After some uncertainty, Andrei Dubinin has re-signed with Sosnowiec on a two-year deal. The Belarusian forward is in the home stretch of getting Polish citizenship. The team had previously committed to not signing any Belarusian or Russian skaters.
This past season, the 20-year-old Dubinin was one of the best U23 skaters in the PHL. In 44 games, he recorded a new career-high of 11 points (8G-3A-11PTS). This was tied for fourth among all U23 skaters in the PHL, while the most by any skater in their age 20 season. The Minsk native has played in Sosnowiec for the last three years. Before signing in Poland, he played for BFSO Dinamo and Team Belarus U17 in Belarus’s second league. In only three years, the young forward has 37 points (19G-18A-37PTS) in 96 games. When he does attain Polish citizenship, he should be under heavy consideration for some national team chances in the future.
For Zaglebie Sosnowiec, locking up Dubinin for the next two years is a great sign. Keeping young talent in the fold is essential, especially after Sosnowiec lost two to retirement and one to free agency this offseason. Dubinin should easily slot into the middle six for Sosnowiec this year and push for more changes.
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One of the most common things I get emailed about is players asking me what to expect when playing hockey in Poland and if I had any connections to help them get their foot in the PHL door. While I love to see players’ excitement and hope they succeed in their hockey careers, I don’t believe it is my place as a journalist to help teams and players find each other. That is why I created this guide to playing hockey in Poland.
Yes, Poland has hockey.
I will never forget one interaction I had with a player who messaged me, saying they had an offer from Poland. After I asked them which city, they were confused by my question and seemed to think Poland was a city in Germany…
Poland has a long hockey history, and they have been members of the International Ice Hockey Federation since January 1926. Poland sends teams to all five levels of IIHF hockey. The most significant success came in the late 1990s and early 2000s when Poland regularly competed in the Elite division of the IIHF, being led by NHLers Mariusz Czerkawski and Krzysztof Oliwa.
The men’s national team is currently led by Slovakian head coach Robert Kalaber. After an upset win over Kazakhstan, the group recently advanced to the final round of Olympic qualification, and there they would upset Belarus before falling to Austria and Slovakia. The national team would finish off the year winning gold and promotion at the Divison 1 Group B World Championship after defeating Japan 2-0 on the final day. Some current prominent players include former Minnesota fifth-round NHL draft pick Marcin Koulsz who plays in the Polska Hokej Liga, along with Alan Łyszczarczyk, Aron Chmielewski, and Pawel Zygmunt who play in the Tipsport Extraliga.
The Top League
Poland’s top league is the Polska Hokej Liga (PHL). The League has been in operation since 1925. In the past, the PHL has also gone under the name 1 Liga, Ekstraklasa, and Polska Liga Hokejowa. It has been referred to as the Polska Hokej Liga since 2013. In 2019 the League made a significant change to abolish a previous import limit. Going into 2022, the import limit still does not exist, but there are some requirements on who appears in the lineup. In 2022-2023, each team will be required to have six Polish players in the lineup, foreign players with a polish passport count as Polish. If a team has a foreign goalie, their backup will need to be a Polish goalie. Teams will also need to keep two youth Polish players in their lineup.
Nine teams are expected to compete in the PHL next year. The season will be split into five rounds with 40 games. Poland will likely have 9 teams, but due to the ongoing situation in Ukraine, there have been talks about including Ukrainian teams. Many clubs in Poland have also said they will be not signing Belarusian or Russian players for the 2023 season. In 2022, they made up about 20% of the League. So there are plenty of open spots in Poland.
KH GKS Katowice – The most recent champions of Poland! Katowice is one of the premier teams in the PHL. Expectations are always high, but it is an excellent environment in a beautiful city. The team is coached by legendary former Polish player Jacek Plachta, who has coached professionally in Germany and Poland. Katowice will also be competing in the Champions Hockey League, a competition among the best teams in Europe due to being the Polish champions. After a strong year in Katowice, forward Anthon Eriksson was able to turn his PHL success into a deal in Sweden’s top hockey league.
Unia Oświęcim – They are a club on the rise, with quite a few recent second-place finishes in the PHL, including in 2021-22. The team is based in the city that was the place of the Auschwitz nazi concentration camp. The Athletic.com did a great piece on what it is like playing in the town. The team itself has some of the most passionate fans in Poland, along with a great mix of imports and Polish talent. They will be playing in the Continental Cup this season. A smaller Euro club tournament featuring teams from Kazakhstan, Denmark, the United Kingdom, and more. The winning club gets a spot in the Champions Hockey League. The team has attracted quite a few exciting imports the past few seasons, with former NHLers Gilbert Brule, Ty Wishart, and Victor Bartley appearing for the club.
JKH GKS Jastrzebie – Jasztrzebie has been the talent factory of Poland recently. No club had produced more young talent than they have. Current national team head coach Robert Kalaber is at the helm. A great team that uses imports to supplement and grow their homegrown talent. They are a considerable threat to win every year. While they don’t have the most significant budget in Poland, they use what they have exceptionally well, and their homegrown talent keeps them at the top. They won the bronze medal during the 2022 season.
GKS Tychy – The premiere team of Poland. They have made it to the finals in all but two years since 2014, and in that time, they won three championships. GKS Tychy is a top organization all-around with a substantial budget as well. There are not many better clubs in Poland or Europe, as seen by their behind-the-scenes staff taking home some hardware from the Champions Hockey League. After two years of falling to the bronze medal game, Tychy is loading up to make a run back to the top.
Cracovia Krakow – Cracovia is a weird club. They are like the New England Patriots of the PHL. They can never be counted out. Every time it seems like the team is at its end. They somehow still pull off a great year. Czech coach Rudolf Rohacek has been behind the bench since 2005. He runs the team like a well-oiled machine, even if unpopular at times. Krakow is one of Poland’s largest and most exciting cities, and the team also has one of the most significant budgets in Poland. They were primarily made up of Russian imports in the previous seasons but have committed to not signing any for the 2023 season.
KH Torun – There is a lot of fan support for Torun, and they finish towards the top of the PHL in attendance every year. Torun is also a pretty place, and their club has a smaller budget than most PHL teams. Club leadership deserves a lot of credit for finding diamonds in the rough. Torun can always find a few players in the lower leagues of Eastern Europe that become PHL stars. They do go through imports quickly, and in the past, many players were just brought in for tryouts.
STS Sanok – A proud hockey team that has returned after falling off the hockey map for a few years. They mix their young talent with a heavy import presence, mainly those with Finnish backgrounds. While they may not be the best team, they will never go down easy. The team is led by former Finland U20 assistant coach Miika Elomo. They have one of the biggest fanbases in Poland, finishing first in PHL attendance with 1,568 average fans per game, 200 more than then second place Oswiecim.
Zaglebie Sosnowiec – They have been hard hit by COVID-19 and have a much smaller budget than most PHL teams. They will always have a good mix of veterans and young players, but not enough depth to win right now in the PHL. Their fan base is also on the smaller end, as they finished with the third-lowest attendance at 565.
Podhale Nowy Targ – One of the most historic clubs in Poland has had a bit of an up and down ride lately, with some financial struggles. The team has relied highly on its young players over the past couple of seasons.
The following players all made a jump to a stronger league after playing in Poland during the last decade. (Player, Year in Poland, League after PHL)
Anthon Eriksson (2022, SHL), Anton Svensson (2021, HockeyAllsvenskan), Aron Chmielewski (2010-2014, Tipsport Extraliga), Brett McKenzie (2021, AHL), Cody Porter (2021, Liiga), Jakub Ferenc (2015, Tipsport Extraliga), Luka Kalan (2020-21, ICE Hockey League), Marek Kalus (2014-15, Tipsport Extraliga), Pawel Zygmunt (2016-2019, Tipsport Extraliga), Samson Mahbod (2013-14, Liiga & KHL), and Tadej Čimža (2020, ICE Hockey League)
The 2nd League
Poland has a second league called the MHL, and it is a weird mixture of U20 teams and senior clubs. Teams in this league that may recruit import talent include ŁKH Łódź, Naprzod Janow, and Polonia Bytom. These clubs all operate on a much smaller scale than the PHL, and the deals would likely only provide housing and other minor benefits. But they offer chances to be seen by PHL clubs. We did a more considerable dive on hockey in the city of Łódź here.
What the Agents Say
If you are going to play in Poland, you will most likely need to get there through an agent. At the end of the article will be a list of agents that have worked in Poland. Teams in Poland will often contact agents with the list of positions they’re looking to fill.
“Most PHL teams present a good sports level. There are many top Polish hockey players in the teams, supported in large numbers by foreigners who previously were in KHL, NHL, SHL, Liiga, or the Czech and Slovak Extraleague. The game in Poland is physical, quite fast, with not many fights. The victory of Cracovia Kraków in the last Continental Cup proves the strength of Polish teams. As for the sports level, I would place PHL on the same shelf as the Swedish Allsvenskan or the Belarusian League, and over such leagues as French, Danish, and Norwegian. Polish clubs are constantly developing and presenting quite a good level as organizations, but in this field, they are still a bit behind the European leaders. A lot of devoted fans come to the halls, but the sport is not very popular in Poland (apart from the final matches, no television broadcasted last season). PHL is worth choosing because of the country itself, its people, cuisine, history, architecture, and environment. In this matter, every foreigner will feel very well in Poland.” – Przemysław Nasiukiewicz of Hockey Progress Management
“I’ve had clients in the PHL over the past ten years. Most have held EU or Polish passports, but I’ve also had a few North Americans in the League. I enjoy working with teams in the League. The PHL allows an unlimited number of import players, which makes it interesting to see how each team constructs their roster. The level of the League and development of young Polish players as a result also has increased over the past few years. The League does not have many North American imports, as they are generally expensive due to visa and travel costs. Only a couple top paying teams in the League will usually sign a few North Americans each season, while most import players come from Russia, Eastern Europe or Nordic countries. That is not to say most of the League does not want to have North Americans. For a North American player to come to Poland, if they are not desired by the top paying clubs in the League, the player may have to accept a lower salary than they would ideally prefer on the market. The nature in which some Polish teams try to sign imports to “tryout contracts” in the past has made the League a tougher sell over other comparable leagues. That aspect is fading, which is great for the league reputation moving forward. If all Polish clubs operate in a professional manner with players, the League will keep improving its market value to top talent. Many of my clients in Poland have had good experiences, and I hope this will continue!” – 83, LLC
“1.Liga is a good league for younger players looking to jump into men’s hockey and gain exposure to Polish hockey and PHL clubs as the PHL has no import limit, the sky is the limit for young players to earn potential opportunities! The PHL is a good league which continues to improve each season. Now with the no import rule, teams can add as many import players as they wish to strengthen their lineup and boost the level of the League! The winner gets to participate in the ChampionsHL while the runner up participates in the Continental Cup, two high level European tournaments!” – 93 Hockey Services
I have talked to countless players about their experiences in Poland. Some players really enjoy it and want to stay for the long term, and there are a lot of players that don’t even make it until the end of their contract. A very mixed bag, the biggest thing I have noticed is that players with prior European experience suffer less of a cultural shock to how European hockey runs and are more likely to stay.
“I think right now because of big number of imports level of the League is pretty high. You can find there very experienced players and quite a few young ones who are trying to make their name. It’s more technical but not as physical as in the UK” – Sebastian Lipinski, PHL Goalie from 2018-2021
“I can highly recommend playing Poland. Of course, it depends where u play. There is a couple of places where the city or organization is very bad, like Sosnowiec or Torun (the city is beautiful). Fans are amazing in Poland. That was one of my best memories for myself. Everything is there really cheap (food, drink, etc) Alltough I get fired and they didn’t pay everything back for me, I still enjoy my time in Poland also. Level of life was for me a good surprise. Poland is a modern European country nowadays.” – Anonymous former PHL Forward
“I could write a book after one season. On ice: There was a big gap between best and weak teams but also between 1st and 4th line. Off ice: Off ice practicing is crazy. Running running running… everyone works with same weights and drills. It’s like soviet union style what they used in Finland 30 years ago. And one more thing. Everyone should learn to speak polish even little bit if you are not living in big cities. With my experience 25-50% of players can speak English.” – Anonymous former PHL defenseman. Player did add he wouldn’t be against returning.
What Staff Say
“Well I guess a lot depends on a team, our League is getting better, it was before that virus thing and right now no one knows how will it look like when whole this situation is going to end. We mostly expect from import players that they are going to be better than polish ones.”– Roch Bogłowski, Manager GKS Katowice
Imports need to make an impact quickly. North Americans are a bit rare. There is strong comradery in the locker room, and staff, fans, and players are highly passionate. Depending on the club, I would put the level between the US SPHL and ECHL. Top clubs could compete against the better leagues of Europe. – Anonymous former PHL Head Coach
Again if you want to play hockey in Poland, you will most likely need an agent. Here are some agencies that have handled and negotiated deals for players in the PHL. There are plenty more agents out there, but these are ones I have heard positive things from when talking to players and have had multiple players in Poland.
Name (Based) – Links (Agents are Listed in Alphabetical order)
New year, new me, and new Polish hockey. I am in year eight of covering Polish hockey, which is a wild timeline. Polish Puck is a project that started in high school for me, and with each passing year, something in Polish hockey never ceases to amaze me. We are entering a new year with 2020 long in the review mirror. We had a somewhat return to normal at some points in 2021. 2022 unfortunately, started with the cancellation of the IIHF January events, which included the women’s U18 squad playing their first IIHF games in two years. So not the most fabulous start to 2022.
Polish hockey will always have its up and down, but here are my ideas to add a few more ups. These pitches are not what I think will happen, are 100% possible, or even want to some degree. They are what I believe is in the best interest of Polish hockey. One of my pitches from back in 2020 was for the PHL to have one game a week broadcasted on Twitch for free. We now have hockey Thursday streamed on Youtube for free. So why not try to pitch more into existence.
Bring in an Import U20 Coach
I always feel bad calling for import coaches. All the Polish coaches I have talked to, have always been extremely fair to me in interviews and answering questions. But we have to face facts. The junior system has looked extremely poor under the last two Polish coaches. From 2013 to 2018, Russian Andrei Parfenov, Swedish Torbjörn Johansson, and Canadian David Leger all had stints running the U20 national team. The worst finish during that time was a bronze. Otherwise, Poland took 4 silvers, with one gold, and another sixth-place finish in the next division up. Poland’s junior coaching situation is poor, and the best U20 players need a coach that can help them get to the next level not maintain the status quo.
Make the MHL U20 Only
The following two pitches are kind of going to go together. The goal will be to make the MHL a more strict U20 league. Of course, that will cause some problems for teams at the lower end like Łódź, who don’t have a strong enough U20 program. So we put in one specific rule to help teams like that. Organizations that do not have a PHL club can play up to five players over 20-years-old in a game. U20 teams that are part of an organization with a PHL club will be restricted to three skaters and ZERO goalies aged 20 to 25. It is not perfect, but I don’t want to kill off any small clubs. Our U20 league will consist of two divisions.
Cracovia Krakow U20
Polonia Bytom U20
PZHL Katowice U18
SMS Torun U20
Sokoly Torun U20
The goal for groups was to try and get the PHL affiliated U20 teams to stick together, as the teams that may be dipping into older players to stay competitive will now be more often facing each other. This will also help with scheduling for the second part of the pitch.
Create a Hybrid second league
Now with the MHL becoming more of a U20 league. We will have a second senior league that will play their games on the same day as the U20 or PHL clubs. So before or after the U20 or PHL club plays, there will be a second league game at the same arena. This parallel schedule will hopefully cut down on the cost of the second league, along with making it easier to fill rosters for the games. The league will also only be playing 16 to 20 games, so for 8-10 select U20 and PHL games, just a handful of extra players will need to travel with the away team.
These games will be filled with any player of any age. There is no promotion to the PHL, and this league is fully here for players over 20 to continue playing hockey at a competitive level. Polish goalies, PHL healthy scratches, and players needing a tune-up before returning from injury will be the players that get the most time in this league. Teams will be those not currently in the PHL or PHL clubs with enough players for a second squad. PHL clubs that won’t have a second league team can loan players, i.e., the current relationship between Katowice and Janow. My goal would be to have at least six teams, but I want eight.
Second Team for PHL squads
UKS Zaglebie Sosnowiec II
KS Naprzod Janow
JKH GKS Jastrzebie II
Unia Oswiecim II
Sosnowiec, Oswiecim, and Jastzrebie have enough talent or have faired well enough in the MHL this year, and in my opinion, could support a second-team player-wise. While between KH Torun, SMS Torun, and Sokoly Torun, there should be enough players for this experiment. Bytom, Janow, and Łódź all have rosters built for this league and can grab loans from PHL clubs that will not play in the second league. Gdańsk will be the dream in this one and part of the next pitch. On a side note, I would also take a returning KTH Krynica.
Find a way to get back into Gdańsk
Hockey fans from Gdańsk deserve so much better than how they have been treated. Gdańsk has shown to be a great hockey market, and losing it is devastating for hockey in the country for a few reasons. First, it is a great hockey market. Second, it helps build the sport in the Northern part of Poland, where Torun is currently alone. The third is it was the second-largest market in the PHL in terms of population. The current number two in the PHL, Katowice, has 190,000 fewer inhabitants than Gdańsk. Given the PHL’s need to grow their tv numbers, losing a team in Poland’s sixth-largest city is not great. I don’t know what needs to be done to return PKH Gdańsk to the hockey map. I will say the PZHL needs to put its foot down on Marek Kostecki’s involvement with hockey in the country and reject any team submitted by him or his ownership.
Try to bring back players
This last one will need to be coordinated by the PZHL and PHL. The goal will be to help the national team get a quick boost in talent and depth by bringing back Polish players who chose a different country. Adam Kiedewicz, Kamil Sadlocha, and Wojtek Stachowiak all had chances to make a higher-ranked national team but came up short. Could the PHL possibly bring them back? I’m not sure of the exact eligibility, but imagine it would take two years in the PHL at most. For Sadlocha, his NCAA stats are not that far off from what other NCAA imports had come into the PHL with. Kiedewicz has not found his footing at the DEL2 yet and was loaned to the Oberliga. While Stachowiak has yet to find his scoring touch in the DEL, he has a point per game average in the DEL2. Would it be impossible to add them? Probably not, but it would mostly take a good offer from a PHL club.
Almost all levels of Poland’s national team will be in action this weekend! It is so fun to be back in a place where tournaments are being played that has a lot of meaning to them. Right now there is a lot at stake. Olympic hopes are on the line. Along with spots on future national teams that will be representing Poland at IIHF events. It is good to be back everyone!
The highest stake matchups of this week will see the Women’s Senior team head over to Czechia to participate in the final round of Olympic Qualification. Win this tournament and a ticket is booked to the Winter Olympics. These are without a doubt the biggest games in the history of the women’s team. The Men’s senior team will also be in action playing in the Baltic Challenge Cup. An exhibition tournament that will see Poland bring an extremely young roster as Robert Kalaber aims to test some new blood for the national team. Ahead of their first IIHF tournaments in almost 2 years, the Men’s U20 will be active as well with one of the final tune-ups before the U20 World Championships start in December. Both the Men’s and Women’s U18 squads will also be in action as they prepare for tournaments at the end of the year. Along with last but not least the Men’s U16 team will also be playing some exhibition games.
When is the action happening? Where will you be able to watch all the matchups? We got those answers here!
Women’s Senior Team. Final Round of Olympic Qualification
Nov. 11th – Poland vs Hungary. 12:00 PM (CET/POL) 6:00 AM (EST/NA)
JKH GKS Jastrzebie was able to reach to the pinnacle of the PHL last season. It can be lonely at the top though, as the talent factory of Poland has suffered quite a few losses this offseason. The losses started at the top when top import Zack Phillips departed the team to move to the blue and white in Oswiecim. Then 23-year-old defensemen Jakub Michałowski departed for GKS Tychy. Now it appears their young trio of stars made up of Dominik Pas, Kamil Walega, and Jan Soltys will be trying their hand abroad.
Dominik Pas has signed with Tipos Extraliga squad HK Dukla Michalovce. They finished bronze last year in the top level of Slovak hockey. The team is coached by a familiar face in former Poland national team head coach Tomek Valtonen. The deal is a one year deal with a two month trial period. The home-grown Jastrzebie native recorded 10 goals and 22 assists in 49 games.
Meanwhile Kamil Walega is trying out with HK 32 Liptovsky Mikulas of the Tipos Extraliga He will be training with the club and playing in preseason matches in the hopes of earning a contract with the club. HK 32 Liptovsky Mikulas finished last place in Slovakia last year with only 6 wins and 44 losses. Last year the 6’0 forward, recorded 8 goals and 11 assists in 45 games.
The final piece of hte trio Jan Sołtys is also training with HK 32 Liptovsky Mikulas. He is exploring a few options in the Tipos Extraliga and Czech first league though. Sołtys is the youngest of the three forwards at 20-years-old. The two-way forward recorded 8 goals and 7 assists in 39 games this year.
Thanks to agencies run by former PHL players, we have certaintly see a huge rise in the amount of Polish talent taking their talents outside of Poland. For all three of these players it is a great chance to improve their skills, along with with reputation of Polish hockey. For JKH GKS Jastrzebie though, there depth as taken a major hit and as team gets ready to compete in the Champions Hockey League it will interesting to see how the team reloads.
We have reached the end of the 2020 Top 50 Men’s U23 list. For this list I looked at 140 plus players, the top 80 were ranked, while the the top 50 received a scouting report. This year had three big things that I think shifted rankings a bit. The lack of a IIHF U18 tournament really meant a lot of younger players didn’t receive their chance to shine. Second the was the lack of film overall this year for a lot of games. Third was my goal to be more generous with ranking goaltenders. I won’t lie evaluating goalies is what I’m probably the worst at, so this year I wanted to try more generous with them.
One of the most common things I get emailed about is players asking me what to expect when playing hockey in Poland, along with if I had any connections to help them get their foot in the PHL door. While I love to see the excitement of players and hope they succeed in their hockey career. I don’t believe it is my place as a journalist to help teams and players find each other. That is why I created this guide to playing hockey in Poland. As a note, a lot of this information was collected pre-COVID-19. Some things may be subject to change.
An updated version of this article can be found here.
Yes Poland has hockey
I will never forget one interaction I had with a player who messaged me, saying they had an offer from Poland. After I asked them which city, they replied, confused at my question and seem to think Poland was a city in Germany…
Poland has a long hockey history. They have been members of the International Ice Hockey Federation since January of 1926. Both the men’s and women’s senior and junior national teams play in the IIHF Division 1 Group B Championships. The most significant success came in the late 1990s and early 2000s when Poland regularly competed in the Elite divisions of the IIHF being led by NHLers Mariusz Czerkawski and Krzysztof Oliwa.
The men’s national team is currently led by Slovakian head coach Robert Kalaber. The team recently advanced to the final round of Olympic qualification, after an upset win over Kazakhstan. Some current prominent players include former Minnesota fifth-round NHL draft pick Marcin Koulsz who plays in the Liiga, Aron Chmielewski who plays in the Tipsport Extraliga, PatrykWronka in the Polska Hokej Liga, and Alan Łyszczarczyk in the ECHL.
Poland’s top league is the Polska Hokej Liga (PHL). The league has been in operation since 1925. In the past, the PHL has also gone under the name 1 Liga, Ekstraklasa, and Polska Liga Hokejowa. It has been referred to as the Polska Hokej Liga since 2013. In 2019 the league made a significant change to abolish a previous limit on imports. This is a strongly controversial topic, as though it raised the quality of the league. Many feel it will hurt Polish players in the long term. In 2020, the league featured 11 teams, with one team, Naprzod Janow, falling out mid-season due to financial reasons. Twelve teams have submitted applications to play in the 2020-21 PHL season. The season will be around forty plus games, with an eight-team playoff.
Only two teams will not be returning to the top league from the previous year in Naprzod Janow and Lotos PKH Gdańsk. Gdańsk was pretty much forced out by a second Gdańsk team in the PHL, SA Stoczniowiec Gdańsk.
GKS Tychy – The premiere team of Poland. They have made it to the finals every year since 2014. In that time, they have won three championships. They also were named the champions for the 2019-20 PHL season, which was suspended due to Covid-19. GKS Tychy also will compete in the Champions Hockey League this season, which is a competition of top clubs from around Europe. The team that finishes first in Poland is guaranteed a spot in the Champions Hockey League. GKS Tychy is a top organization all-around. There is no one better in Poland.
Unia Oświęcim – They are a club on the rise, finishing second in the PHL for the time since the early 2000s. A lot of credit goes to Slovenian head coach Nik Zupancic. The team is based in the city that was the place of the Auschwitz nazi concentration camp. The Athletic.com did a great piece on what it is like playing in the city. The team itself has some of the most passionate fans in Poland, along with a great mix of imports and Polish talent. They will be playing in the Continental Cup this season A smaller Euro club tournament featuring teams from Kazakhstan, Denmark, the United Kingdom, and more. The winning club gets a spot in the Champions Hockey League.
Podhale Nowy Targ – One of the most historic clubs in Poland has had a bit of an up and down ride lately, with some rumored financial struggles. Despite that, the team is full of national team talent and remains a force in the PHL. Their success shows no signs of changing in 2020, as they continue to bring back their core, along with hiring head coach Andrei Gusov, who helped make GKS Tychy into the dominant force they are.
JKH GKS Jastrzebie – Jasztrzebie is the talent factory of Poland. No club produces more young talent than they do. Current national team head coach Robert Kalaber is at their helm. A great team that uses imports to supplement and grow their young talent. Although a Polish championship has evaded them recently, they are a considerable threat.
Cracovia Krakow – Krakow is a weird club. They are like the New England Patriots of the PHL. They can never be counted out. Every time it seems like the team is at its end. They somehow still pull off a great year. Czech coach Rudolf Rohacek has been behind the bench since 2005. He runs the team like a well-oiled machine, even if unpopular at times. Krakow is one of the largest and most exciting cities in Poland as well. This year due to Covid-19 related budget cuts, the club is looking to mix mostly their junior talents with strong imports.
KH GKS Katowice – Katowice is a top team in Poland that just hasn’t gotten the results many expected of them. They returned to the PHL in 2016 after a short hiatus. In 2019, they finished first in the league but lost in the semi-finals. They have an absolute gorgeous arena, and great behind the scenes staff. The expectations are high in Katowice, but it is a great environment.
KH Torun – There is a lot of fan support for Torun, and they finish towards the top of the PHL in attendance every year. Torun is also a pretty place. Their club has a smaller budget than most PHL teams. Belarusian head coach Yuri Chukh deserves a lot of credit for being able to find diamonds in the rough. Torun is always able to find a few players in the lower leagues of Eastern Europe that become PHL stars. They do go through imports quick though, and a lot of players are just brought in for try-outs.
Zaglebie Sosnowiec – They have been hard hit by COVID-19 and have a much smaller budget for this year. They are looking to supplement their junior talent with imports like a few teams in the PHL. The team has a lot of potential for the future, but this will definitely be a step back year for them as they regroup. For imports though, this means a lot of ice time and chances to show their skills.
Other clubs in Poland that maybe in the import market include KTH Krynica-Zdrój, ŁKH Łódź, Naprzod Janow, Polinia Bytom, SA Stoczniowiec Gdańsk, UKS Niedźwiadki MOSiR Sanok. With the exception of maybe Gdańsk and Sanok, all these team operate at a much lesser scale of all the teams listed above. We did a larger dive on hockey in the city of Łódź here.
What the Agents Say
If you are going to play in Poland, you will most likely need to get there through an agent. At the end of the article will be a list of agents that have worked in Poland. Teams in Poland will often contact agents with the list of positions they’re looking to fill.
From my perspective, I’ve had clients in the PHL the last few years, all of them carrying EU or Polish passports. I enjoy working with teams in the league.
The PHL as a whole does not take many North American imports, as they are more expensive due to visa and travel costs typically. That is not to say they don’t want to have more North Americans in the league. But for a North American player to come to Poland they often have to take a lower salary than they would ideally prefer. The nature in which some Polish teams try to sign imports to “tryout contracts” as well makes the league a tougher sell sometimes to other comparable leagues. Polish teams expect a lot from their imports. The league has no import limit which has helped in increasing the level of the league. Most of my clients who I have sent to Poland have had fine experiences that I sign to standard player contracts. A couple have not, all whom signed “tryout contracts,” to begin with, and I avoid this at all cost unless the player wants to go for it and has no other decent options. – 83, LLC
1.liga is a good league for younger players looking to jump into men’s hockey and gain exposure to Polish hockey and PHL clubs as the PHL has no import limit, the sky is the limit for young players to earn potential opportunities! The PHL is a good league which continues to improve each season. Now with the no import rule, teams can add as many import players as they wish to strengthen their lineup and boost the level of the league! The winner gets to participate in the ChampionsHL while the runner up participates in the Continental Cup, two high level European tournaments! – 93 Hockey Services
I tell the players to be pleasantly surprised with the caliber of play. It is close to echl level. The travel isn’t as bad as some leagues which is a selling feature. (When asked about pay) Very reasonable it is on par with EIHL and DEL2 and Denmark and Norway – Darryl Wolski of 2112hockey
I have talked to countless players about their experience in Poland, some players really enjoy it and want to stay for the long term. There are a lot of players that don’t even make it until the end of their contract. A very mixed bag, the biggest thing I have noticed is that players with prior European experience suffer less of a cultural shock to how European hockey runs and are more likely to stay.
Playing in Poland has been a great experience for me. I truly enjoy the lifestyle, the hockey, and the people. The hockey culture might be a little bit behind the modern countries such as Sweden, Finland and so on, but I’ve enjoyed my playing experiences way more in Poland than any other place in Europe. Great and supportive fans as well. – Nick Vilardo former Opole and Podhale Goaltender
I could write a book after one season. On ice: There was a big gap between best and weak teams but also between 1st and 4th line. Off ice: Off ice practicing is crazy. Running running running… everyone works with same weights and drills. It’s like soviet union style what they used in Finland 30 years ago. And one more thing. Everyone should learn to speak polish even little bit if you are not living in big cities. With my experience 25-50% of players can speak English. – Anonymous former PHL defensemen. Player did add he wouldn’t be against returning.
Training styles are a bit ancient at times, but the travel and pay are decent enough with nice cities. In my experience players either love or hated it. No in between. I would love to return one day. – Anonymous former PHL forward.
What the Staff Says
well I guess a lot depends on a team, our league is getting better, it was before that virus thing and right now no one knows how will it look like when whole this situation is going to end. We mostly expect from import players that they are going to be better than polish ones. – Roch Bogłowski, Manager GKS Katowice
Imports need to make a great first impression teams won’t hesitate to cut them after a couple poor performances. You’re taking a Polish players’ spot, so you better prove you’re worth the extra money fast. Imports usually widely accepted by their teammates quickly though. Lot less travel compared to past coaching jobs. – Anonymous former PHL coach
Again if you want to play hockey in Poland, you will most likely need an agent. Here are some agencies that have handled and negotiated deals for players in the PHL. There are plenty more agents out there, but these are ones I have heard positives things from when talking to players and have had multiple players in Poland.
The city that could play one of the most significant parts in the future of Polish hockey doesn’t even have a PHL team, and there are no signs that one may be coming any time soon. So why does Łódź matter so much then in the scope of Polish hockey? At 682,000 plus people, Łódź is the third most populated city in Poland. In the PHL, only Kraków (2nd) and Gdańsk (6th) rank inside the top 10 most populated cities and have a PHL team. If hockey really starts to take off in Łódź, it could mean big things for PHL, especially when it comes to getting the league back on television.
The city of Łódź was one of the largest industrial centers in Poland, especially for textiles, during the 1960s and through the early 90s. As with many other industrial cities, the fall of communism in Eastern Europe left these cities devastated. The city began to suffer significant population losses, and the textile industry practically vanished. The city started to rebound though in the late 2000s. More and more foreign companies and investors have arisen in the Polish city. The city is renowned for its film school and even nicknamed HollyŁódź due to this school and its name being pronounced woodge.
The city continues its long comeback. Former textile mills turned into shops and restaurants, giving parts of the city a hipsterish vibe. Along with amazing pieces of street art that have become common on the older buildings. Piotrkowska Street remains a popular shopping and tourist destination. As the local economy has improved, the re-emergence of strong sports clubs has as well. The city hosted the 2009 Eurobasket, along with being home to one of Poland’s top rugby teams.
From 1967 to 1991, the city also hosted a hockey team. LKS Łódź played in the top Polish league. During the 60s and 70s, the team was quite good, often finishing anywhere from fourth to sixth in the league, while also capturing bronze three times, and finishing second once. Polish national team defensemen and Łódź native Jerzy Potz led the team on the backend. In the 80s, the team started to falter, often finishing seventh in the league. Homegrown national team stars like Piotr Zdunek departed for stronger clubs. The team was relegated to Poland’s second league for the first time since 1968 a year after their debut season. After two years in the second league, they would earn promotion to the top level again in 1990. After a 4-38 record though in that season, the hockey team would completely disappear, and the senior hockey squad was liquidated.
Through the early 90s and early to mid-2000s the only relevancy Łódź had to the hockey world was being the birthplace of Michal Zajkowski, Sweden’s 2003 World Junior goalie. The Łódź native moved to Sweden from Poland when he was six years old. While LKS Lodz was battling to return to the top of Polish hockey. Zajkowski spent most of his career in the Svenska hockeyligan (SHL), with MODO Hockey. He bounced around some lower European leagues at the tail of the end of his career but never played in Poland. As the last thing that gave Łódź any relevancy to the hockey world was winding down his career, a new team in Łódź was forming.
Hockey in Łódź didn’t completely die when LKS Łódź left the hockey map in 1991, only three years later LKH Łódź was founded in 1994 by a group of Łódź hockey supporters that were led by sports writer Wojciech Filipiak. This club exclusively focused on the youth side of hockey. 19 years later, the senior squad would be reformed and compete in Poland’s third tier of senior hockey. Just like to approach to junior hockey, they took things slow and steadily built a foundation, but then some quick jumps started to happen.
Maybe these jumps happen because of how solid their groundwork to begin was, but it happen quick. Their youngest teams quickly became top dogs in the Czerkawski Cup, winning it twice in 2018 and 2020, while finishing third in 2019. Their star goaltending prospect and Łódź native Maciej Miarka was named to the 2018 Polish U18 Men’s team. He would be the starting goalie in 2019, along with becoming the first player from the Łódź junior program to play in the PHL. The most significant jump was the senior team moving up to the Polish first league, which was now transformed into a mostly U20 league called the Młodzieżową Hokej Ligą (MHL). The team was able to attract quite a few sponsors along with partnering with former NBA player Marcin Gortat’s athletic school in Poland.
Łódź found itself on the doorstep to the top league of Polish hockey this year. Of course, this was a massive jump as Łódź would be facing off against some of the top junior teams and systems in all of Poland. Former Łódź player Tomasz Matuszewski and player-coach Yuri Zenkov had a tall task in front of them. Tymoteusz Lewy returned to Łódź after playing in the Torun junior system. Lewy posted 27 points (18-9-27) in 24 games, which was 19th in the league. Piotr Ciechanowski returned to Poland after being a strong producer in Danish and German junior ranks, though he only played five games with the club. The team also brought in Russian born defensemen Denis Salnikov, who spent the previous year in the Western States Hockey League. The team also had a few players from Gortat’s school. In total, 44 players suited up for a game this year in Łódź.
Despite trying hard to build a competitive roster, the results were as expected, the team finished second to last in the league. Only picking up four wins in 24 games. While these results are not great, and the average score was a 7-3 loss. This was year one, and they jumped up to compete with top junior teams like JKH GKS Jastrzębie and teams with stronger senior rosters like Sanok, who compete in the third Slovak league as well. Every game was going to be a major uphill battle for the team. Despite the rough results, the future looks bright for Łódź.
The team seemed poised to be a strong recruiter in the import market again, along with their junior roster continuing to develop. Three Łódź players were named to Polish u18 roster lists. Forward Arkadiusz Karasiński, defensemen Adrian Drustinac, and goaltender Tomasz Grobelkiewicz were all appointed to teams last season at various points. Drustinac and Grobelkiewicz standing a strong chance to make the team, after being named to the final roster before the U18s. Grobelkiewicz and Karasiński only appeared in six combined games for Łódź this year in the MHL, while Dusrstinac was a regular defenseman for the team.
These three are not the only young players making great strides. Poznan native Jakub Biernacki, who spent time in the Łódź junior system, finished 12th in scoring in Germany’s second U17 league. Oliwier Kowalczyk made the Zietara Polish Eagles team that plays in the youth Quebec Interventional tournament. Łódź’s u12 squad finished first in the Żak Młodszy KPOZHL with an astounding plus 322 goal differential in 14 matches. The team has a lot of promising youth talent that they should be able to establish a robust senior foundation.
The Łódź area is also starting to have an impact on women’s hockey. Polish national team and Gdansk defensemen Natalia Kaminska was born in Łódź, while promising prospect Magdalena Łąpieś played with the Łódź’s boys U12 and u14 squad, before moving to the Gdansk women’s team.
Hockey in the city took another significant step with the addition of a senior team, and while it may be a long time till the next step is taken. The youth talent they are starting to produce is outrageously good for a club of their size. Last year only seven Polish clubs had a player named to the Polish U18 team. Only five of those clubs had more than one player. Clubs like Łódź are not supposed to produce national team quality talent, but they have! Even rarer when you consider two of them are goaltenders. There is potentially something special that is building in Łódź. Hockey is making a comeback in Poland’s comeback city.
Today is the 5th anniversary of Polish Puck starting and what a journey it has been. This blog has been something to really help through rough times and I feel has helped me both grow as a person, professional, and writer. Today, I wanted to share a few memories of the site and a few thank yous to some certain individuals who may have helped shaped Polish Puck, a friend met through my work, or someone who didn’t do much but their support encouraged or inspired me greatly.
Add my own college graduation to the list of wierd places I have watched a hockey game. But seriously Polish Puck was started my freshman year and I’m glad it’s still going. pic.twitter.com/X8Gu92f7G8
One of the memories that always sticks out to me with Polish Puck is when I was interviewing for the Detroit Red Wings. I was nervous wreck for this as working for an NHL club was my dream. So the interview is going on and I legit felt like all my answers were garbage or sounded like I was unsure. Then they asked about Polish Puck, I legit felt like a light bulb turned on and probably talked their ear off about it. In the end, they hired me, so advice kids wanna work in the NHL? Write about obscure hockey. It was the first time though I really talked about the blog publically outside of friends and family, and I felt really confident doing it.
When I went to Vancouver for the draft last year, I was also treated to ramen by a fan of the blog. It was the best ramen I ever have had in my life. If anything this blog was worth five years of work just to get that good ramen. It was also the first time meeting a fan of the blog in person, wierdly at that draft I ran into Poland’s biggest rival as well.
While in my most random draft meeting I meant the Vice President of Hungary hockey and had a short chat with him.
Thank you to Andrew Zadarnowski. He has always been supportive of the blog, and I have loved discussing hockey with him. He also allowed me to interview him for piece, that I really loved working on. You should read it here. He is a great and passionate hockey writer as well.
Thank you to Sunaya Sapurji. Sapurji is the biggest hockey journalist who follows me, when they followed me I had to do quite a few double takes. They have always been supportive of my work and even though our interactions have been minor, they all have encouraged me to continue writing.
Thank you to Jason Botchford. Botchford was my writing idol and someone whose work I still go back to read to try and take inspiration from. I miss reading his work after Canuck games. I was able to meet him while working for the Red Wings and the genuine kindness and interest he showed me is something I will never forget.
I could name tons here and I’m sure I’m missing tons of people, but a shoutout to some awesome people that always have been supportive on twitter (In no order), @WojtekSwierkot, @dud_mar, @StevenEllisTHN, @CreaseGiants, @V_McF2, @RolandCreative, @ProngenDota2, and @czosnek_20.
Thank you to Mike Danton. Danton was the first player from Poland to follow me and the first-ever sports interview I have ever done in my life. While I look back and critique the hell out of that interview, I still love it and think how amazing my first interview was an ex-NHLer. Danton also was the first major twitter follow, which really lit a fire in me to keep going.
Thank you to Dominik Olszewski. Olszewski was the first Polish player interviewed for the site, and only the second sports interview I had ever done. It was also done over text while I was in an accounting class, which was interesting. It remains one of the most viewed Polish Puck articles to this day.
I don’t want to give specific names for this one as there are way too many I don’t want it to seem like anyone listed is source for me. A large thank you though to all those working in Polish hockey behind the scenes who I have interacted with, from social media managers to coaches and higher-ups.
The largest thank you to my family. They have always been extremely supportive of my work. Some of them reading every piece I publish with knowing a thing about Polish hockey. They also have had to endure me randomly destroying my sleep schedule for games or just in general talking about Polish hockey as it was on my mind and I wanted to say it out loud. I love them so much even if they tune out the Polish hockey talk at dinner.