teams would be competitive in the Tipsport Liga. I believe they would fare better than the Hungarian teams that entered the league. This shows the rising talent of Polish teams, but as well as the decline of the Tipsport Liga. The top Slovak league has been falling for a bit now. The two factors should make PHL teams fit right in, but this isn’t about fitting in. It is about improving the national team. How much can players gain or what opportunities could they earn from the slight bump in play?

I don’t think what Polish teams could gain is worth the damage it will cause to the PHL. I think the model that all small hockey countries should want to be is Great Britain. The idea of a single or a couple top teams in stronger leagues has not shown amazing progress for the likes of Croatia and Kazakhstan. Their results may grow for a bit, thanks to the influx of talented imports, but they then decline or flatline. It is a short-term bandaid that hasn’t been able to spur more significant growth.

Great Britain has grown the Elite Ice Hockey League (EIHL) to such a high level that the country is passing the domestic leagues of France, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia. They now are even nipping on the heels of Austria, in my opinion. The league allowed talented imports, especially welcoming those from North America. This helped shaped the current style of British hockey. Only the top percent of British players appeared in the league. This has improved league quality a lot and granted British players wonderful opportunities. Liam Kirk was able to be drafted from the league. They shot up in IIHF rankings and World Championships tournaments. They made it to the Elite division and are staying there.

The PHL has removed the import rules like the EIHL did. While there is a lot of pushback from some in Polish hockey. The skill level of the league has already grown a lot. The league is as competitive as ever. Teams no longer have to try and compete over the same small group of top Polish players to win. They can bring in better depth as well. This is very important for teams in large markets that are outside Southern Poland. Torun and Gdansk can play meaningful hockey games now, both teams are leaders in Polish attendance. Stronger teams mean better attendance, which leads to more money, attention, and more kids getting into hockey.

The Visegrad Cup is a significant test for Polish hockey in regards to gaining acceptance into the Tipsport Liga. JKH GKS Jastrzebie went undefeated to win their group, Podhale lost a single game and finished second. While Katowice dropped both their contest so far it was in a competitive fashion. If the tournament was set to judge how competitive PHL teams would be, they proved their worth in a major way. This forces the Tipsport Liga decision soon though.

The PHL is on the rise, and the Tipsport Liga is on the decline. I don’t believe the Tipsport Liga is worth it for Polish clubs. I don’t think there is enough that Polish clubs and players gain from moving the Tipsport Liga. Growing the PHL should be the top concern for Polish hockey. A goal being to get the PHL in more larger markets like Lodz and Poznan, both of which have hockey teams in the lower Poland divisions. In losing top teams, the PHL would also lose their Champions Hockey League spot which is excellent exposure for Polish hockey. The PHL can not absorb such losses.

In this scenario, the current crop of Polish players do take a hit. There are fewer jobs for them in the PHL, and top players lose on some growth. Top Polish players need to leave Poland to get better, and the current generation of talent seems to believe that. Wronka has left for the EIHL, Łyszczarczyk is staying in America, Lewandowski is in the United States Hockey League, and Zygmunt left for the Tipsport Extraliga. Polish players in stronger leagues and a growing PHL are exactly what Polish hockey needs.

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“The Slovenian Strategy” 2019-20 PHL Team Previews: Unia Oswiecim

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

Last season was the worse finish for Unia Oswiecim since the club was relegated to the first league in 2010. This was despite some big offseason moves. The struggles continued to start this offseason. Roman Stantien took the team’s head coaching job but left after two weeks to take a job with HC Slovan Bratislava. This left the team needing a new head coach and one that was committed to the team for a few years. That job went to Nik Zupancic, the former head of the Slovenian national team. Stantien’s departure may end up being a blessing for Unia Oswiecim though. Zupancic has brought some great players with him and has had an impressive pre-season.

Forwards

Andrej Themár – Luka Kalan – Gregor Koblar

Anatoli Protasenya – Alexei Trandin – Martin Przygodzki

Lukasz Krzemien – Dariusz Wanat – Dominik Raska

Sebastian Kowalowka – Damian Piotrowicz – Patryk Malicki

Other forwards: Adrian Prusak, Krzysztof Dudkiewicz

This is a very talented forward group, and one that I feel is going to be underrated. This is due to how unfamiliar people are with some of the import talents. Andrej Themár is one that Polish fans are well familiar with though as he was an above a point per game player in his two seasons in the PHL with GKS Katowice and Unia Oswiecim. He has lined up in pre-season games with Gregor Koblar and Luka Kalan. Kalan and Koblar both had solid performances in the Alps Hockey League last year. Anatoli Protasenya is set to be the tallest player in the PHL this year at 6’6. Despite his size, he is not an overly physical player, but a strong goal scorer. More familiar faces include Alexei Trandin, he shined as a top performer for Orlik Opole and holds a career point per game of 1.10 in the PHL. As well as Martin Przygodzki who once finished fourth in PHL scoring during the 2015-16 season. He always has excellent offensive potential but can be inconsistent. Lukasz Krzemien showed he is a strong leader last year. At just 22-years-old, he led Polonia Bytom through an awful season. He is an impressive young player and really needed a chance with a top club. I really like this group and think they have a lot of potential for production across all four lines.

Defensemen

Klemen Pretnar – Jakub Wanacki

Peter BezuskaPatrik Luza

Miroslav Zatko – Jakub Saur

Milosz Noworyta – Patryk Noworyta

The defense has a lot to like. One of the best defensemen in Poland, Jakub Wanacki, signed a two-year deal with the club. Wanacki is sharp at both ends of the ice, with defense being the stronger of the two. His partner in pre-season matches has been Klemen Pretnar. Pretnar has a long history in the Erste Bank Eishockey Liga and with the Slovenian national team. Wanacki and him could be one of the best pairs in Poland. Patrik Luza is a former KHL player and at 25 is always on the move. Since 2016, he has played for seven different teams. Luza was once highly thought of. The defensemen appeared twice for both the Slovakia U18 and U20 team at IIHF events, as well as being a regular in the KHL for HC Slovan Bratislava. He is a defensive first guy and his resume earned him a two-year deal. I think he could really shine if finally given a chance to settle down. Miroslav Zatko will be making his return to the PHL after a year off. Zatko has played in 11 PHL seasons, and Polish fans are well accustomed to his skills. Milosz Noworyta has a bright future for the national team, I had him ranked 41st in my top 50 Polish U23 rankings.

Goalies

Clarke Saunders

Sebastian Lipinski

In terms of actual duos in the PHL, which there are not many, this may be the best. Clarke Saunders was a bit of a controversial choice, when the team announced his signing. He struggled last year in the Alps Hockey League posting a .892 SV% during the regular season. Saunders did have some merit though, the previous year he posted a .930 SV% in the regular season and then led the Alps Hockey League playoffs in SV% with .935. He also had a decent track record in the ECHL and NCAA. So far in pre-season games, Saunders has impressed me. I think the Canadian was the right choice. Sebastian Lipinski is the future of Poland in goal. He isn’t ready to start yet, but Saunders should allow him to play more games then he did last year. Former long-time starting goalie, Michal Fikrt is also staying with the team as a goaltending coach. Lipinski has a solid foundation around him to develop. Either goalie could lead Unia to victory.

Prediction: 5th

I am really enamored with this team. I think they are going to be the most exciting team to watch in the PHL this year. There are a lot of interesting players, and these players would be top players on other PHL clubs. Of all the mid-tier teams in the PHL, Unia Oswiecim is the best in my opinion. They should have their best finish since the 2013-14 season.

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“Roller Coaster Offseason” 2019-20 PHL Team Previews: Podhale Nowy Targ

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

Podhale stayed on their normal course last year playing for a bronze medal for a fifth straight season. The offseason got underway with the expected departure of head coach Tomek Valtonen. Then rumors started to spread about the team in regards to their finances. Top players like Mateusz Michalski, Oskar Jaskiewicz, and Patryk Wajda departed for GKS Katowice and more departures seemed likely. Then Phillip Barski was named head coach and Podhale was able to retain the rest of their core. Drama would arise once again though when it came to getting a license to play in the PHL, and Podhale would only receive theirs at the last minutes. A couple of days before the team would fully ramp up their training and begin to play exhibition games news broke that they had requested some veteran Polish players to take a pay cut. Polish hockey legends Krzysztof Zapala and Marcin Kolusz would leave the club because of this. More departures were expected, but none came to light while the team added more import players. A true roller coaster of an offseason, but how will that affect the team on the ice?

Forwards 

Bartlomiej Neupauer – Krystian Dziubinski – Tomas Kominek

Richard Jencik – Emil Svec -Dariusz Gruszka

Emil Svec – Tomas Franek – Jakub Worwa

Kacper Guzik – Filip Hudak – Filip Wielkiewicz

Other forwards: Adrian Pawel Slowakiewicz, Daniel Kapica, Dylan Willick, and Lukasz Siuty

The offense saw one major late departure in Zapala, maybe two depending on where you play Kolusz. I think they did an adequate job of replacing lost talent here. The forward group is not the best in the PHL, but is above average. Krystian Dziubinski is one of the best skaters and two way forwards in Poland. Bartlomiej Neupauer is quite a strong offensive producer and has been very impressive during his time with the national team. Dariusz Gruszka returns to Podhale and should hopefully see his production increase after a disappointing year with Unia Oswiecim. Tomas Kominek is the biggest import addition after spending the past three seasons with JKH GKS Jastrzebie. Richard Jencik should be a major import contributor as well. Jakub Worwa is Podhale’s best young forward and I would like to see him have quite a larger role this season. Again the offense is above average, there are no glaring holes in it.

Defensemen

Samu Suominen – Maciej Sulka

Robert Mrugala – Santeri Arousva

Jason Seeed – Yevgeni Kamenev

Other defensemen: Patryk Wsol

The defense took a lot of hits, only one of the Finnish defensemen from last year returned and they saw the major departures of Dutka, Kolusz, Jaskiewicz, and Wajda. Samu Suominen was one of the best Finnish defensemen last year and is really good re-signing for Podhale. Maciej Sulka is a decent add from JKH GKS Jastrzebie, but only really a Dutka replacement. Santeri Arousva is an interesting import addition, Metsis alumni have had quite a bit of success in the PHL. Arousva should be able to hold down a top-four spot in the PHL. Yevgeni Kamenev is an interesting prospect and I had him ranked 36th in my top 50 U23 Polish player rankings. He was a really good junior prospect but has struggled at the professional level. This defense lacks top-end players and could use some depth. It really is the only major problem the team has.

Goalies

Przemyslaw Odrobny

Blazej Kapica

Pawel Bizub

The witcher is still in net so there is nothing to worry about. Przemyslaw Odrobny is the best goalie in Polish hockey and will help Podhale stay in any game. It is hard to say what they have in a backup. Blazej Kapica has struggled at times this pre-season but also recorded a .929 save percentage in seven PHL games last year.

Prediction: 6th

The worse finish for Podhale since 2013-14. A weak defense and an offense that well not bad, is worse than last year has Podhale finishing sixth in my rankings. There isn’t much young talent to bet on, but some imports may be able to lead them to a higher place. Podhale is currently in a rebuild. They need to find new leaders and build up new young talent. More chances for the Worwas and Kamenevs.