Category: PHL

The Most Interesting Import on Every PHL Team

Every year there are fresh faces in the PHL. Sometimes import signings are big-name players with NHL or KHL experience, while others are from lower North American or European minor leagues looking to take the next step in their careers. Some become team staples, while others are gone in less than a month. I always enjoy checking out every import signing in the PHL. Today I wanted to look at each team’s most interesting new foreign player—keyword interesting, not the most impactful or best signing. 

Cracovia Krakow – Ben Blood

Ben Blood is an American defenseman with an impressive resume. In 2007, he was drafted by the Ottawa Senators in the fourth round of the NHL entry draft. He would then spend four years at the University of North Dakota. Following his college career, he would bounce around the North American minor league system, playing 80 AHL games and 50 ECHL games. He would primarily play in Liiga starting in 2015 and, in total, appeared in 300 Liiga games. The 6’4 defensemen spent last year in Austria in the ICEHL. The physical defenseman will surely be a force in the PHL this season. 

GKS Katowice – Shigeki Hitosato

Hitosato is only the third Japanese player to appear in Poland, and he was very impressive at the World Championships that Poland hosted earlier this year. Over the past three seasons, the 5’6 forward has been one of the top producers for the Tohoku Free Blades in the Asia League and Japan Cup. The Tomakomai native was the captain of the Japan U20 squad and has since transitioned into one of the top scorers for the Japanese senior team. He already scored his first PHL goal two games into the year. 

GKS Tychy – Alexander Younan

Finding good defensemen is more challenging than finding skilled forwards. Younan already has 228 games in the Hockey Allsvenskan and spent one season in the SHL. That kind of resume is not something you commonly find in the PHL. He is only the ninth defenseman to play in the PHL after playing at Sweden’s top level. Last year was his first year outside of Sweden, and he spent it in the ICEHL. 

JKH GKS Jastrzebie – Bence Bálizs

With Patrik Nechvátal retiring, there was a need for a new number one in Jastrzebie. The new netminder came from an unlikely source in one of Poland’s biggest rivals in Hungarian Bence Bálizs. The Hungary national team goalie has spent his entire career in his home country, playing in the national league and for Hungarian teams competing in the ICEHL and Tipos Extraliga. You don’t see many players take their first trip abroad during their age 32 seasons. The five-time Hungarian league Champion is only the fifth Hungary-born player to play in the PHL. 

KH Torun – Ervīns Muštukovs

Ervīns Muštukovs is the definition of a journeyman goalie. The 38-year-old has played in 13 professional leagues for 20 teams. He has represented Latvia at the Elite Division of the World Championship and reached the KHL with Latvia’s Dinamo Riga. Not only is he the clubs’ goalie, but he will also serve as goaltending coach for Torun’s MHL team. He is adding another two things to one of the longest resumes I have ever seen in hockey. 

Podhale Nowy Targ – Lukáš Hvila

Lukáš Hvila is a legend in Slovakia’s top league. He has the fifth most games played in league history, with 969 games over 19 seasons. The 40-year-old hasn’t just played in his home country either. He made stops in Czechia, France, Kazakhstan, and Slovenia. That longevity as a player is extremely impressive. A couple of months into this year, he will turn 41 and play his first season in Poland. It also is his 24th season of playing professional hockey.  

STS Sanok – Vladislav Lysenko

Vladislav Lysenko has a unique history in international hockey. The defenseman was born in Ukraine but developed in the Russian junior system. His time in Russia led to him eventually representing the Russia U18 team at the IIHF U18s and Ivan Hlinka Memorial tournament. He has played in his birth country for the past two seasons and has not represented Russia since 2013. It’s an interesting background, given Russia’s current invasion of Ukraine. This invasion led to Russians being pretty much blocklisted from the PHL. The 27-year-old defenseman has spent most of his career in Russia’s second league, the VHL, but has appeared in five KHL games. 

Unia Oswiecim – Pavel Padakin

Ukrainian hockey had fallen a bit in a similar way to Polish hockey. Not many high-end players, but Pavel Padakin broke through the ceiling most Ukrainians faced. The Kyiv native worked his way up in Ukraine and earned a chance in the USA’s NAHL. He got noticed in the NAHL and would be drafted in the CHL import draft by the Calgary Hitmen. Following his junior career, he would attract the attention of the Philadelphia Flyers and sign with their American Hockey League club. After one year in the AHL, he would head to Russia and sign to the KHL. He would play in the KHL from 2016 to 2021, recording 76 points in 206 games, and earning all-star game honors in 2018. 

Zaglebie Sosnowiec – Nikita Butsenko

Our last team didn’t bring in a lot of imports and is among the leaders in Polish players in the PHL. A lot of their imports are also familiar faces to PHL fans. One of those is Nikita Butsenko, who returns to Poland for the third time. The 32-year-old center has split his career between Ukraine and Poland, along with one season in Romania. He has recorded 77 points in 110 PHL games with Polonia Bytom and Sosnowiec. Butsenko is a leader of the Ukrainian national team and has always received interest from Polish teams every offseason.

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2022-23 PHL Standing Predictions

The hockey season is officially in full swing. The season finally starts after a crazy offseason involving wars complicating players and teams, teams backing out and then backing in, and everything else in Polish hockey. This year, in my opinion, should continue to show the strength of the PHL and how it has improved. That should already be seen across Europe with last year’s champions, GKS Katowice, beating the runner-ups of Switzerland, ZSC Lions. Will they repeat as champions, or will a new team take the crown?

9. Podhale Nowy Targ

Podhale will most likely be repeating as the worst team in the PHL. But this time, it is not an easy guess. Podhale is much better this year, especially with the additions of Kevin Lindskoug and Martin Przygodzki. Last year, Podhale won only three games, so their one win in four games this year is a promising sign. New head coach Juraj Faith has a lot of challenges to face, but they have done a solid job of assembling a roster of PHL veterans, young talent, plus quite a few random imports. While I think they will finish last in the PHL, I don’t believe they’ll be as bad as the last-place teams of the past.

8. Zaglebie Sosnowiec

Zaglebie Sosnowiec had an up-and-down off-season, which is how this season will probably go. I see them finishing in eighth place, where they were last year. Much of that will come down to how Patrik Spesny and Sebastian Lipinski perform in net. Spesny had a rough year in Sanok last season, while Lipinski has never had extended PHL playing time. The offseason additions of Jakub Witecki and Nikita Butsenko will be relied on heavily for the offense. I like what they’re doing on defense with some young additions that will finally get big chances. I approve of where they are going, but it is just not a winning team right now.

7. STS Sanok

Sanok had the roughest offseason of any team. Not due to anything with roster building, but their main sponsor’s building burned down. They originally had to back out of the PHL due to funding but were saved just a minute before midnight. The team brought in a whole new batch of Finnish players who will once again be relied on as team leaders. Ville Heikkinen has the potential to be a really solid producer while getting Kalle Valtola from GKS Katowice should really help on the backend. Unfortunately, losing the PHL’s leading scorer Jakub Bukowski and Radoslaw Sawicki is something I don’t think they added enough to overcome. In the third straight repeat, I have Sanok finishing seventh.

6. KH Torun

I have KH Torun also repeating their place from last year. While not exciting, that is just the bottom of the PHL. Only three players from their top ten scorers are returning this year. The Kalinowski brothers will be relied on heavily to step up their production. While young, Mark Viitanen is a big-body forward and has a lot of potential to be an impactful winger. The strength of this team is on defense. The addition of Jakub Gimiński will be a major key to competing with top clubs, and I am really excited to see the sophomore year of Eryk Schafer. The true key will be how well veteran Latvian goalie Ervīns Muštukovs holds up in net. Depending on how young players produce or imports turn out, Torun could stun a few teams.

5. JKH GKS Jastrzebie

JKH GKS Jastrzebie is the top team to me that had the most disappointing offseason. In net, I am very wary of Bence Bálizs as the starting goalie taking over for Patrik Nechvátal. Vitālijs Pavlovs, who was a key player last year, was surprisingly dismissed this season after one game. The team brought the well-traveled Josef Mikyska to replace Pavlovs in that top center role. Mikyska should be close to a point-per-game player in the PHL. Losing Frenks Razgals, Martin Kasperlík, and Roman Rác hurts a lot, and the forwards they brought in the replace them doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence. The big news was being able to retain star forward Dominik Pas. A strong Polish core should keep them towards the top, but I don’t know about contending.

4. Cracovia Krakow

Cracovia’s roster strength might change since I don’t doubt one or two players might be here just for the Champion Hockey League games. Still it was quite the offseason for Poland’s New York Yankees as they raided other PHL teams of top forwards like Martin Kasperlík, Mateusz Michalski, Patryk Wronka, Radoslaw Sawicki, Robert Arrak, and Roman Rác. Combine that with talented imports including Jack Walker, Marek Račuk, and Vojtěch Polák, and it is hard to see Cracovia not having a top offense. They retained their strong defensive core based around Ales Jezek, Jakub Saur, and Jiri Gula, and I’m really intrigued by the addition of American Ben Blood. In net Rok Stojanovič and David Zabolotny should be more than enough to lead this team to a potential title.

3. Unia Oswiecim

Oswiecim has a chance to lead the league in goals for. The additions of the acclaimed North American duo Alex Szczechura and Mike Cichy should guarantee them two top scorers. Pavel Padakin also has a chance to make a major impact in the PHL this year. These new imports add to already established top forwards Krystian Dziubiński and Teddy Da Costa who should lead the charge. Defense is not the strongest point of the team, but I really like the offensive potential of Pylyp Pangelov-Yuldashev from the back end, while veteran Latvian Aleksandrs Jerofejevs should provide stability. Linus Lundin is taking the starting role in goal, and while he boasts a .905 sv% in 106 HockeyAllsvenskan games, he has struggled with consistency in his career. The offensive firepower should be enough to carry this team to the top, with title dreams if they hold up defensively.

2. GKS Tychy

It feels like a season of transition for the former back-to-back champs. Last year, they finished fifth in the PHL and would lose in the bronze medal series. The team said goodbye to a lot of major imports and team leaders. Tyhcy brought in more than enough major replacements. National team members Bartosz Ciura, Filip Komorski, last year’s regular season goals leader Jakub Bukowski, and Oskar Jaśkiewicz all joined the team this offseason. Ondrej Sedivy and Roman Szturc should be solid imports addition to help the forward core. On the back end, getting Ciura back along with import Alexander Younan and Jaśkiewicz should be able to replace the losses there. Tomas Fucik has long been one of the best PHL goaltenders and I don’t see that changing. GKS Tychy is an easy pick to finish in the top two.

1. GKS Katowice

The reigning PHL champions did have a lot of talent stolen in the offseason, but I don’t see that preventing them from re-claiming their title. First, it starts in net, John Murray is the best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be. They retained their national team core, which included Marcin Kolusz not returning to Podhale Nowy Targ after his loan last season. Niko Mikkola should also be an interesting addition to the team and give them an another offensive defensemen to pair on the power play with Kolusz.

Grzegorz Pasiut should continue to lead the team on the forward end, while Bartosz Fraszko and Patryk Krezolek are among the best young Polish forwards. Christian Blomqvist and Teemu Pulkkinen should be relied on heavily to produce. While Brandon Magee brings a lot of energy and should help drive play. Japanese forward Shigeki Hitosato was impressive at the Division 1 Group B World Championships, so I am excited to see what he is going to be in Poland. The team has to hope Igor Smal and Jakub Porkurat will take another step forward and contribute more offensively. It is hard to see the Champs not being the major favorite to repeat.

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Former KHL All-Star Pavel Padakin Signs With Unia Oswiecim

A big offseason has continued for Unia Oswiecim, and they continue to add to what should be a strength on offense. The team has now added former KHL and AHL forward Pavel Padakin. The deal is a one-year-agreement with the Ukrainian-born player.

Pavel Padakin is a player that comes with a great resume. He started representing Ukraine at the U18s when he turned 16. In 2012, he moved to North America, playing junior hockey in the NAHL and the WHL, mainly with the Calgary Hitmen. After his junior career, he signed in the AHL with the Philadelphia Flyers AHL affiliate, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. He would split his lone professional North America year between the Phantoms and the Reading Royals of the ECHL. He signed in the KHL for 2017 with HK Sochi and would spend parts of the following four seasons in the league. He posted 76 points (26G-50A-76PTS) in 206 KHL games, including an All-Star selection in 2018. He spent the most recent previous season in Austria’s top league, the ICEHL, with Dornbirner EC. He posted eight goals and six assists in 44 games with the Australian club.

Paval Padakin will be another key piece of an Oswiecim offense that will now also include the dynamic North America duo of Cichy and Szczechura. He is the second Ukrainian player to join the blue and white this offseason. Though Padakin, a native of Kyiv, has recently been representing Russian national teams at non-IIHF events.

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Former Liiga Defender Olli Kaskinen Signs with GKS Tychy

Another day, another Finnish signing in the PHL. GKS Tychy has added to their defense with former Liiga defensemen Olli Kaskinen. He is the 14th Fin to sign in Poland this offseason.

The 23-year-old defender was a pretty decent prospect in Finland. He developed in the TPS junior system. He also represented team Finland at quite a few non-IIHF junior events. In 2018, he started playing at the senior level with TPS in the Liiga, playing 10 games while also playing 13 games in the Mestis on loan to TUTO Hockey. He would spend the entire 2019 season in the Liiga, playing in 53 games and recording two goals and three assists. Kaskinen would lose his role in the top league and mainly play in the U20 league over the following two seasons. He played in 79 Liiga games while putting up two goals and four assists. He spent the 2022 season away from Finland for the first time. He played in Italy in the Alps Hockey League. In 44 games with Cortina, he posted 28 points (6G-22A-28PTS).

GKS Tychy has seen a significant shift this offseason on defense. Kaskinen is the fifth defender added to the squad this offseason. The team is looking to get back to championship glory. The young Finnish defender is going to be an exciting addition. His experience sticks out on his resume, and Tychy must be hoping it will make the young defender a crucial part of their defense.

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Swede Hampus Olsson Signs with GKS Katowice

The defending champions of Poland continue to gear up to repeat and compete in the Champions Hockey League (CHL). The newest move is someone who is actually a protege of one of GKS Katowice’s rivals in the CHL, as the club signed former Rögle BK winger Hampus Olsson. He is the fifth import forward the club has added this offseason.

As mentioned, Hampus Olsson developed in the Rögle BK junior system. In 2014, he got his only chance with the senior team in the HockeyAllsvenskan, playing in 13 games and recording one assist. He spent the following season in Canada’s top junior league, the Ontario Hockey League, with the North Bay Battalion. After one year in Canada, he returned to Sweden and started his professional career signing in the HockeyEttan, the third level of Swedish hockey. He played in the league with various teams from 2016 to 2021. In total, he recorded 141 points (56G-85A-141PTS) in 240 games. He moved back up to the HockeyAllsvenskan with HC Vita Hästen last season. In 50 games, he recorded five goals and six assists.

Olsson is the second Swede to join GKS Katowice this offseason after Christian Blomqvist joined earlier. Last year, the club had great success with Anthon Eriksson, who used his PHL season to get his first career deal in Sweden’s top league, the SHL.

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Latvian Vitālijs Pavlovs Re-Signs With JKH GKS Jastrzebie

Great news for JKH GKS Jastrzebie supporters as the club has re-signed one of their leading scorers. Latvian forward Vitālijs Pavlovs has re-upped with the club on a one-year agreement. He finished third on the team in scoring for the 2022 season.

The 32-year-old forward has a wealth of experience in Latvia and across different Eastern European leagues. Early in his career, he played for Metalurgs Liepaja in Belarus’ top league and Latvia. He moved to the Kazakhstan league in 2012. After one strong year, he signed a KHL contract with Dinamo Riga. He would get loaned to the Mestis for most of the 2013 season. He would then play for Dinamo Riga in the KHL until 2021, except for one season in the ECHL with the Colorado Eagles. In 281 KHL games, he recorded 19 goals and 22 assists for 41 points. He split the 2021 season between the Latvia league and the ICEHL before landing in Poland for 2022. In his first year with JKH GKS Jastrzebie, he scored 13 goals and assisted on 31 in 54 games.

The Latvian flavor continues in JKH GKS Jastrzebie. He will be the sixth Latvian under contract. He is also a key piece to get back with how much offensive firepower the team loses. He is the only one of the club’s top five scorers to return for the 2023 season.

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Former National Team Forward Kasper Bryniczka Retires

Former national team member and long-time Podhale Nowy Targ forward Kasper Bryniczka has announced his retirement. The 32-year-old played with Nowy Targ last year, posting 15 points (5G-10A-15PTS) in 35 games. He is a one-time PHL champion with Cracovia Krakow in 2010.

Bryniczka will be most remembered for his time with Podhale Nowy Targ. He was a homegrown product that played in their junior system and became a key forward for the senior team. Outside a single season at United States high school, he spent his entire career with the club until 2018. A career-high season of 33 points and his first IIHF team Poland appearance saw him sign in the offseason with Cracovia. He would play the next three years with Cracovia before returning to Podhale Nowy Targ in 2021. He played in 485 PHL games and recorded 90 goals and 150 assists. He represented Poland at the U18, U20, and senior IIHF levels.

This appears to be more bad news for Nowy Targ, as another team staple has called it a day on their career. At Polish Puck, we want to wish Kasper Bryniczka a happy retirement and the best in his future!

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Japan National Team Forward Shigeki Hitosato Signs with GKS Katowice

GKS Katowice has started to add to their roster after re-signing most of their core. After adding Swedish forward Christian Blomqvist earlier this week, the team has signed Japanese forward Shigeki Hitosato. Hitosato will be the third Japanese player to appear in Poland, Denis Akimoto played in Poland from 2019 to 2020, and Jo Araya appeared in the league during the 2015 season.

The 27-year-old forward has played his entire career in Japan. He was a standout player at Shirakaba Gakuen High and made the Japan U18 squad. He played four years of college hockey for Toyo University and was the captain of the Japan U20 team and their Universiade squad during that time. He turned pro for the 2018 season and played with the Tohoku Free Blades in the Asia league and at the Japan Cup. He posted 44 points (16G-28A-44PTS) in 30 games last year in the AL Japan Cup. This career-high performance earned his first spot on the Japan senior team at the 2022 Division 1 Group B World Championships in Poland. He would finish third in the tournament in scoring with three goals and four assists for seven points in four games. That performance obviously caught the eyes of a few in the host country.

After winning their first Championship in 50-plus years last season, Katowice has seen plenty of their talent depart in free agency. While the team was able to retain a lot of their key pieces on defense, they lost a lot on offense. The team hopes that Hitosato will be able to repeat his success at the World Championships.

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Finnish Veteran Markus Korkiakoski Signs With JKH GKS Jastrzebie

JKH GKS Jastrzebie has finally got aboard the Finnish craze that has taken the rest of the PHL by storm. The team signed veteran Finnish forward Markus Korkiakoski to a one-year agreement. He is the first Fin to play for the club since 2020.

The 30-year-old forward spent last season in the Chance Liga with HC Poruba 2011, a club familiar to most Polish fans. He had been playing in the second level of Czechia since 2019 and earned two cups of coffee at the top level. Before going abroad, he had spent seven years in the second league of Finland, the Metsis. The Yli-Ii native played in 221 Metsis games, recording 129 points (49G-80A-129PTS). His production was much stronger in the Chance Liga, with 198 points (81G-117A-198PTS) in 204 games.

Jastrzebie will hope the center can continue to be a strong playmaker in Poland. After losing eight of its top ten scorers, the club has a strong need for production. While he is the only Fin on the team, he is one of eight imports. While plenty of unannounced signings are still to come, many of whom will be Polish, it is still a bit shocking to see many imports in the club. They had a golden age of young homegrown PHL talent in 2010s but haven’t been able to sustain it in the 2020s.

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Nik Zupančič Named Head Coach of Unia Oswiecim

Unia Oswiecim has finally named their head coach, and it is a familiar face. The team has brought back Slovenian coach Nik Zupančič. The 53-year-old signed a two-year deal with an option for a third season.

Zupančič had a lengthy playing career that started in 1985 and lasted until 2010, including 18 years in his home country’s top league. The long-time player represented Yugoslavia at three World Championships and ten world championships for Slovenia. After his playing career ended, he would jump right into coaching. He served as the assistant coach for Slovenia from 2011 to 2015. He would take over as head coach for the national team in 2016 and lead the team until 2018. After coaching VEU Feldkirch in the Alps Hockey League for one season in 2019, he would move to Poland.

Zupančič served as the head coach for Unia Oswiecim for a year and a half. He brought in plenty of Slovenian imports in his first year and laid out his new system. It quickly transformed the club into a very skilled program. In his first season, the team finished second in the PHL and would be awarded a silver medal after the playoffs were canceled. The club had finished eighth place the previous PHL season. The considerable jump gave fans of the blue and white a lot of hope. While the team was still in the top five of the PHL next season, they did not start as strong. Midway through the 2021 season, Zupančič would step down as head coach due to family reasons, but it would also come shortly after he served a suspension after a disagreement with a ref.

I personally am excited to see the Zupančič brand of hockey back in Poland.

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