KH Torun has named their new head coach in 43-year-old Jussi Tupamäki. The Finnish coach currently works as the head coach for the Estonia National team. On the club side, he worked for JYP in the Liiga last year as their Director of Player Development, along with joining the coaching staff as an assistant in October.
KH Torun needed a new head coach after parting ways with Yuri Chukh. Belarusian coach Yuri Chukh had been leading Torun since 2017, helping the team work their way up from the second league. He had a very strong knack for finding diamonds in the rough. Under him, Torun was able to find PHL stars out of the lower leagues of Europe. Torun finished strong under his leadership, including 5th in 2021. The team under Chukh relied heavily on imports much to the dismay of some Polish players.
Torun has recently stated a desire to develop more home grown talent. That seems to make Tupamäki a perfect fit. The former Liiga coach has a vast amount of experience. He started as a head coach in the women’s second league in Finland. He moved to coaching the junior ranks, even coaching in the top junior leagues of Finland. He then served as a head coach for the Estonia national team, and in the Mestis and EBEL. In 2021, he joined JYP in the Liiga as their director of player development. Tupamäki has experience as a coach, director of player development, director of coaching, and scout. He really ticks all the boxes that Torun needed.
This past season has seen a lot of top imports play in Poland. We have seen a lot of notable North American names. There has also been a considerable surge in European talent with players like Marek Hovorka and Kirill Lyamin. The arms race in the PHL has undoubtedly proved to bring a lot of new talent. It is a shame fans are not able to see it in person.
We recently made a team looking at the best North Americans to ever play in the PHL. Now is a chance to look at the top Europeans to ever play in Poland. The North American team had fewer roster choices to make as the number of North Americans to play in the PHL is pretty low. It also had the advantage of almost every North American to play in Poland has done so since I have been covering the PHL. That is not the case for Europeans in the PHL, as they have been an extended part of the PHL’s history. This means relying more on statistics and achievements. And the enormous error that some statistics and accomplishments are missing.
I feel this is going to make some roster choices more debated. I reached out to some of my contacts and hockey fans in Poland to measure some players’ impact. I did have a final choice on all picks. For rules on players, all European players are counted. Yes, Russian players are counted. Players must have played at least one entire season in the PHL. I will only consider what they accomplished in the PHL. What they did before or after does not matter. We will select 13 forwards, seven defensemen, and two goalies.
Milan Baranyk – Josef Vítek – Martin Vozdecký
Petr Šinágl – Richard Karl – Karel Horný
Marián Kacíř – Teddy Da Costa – Andrei Gusov
Roman Skutchan – Peter Tabaček – Marek Hovorka
Josef Vítek (2009-Present) – Vítek is the first pick for this list and would be on the all-time PHL team. The talented Czech forward has recorded 645 points in 671 games. He is 7th all-time in PHL scoring, with the most amount of points by a non-Polish player. As well as one of only seven players to record 300 or more goals in the PHL. He is a two-time PHL champion and a three-time Polish Cup winner. At 40-years-old, he is still going with a 20 point season for Stoczniowiec Gdansk in 2021.
Martin Vozdecký(2009-2018) – Vozdecký career in the PHL is nothing but achievement after achievement. No matter if it was for Sanok, Tychy, Polonia Bytom, Jastrzebie, or Katowice the talented forward had success. In 384 PHL games, the Czech forward posted 460 points. The second most by a non-Polish player. He is also a two-time PHL champion that has led the league in both goals and assists in separate seasons.
Milan Baranyk(03-04, 07-11, 12-14, 18) – The talented Czech forward appeared for five different PHL clubs, usually with stops in other European leagues between them. During his long career, Baranyk appeared in the PHL over 11 seasons. He recorded 444 points in 439 games, the 4th most points by a non-Polish player in the PHL. He also is a two-time PHL champion wining both with Podhale Nowy Targ.
Richard Kral (2011-2014) – Kral is one of the most distinguished Czech players ever, with a long and outstanding career in the Extraliga. He finished his career with JKH GKS Jastrzebie, where he recorded four straight years of at least 50 points. The Czech forward was always among the leaders in points, including leading the regular season in scoring in his first season. Overall he finished his PHL tenure with 257 points in 192 games. His 1.34 PPG is the third-highest by a non-Polish player.
Petr Šinágl(2014-2018) – The long-time Czech2 forward made an immediate impact when he joined KH Sanok in 2014 with a 75 point season. He would spend five years in the PHL with Sanok and Krakow. In total, he posted 312 points in 266 games. His point total is the seventh most by a non-Polish player in PHL history. Šinágl also won 3 PHL championships and a Polish Cup while leading the league in assists twice.
Karel Horný (00-02, 05-12) – Horný was a journeyman in Poland, appearing for six different clubs and two different Polish hockey levels. The Czech forward started his Poland career off by winning two straight PHL championships with Unia Oswiecim. He would later post high-scoring years for Krakow, Krynica, and Tychy. He later helped Oswiecim earn a promotion back to the PHL. Horný ranked up 298 regular season PHL points in his career.
Teddy Da Costa(06-10, 12-13, 18, 20-Present) – While Das Costa comes from a Polish mother, he is french born and represents France on the international stage. He helped raise awareness of the PHL by playing in the World Championships’ Elite Division while playing in the PHL. Da Costa has played for six different clubs in Poland, even spending part of his junior career with Zaglebie Sosnowiec. A ten-year ongoing PHL career has resulted in 386 points in 424 games.
Andrei Gusov (1995-2000) – Gusov, or Husau, could probably be named the head coach of this team if I named one. He is a multiple-time championship coach in the PHL. His playing career was even more impressive as the Belarusian national team forward played in parts of 6 PHL seasons. His six years included three with Podhale Nowy Targ. He ranked up at least 250 points in the league, some statistics are missing. He was the captain for SMS I Warszawa in 1999.
Marián Kacíř (2006-2011) – When you look at the mid-2000s, Imports were not as prominent. There was a huge star among them in Kacíř. He was an NHL draft pick, former AHL, DEL, Liiga, and SHL player. More importantly, he was a star in the PHL. In 6 years from 2005 to 2011, only the Polish legend Leszek Laszkiewicz had more points than Kacíř. And that 2011 season, the Czech forward played just nine games in the PHL. In 2008, he led the league in assists and points while helping Podhale Nowy Targ to a PHL championship. His final stat line was 298 points in 258 games.
Peter Tabaček (2008-2019) – When looking at the best forwards all time to appear for Unia Oswiecim, Tabaček has to be up there. The Slovak forward spent 12 years in the PHL, the first two with Naprzod Janow but the next ten straight with Oswiecim. For his career, he racked up 385 points in 503 games. Tabaček sits fifth in all-time points for Unia Oswiecim and is one of only five players to hit 300 points. He also won two bronze medals with the club and served as captain.
Marek Hovorka (2021-Present) – Hovorka had an excellent European career and was an Olympian for Slovakia at the 2012 winter games. He is now nearing the end of his career and is on a long-term deal with JKH GKS Jastrzebie, similar to Richard Kral. While his first PHL season is not yet even complete. The Slovakian forward led the regular season in scoring with 51 points in 35 games. That is nine more than second-place Zack Phillips. He is also poised to lead the league in overall scoring. While it may be only a year, the PHL is the strongest it has been in a while.
Roman Skutchan (99-02, 05-11) – Players seem to fall in love with the city of Gdansk and stay for a long time. That was the case with Roman Skutchan, who doesn’t have much of a record playing outside Poland. Of his 14 year career, 11 years were in Gdansk, including all but one of his first 12 seasons. In total, he recorded 370 points in 378 games for Stoczniowiec Gdansk.On a side note, his son Adam Skutchan played for MH Automatyka Gdansk in 2017 and 2018.
Vitali Semenchenko (1998-1999) – Semenchenko was a record-setter in the PHL. He set both the regular season and overall PHL scoring records. In 1999, he recorded 88 regular-season points and 11 playoff points. His overall record would stand until 2014, while his regular-season record lasted until 2016. Both of his records made it past a decade. His record-setting year was also pretty much double his point total the previous year with Podhale Nowy Targ. In his two seasons combined, the Ukrainian left-wing posted 139 points in 120 games.
Miroslav Zatko – Tomáš Jakeš
Pavel Mojžíš – Nicolas Besch
Peter Novajovský – Peter Bezuška
Miroslav Zatko (07-15, 17-18, 20-Present) – You don’t see many careers like Zatko. While they were not all in a row, he spent 13 years in the PHL, making the playoffs in 12 of them. While he never won a PHL championship, he did win two Polish Cups. The Slovakian defenseman also led PHL defenseman in goals, assists, and points numerous times. His 467 games are the most by any non-Polish defensemen, and his 313 points are the third most by any defensemen in PHL history.
Tomáš Jakeš (2006-2014) – The only defensemen to come close to the longevity that Zatko has in the PHL is Jakeš. He has played in nine PHL seasons, making the playoffs in eight of them. He is a PHL champion with Podhale in 2007 and then won three straight Polish Cups with GKS Tychy from 2008 to 2010. His final stat line came in at 204 points in 447 games, along with over 500 penalty minutes.
Pavel Mojžíš (2012-2015) – While a lot of players made it in parts thanks to their longevity in the PHL, Mojžíš was an offensive dynamo. He did stay for four years with Sanok and Tychy. He was such a force to reckon with production-wise that he would easily make the team with just his two best years. In 212 PHL games, the high-scoring Czech defenseman produced 183 points. The third most by any import on the back end. His .86 PPG is the most by any defenseman in PHL history with at least 50 games. He is also the only defensemen in PHL history with two seasons, where a defender averaged at least a point per game.
Nicolas Besch(2012-2015) – With Besch taking a spot on this list, 50% of all French players to play in the PHL made the team. He is a three-time PHL champion who also represents France at the IIHF elite level while playing in Poland. Besch recorded 149 points in 210 games. The french defender finished top 5 in scoring among defensemen in all of his PHL seasons.
Peter Novajovský(2016-Present) – Strong two-way play has made Novajovský one of the best defensemen in the PHL for this decade. He is a four-time PHL champion and one time Polish Cup winner. Since the Slovak defender arrived in Poland in 2016, only two defensemen have more points than him. Only one defenseman has a higher point per game among players with a min of 50 games. Novajovský continues to be a top defender for the top teams of Poland.
Peter Bezuška (2016-Present) – Bezuška joined the PHL, the same year as Novajosky. Both post pretty similar numbers. The Slovak defenseman has managed to stay healthy and be a workhorse for Unia Oswiecim, with whom he has spent his entire PHL career. His 254 games are the third most by a non-Polish defenseman in the PHL. He is only one of nine import defensemen to record 100 or more points in the PHL.
Martin Ivicic(2009-2012) – Ivicic impacted the scoresheet one way or another as the physical defenseman with strong two-way abilities. The Slovak defender posted 101 points in 144 games, along with 174 minutes. He bounced around in the PHL, playing with a different club in each of his PHL full seasons. His journeyman run resulted in a PHL champion with Podhale in 2010 and a Polish Cup with Sanok in 2011.
Ondřej Raszka(11-12, 14-Present) – Raszka is one of those players who has a chance at making an all-time PHL team, not just the European squad. His 308 games are the 6th most by any goalie in PHL history and the most by an import. His career .933 SV% is one of the highest among goalies in PHL history. Add in two-time PHL champion and one-time Polish Cup winner. Plus, being the backstop to so many great PHL clubs, he was an easy pick here.
Tomáš Fučík (17-18, 20) – Picking the second goalie was hard. There were a couple of goalies with longevity. Then you had a few goalies with great short runs. Fučík was right in the middle of those categories. The Czech goalie posted an SV% above .930% in all three of his PHL seasons. His run was also split and showed dominance upon his return in a better league on a worse team. That cemented him in the lineup to me. While his accomplishes don’t match others on this list, besides leading the 2020 regular season in save percentage. Each of his seasons ranks among the best goalie seasons in the PHL.
If you wanted to know which country had the most here you go.
Here some honorable mentions of players by their country: (Belarus) Andrei Prima (Czechia) Richard Bordowski, Dusan Adamcik, Pavel Urban, Michal Fikrt (Finland) Jesse Rohtla, Jarmo Jokila, Joni Haverinen (Kazaksthan) Yuri Karatayev, Alexander Artyomenko (Latvia) Maris Jass (Russia) Alexei Trandin, Denis Sergushkin (Slovakia) Milan Furo, Andrej Themár, Zoltan Kubat (Sweden) Kevin Lindskoug
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.
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.
Zach Josepher – Jason Seed
Matt Williams – Adrian Gajor
Sam Roberts – Ryan Barlock
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.