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.
The final day of 2019 is here, and it has been up and down and down year for Polish hockey. The upsides have been on the women’s side, young talent, and the PHL becoming a much more competitive league. The downsides have been on the Men’s senior team and continued backstage messes and drama. We had an article on New Year’s Eve looking at who had the best years in 2019, but today lets look at who needs to rebound after some rough patches in 2019.
Honorable Mentions: Cracovia Krakow, Kasper Bryniczka, Michael Luba, Patrik Spesny, and Risto Dufva
10. Ernest Bochnak
Bochnak saw himself left off an IIHF Polish junior squad once again. He made the Polish U18 squad in his first season of eligibility. He has yet to make a roster since, and his time is up. It is shocking to me that he was never able to get on a roster after his initial U18 appearance, where he recorded three goals and one assist. This year he was able to play professional games in both the second and third Czech leagues. Bochnak is an outstanding junior player, and he’ll find himself on a senior roster, I’m sure of it.
9. Patryk Wronka
Wronka had an outstanding 2018-19 season in the PHL and used that to sign in the Elite Ice Hockey League (EIHL) with the Belfast Giants. The highly skilled player got off to a hot start recording two goals and one assist in six Champion League Hockey games, as well as six assists in seven EIHL Cup games. That production did not carry into the regular season, and he only recorded eight points (4-4-8) in 24 games before mutually parting ways with the Giants. Now Wronka has a fresh start with Rapaces deGap of the Synerglace Ligue Magnus. In his first three games in the French league, he has four goals and one assist. Wronka is insanely talented, the EIHL just wasn’t a fit for him. In 2020 he needs to prove that.
Jacek Szopinski has been the head coach of both Orlik Opole and Naprzod Janow over the past two years. These clubs are complete clown shows. Both teams are very uncompetitive. Now Szopinski is not responsible for their financial situation. He is responsible for lying to players, bashing players to other coaches and teams, as well as being regarded as a difficult coach to deal with. Szopinski simply needs to shape up and act like a coach should or get out of the PHL.
7. Zaglebie Sosnowiec
Zaglebie Sosnowiec showed a lot of promise last year in their first season back in the PHL after two final losses in the second league. This year with a full offseason to prepare, they signed the big Russian trio that propelled KH Torun to a strong season. The Russian trio has not been able to replicate their production, and some young players did not take as big of steps that were needed. Now going into 2020, they sit just above Janow in the standings. If the team doesn’t improve, a lot of big changes are going to be needed.
6. Sebastian Lipinski
Sebastian Lipinski looked to have the title of Poland’s best goaltending prospect on lock. In 2018, he had a great performance at the U20 World Championship and led PZHL u23 to their first win. In 2019, he had a disastrous U20 World Championship run and endured an up and down PHL year. His 2019 does include two shutouts as well as some flashes of brilliance in the net. Lipinski has to become more consistent in 2020.
5. Patryk Wysocki
I had Wysocki ranked as my sixteenth best U23 Polish player to end last year. The Belarusian born defensemen had been able to play professionally in Belarus and Poland, while also appearing in the top Russian junior league the Molodyozhnaya Hokkeinaya Liga (MHL). This year he started in the MHL once again with the Chinese junior club but left his team after playing only ten games and receiving very limited ice time. His final game in China took place in October. Wysocki wouldn’t play another hockey game till December when he popped up in the BeNe League, a lower European league composed of teams from Belgium and the Netherlands. There he has two points in four games. It is an odd choice for him, and there isn’t enough information to guess a reason why his season has gone as it has, but he still remains one of Poland’s most developed defensive players for his age.
4. Piotr Sarnik
Piotr Sarnik led the U20 team to a poor performance at the 2019 Division 1B U20 World Championships, but that wasn’t even his biggest challenge at the time. Risto Dufva left GKS Katowice in November to take a job in Finland, leaving behind a GKS Katowice that had not lived up to expectations. Sarnik is now tasked with giving a team identity that doesn’t have one in a PHL that is more competitive than ever. It is going to be quite a challenge for the young coach.
3. GKS Katowice
As mentioned in the last entry, Katowice is supposed to be up there with GKS Tychy. In the past seasons, they seemed to just always be one step behind GKS Tychy. This year GKS Katowice already has as many regulation losses as they did in the last two seasons combined. The season has also been very hard injury-wise with only eight players managing to play all 32 games so far this year. Katowice also released Radosław Sawicki early in the year, and Sawicki currently sits seventh in league scoring. Before the new year, Martin Cakajik left the team after two and a half seasons.GKS Katowice is going to need to regroup fast.
2. Men’s Senior Team
After being demoted to D1B for the first time since 2014, it was only expected to be a one year stop. That was not the case as Poland has continually struggled during 2019, never once show any signs of promise. 2019 saw more players retire or currently suspend their national team career. The team’s depth has taken quite the hit with younger talents not being ready to jump in. They’ll have two big chances at the Olympics Qualifiers and D1B World Championships to prove this team and staff have potential. If neither chances are successful drastic actions will have to be taken.
1. Tomek Valtonen
Simply put, it is sink or swim time. Everything that was a pro about Valtonen never came to fruition. There is some blame on both the coach and the PZHL. What he can control though, he has done poorly, so either win or leave time.
The final day of 2019 is here, and it has been up and down and down year for Polish hockey. The great signs have been on the women’s side, young talent, and the PHL becoming a much more competitive league. The downsides have been on the Men’s senior team and continued backstage messes and drama. We will have an article on New Year’s day looking at who needs to improve in 2020, but today lets look at who had the best 2019.
Honorable Mentions: Bartlomiej Neupauer, Filip Stopinski, JKH GKS Jastrzebie, Kamila Wieczorek, KH Torun, Noureddine Bettahar, and Radoslaw Sawicki.
10. Damian Kapica
Kapica was a dominant offensive force at the top of the Cracovia Krakow line up in 2019. The Nowy Targ native currently sits 5th in PHL scoring for the 2019-20 season. He added in an explosive performance at the World Championship, including a five-goal game against Ukraine. It was one of the best performances by a Polish player in World Championship history.
Damian Kapica scores his fifth of the game after a lot of help from Ukrainian defender Romanenko. 7-2 🇵🇱 pic.twitter.com/aqEoOj3Iuu
Kamil Walega just capped off his 2019 with a superb performance at the 2019 Division 1B U20 World Championship with 11 points (6-5-11) in 5 games. He was also able to make his senior national team debut in 2019. In the PHL, Walega had become a significant part of the JKH GKS Jastrzebie offense with 17 points (5-12-17) in 20 games.
8. Wiktoria Sikorska
Sikorska has continued to cement herself as the future face of women’s hockey in Poland. In 2019, she was the best forward at the D1B U18s with seven goals and three assists in five games. She then went on to make her senior IIHF debut at just 16-years-old. The sky is the limit for Sikorska, and her season in the top Czech women’s league has proved that as she sits ninth in league scoring with nine points (1-8-9) in four games.
7. Unia Oswiecim
The 2018-19 season saw a rough start for the blue and white. The team finished eighth in the league, their worst finish since 2009-10. This year though, they were back with a vengeance. The team was one of the most skilled teams the PHL has seen in a while, all spearheaded by new Slovenian head coach Nik Zupancic. The club currently sits fourth in the PHL and made it to the finals of the Polish Cup after defeating GKS Tychy in the opening round.
6. Julia Zielinska
Julia Zielinska is one of the most active Polish players on social media, and she definitely has a career worth following. The talented 15-year-old defensemen became the first female Polish player to play at a top senior level in Finland and the second male or female. She has spent most of the season with Kiekko-Espoo Akatemia in the Metsis recording one assist in tens games. Zielinska is on a quick path to being the best female defenseman in Polish hockey history.
5. Pawel Zygmunt
The big 6’3 forward took a big step in his hockey career after a successful try-out with HC Litvinov of the Tipsports Extraliga. He and Aron Chmielewski are the only two Polish players in the league. Zygmunt was able to score in his debut match and also recorded three points in the second Czech league. Zygmunt has also been a member of various Polish senior teams and could be in line to make his senior IIHF debut this year. He also scored the game-winning double-overtime goal last season to send Cracovia Krakow to the PHL finals.
4. GKS Tychy
The big dog of Polish hockey has continued their strong reign with back to back PHL championships. Not to mention they are once again at the top of the table for the 2019-20 season with 70 points. They have appeared to find another stud North American with Polish roots in Christian Mroczkowski. They set a new record for points by a Polish club in the Champions Hockey League with 4. This includes a victory over Austria’s Viena Capitals and taking Alder Mannheim of the DEL to overtime. The PHL continues to improve, and GKS Tychy is the team leading the charge. They also won the first-ever Champions Hockey League marketing award. Props to the team behind the team.
3. Alan Łyszczarczyk
The Ontario Hockey League belonged to Alan Łyszczarczyk after his midseason trade to the Missauaga Steelheads. Despite the Steelheads trading away many of their top players, Łyszczarczyk was one of the players that stepped up to get the Steelheads to the postseason. He finished the season with 82 points (39-42-82), setting new career highs in every category and finishing 19th in the league for points. Łyszczarczyk put up a goal and three assists for Poland at the World Championships as well. His strong play during the 2018-19 season earned a deal with the Fort Wayne Komets of the ECHL, as well as an invite to training camp with the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League (AHL). Łyszczarczyk has been a star for the Komets posting 27 points (11-16-27) in 28 games, which is third among rookies in the ECHL. There is a strong chance his first AHL call-up should be coming soon.
It has been a big year for the growth of women’s hockey in Poland. Both the senior and U18 team played very well at their international tournaments with promotion being a possible goal for both 2020 tournaments. Those 2020 tournaments will also both be hosted in Poland. On top of that, the team continues to make more strides and there is a goal of an official U16 squad. The most significant addition to Polish women’s hockey this year was the women’s national team joining the Elite Women’s Hockey League. The club currently has a 3-6-1 record. The Silesia Brackens have stayed competitive in every game. The future of women’s hockey in Poland is very bright.
1. Jakub Lewandowski
The prospect of the year for Poland is easily Jakub Lewandowski after being a controversial late cut from Poland U20’s team in 2018, he continued his offensive excellence in the top Czech junior league finishing with 48 points (22-26-48) in 44 games. He was able to turn that into a chance to play in the top junior league in the United States. Lewandowski got off to a scorching start in the United States Hockey League (USHL) but has cooled down a bit since. He currently has five goals and five assists in 22 games. This earned him a C ranking, meaning a player viewed as a late-round NHL draft pick, on the NHL preliminary players to watch list. Lewandowski has a great chance to become the first Polish player drafted since Marcin Kolusz was taken by the Minnesota Wild in 2003.
Right now wrestling is going through a boom period. There are multiple mid-level promotions gaining popularity in the United States with Ring of Honor, Impact, and Major League Wrestling. Then there New Japan Professional Wrestling’s American expansion and a very hot indie scene. That is not even mentioning the top level where for the first time in over a decade the largest promotion in the world, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), has competition in the form of All Elite Wrestling.
Polish hockey has a lot of similarities to professional wrestling. Both are filled with a lot of behind the scenes drama, sketchy financials, and are scripted. Today though, we look at Poland’s connections to professional wrestling overall.
While the WWE has made a few appearances in Poland in the form of their live shows, Poland wouldn’t have their own wrestling promotion til Do or Die Wrestling (DoDW). DoDW was started by American wrestler Don Roid. Roid had been wrestling in Germany when he meant a Polish girl who later became his wife. Roid moved to Poland full time in 2005. Four years later in 2009, he started DoDW.
In an interview with Vice, Roid talked about the beginning of DoDW, “I moved here in 2005 to be with my wife, but that didn’t stop me from walking into the ring. I started performing around Europe—mainly in France, Switzerland, Germany, and Austria. It took me four years to create Do or Die Wrestling, the first Polish federation, and at the same time the first wrestling school in Eastern Europe.”
“I’m not sure Polish people understand what pro wrestling is. Their history is full of wars; they were always engaged in a battle with someone—so the very idea of fighting, even for sport, is a very serious deal to them. In general, as a nation, they are very serious. Americans can chill out a bit. We understand that this is just entertainment. It’s still a sport, as everything that happens in the ring hurts quite a lot, but it’s strictly for the enjoyment of the audience”
Given the uniqueness of their product, Roid thought that DoDW would be an instant hit, but alas that did not happen, “I thought that people would go crazy about it, considering there had never been anything like it in Poland before. I thought that teenagers would want to sign up for training and then join the federation. I was wrong. But I still managed to create a Polish wrestling team that not only performs here but also fights abroad.”
DoDW would later earn a valuable addition in Joe E. Legend. Legend was a longtime professional wrestler with experience in the WWE, Pro Wrestling Noah, and various international promotions. In DoDW he was a valuable trainer for many young Polish wrestlers and even held the DoDW international belt at one point.
DoDW would close their doors in 2015 after six years of bouts. It wouldn’t be the end of wrestling in Poland though, as another promotion had sprouted in the country.
Maniac Zone Wrestling (MZW) was created in 2014 by former Don Roid trainees Shadow and Jedrus “The Polish Hammer” Bulecka. Polish Puck reached out to Shadow to learn more about his promotion. “Maniac Zone Wrestling was created 5 years ago by two guys: Me and Jędruś “The Polish Hammer” Bułecka. At the beginning it was so hard to take ‘something big for us’ but right now we a are strong polish wrestling promotion.”
On what fans could expect to see out of MZW, “Well..the MZW is based on colorful and interesting characters and also we have a wrestlers with so many styles. We likes effective and spectacular fights here.” Then also on the goals of MZW and the future of professional wrestling in Poland, “The current goal for us is to make our promotion bigger and bigger. We want wrestling in Poland to become popular cause right now it’s not… I think that every year there are more and more wrestling fans so we have to keep going and do what we can do the best.”
Kombat Pro Wrestling (KPW) would rise from the ashes of DoDW. They would be formed in October of 2015 and had their debut show, KPW vs The World: Hung(a)ry for Power, on November 14th in Gdansk. The debut show was ran with Hungarian Championship Wrestling.
Since then the promotion has continued to grow. Just like their first show international talent has continued to be brought in to mix with their Polish wrestlers. This includes WWE talent Primate.
Both KPW and MZW are filled with Polish talent, but not much Polish talent has traveled outside the country to reach the biggest stages yet. In the early 20th century, wrestling was filled with Polish immigrants to the states. The first of these wrestlers was Stanislaus Zbyszko. Zbysko had established himself as one of the top Greco-Roman style wrestlers in Europe. Zbysko eventually came over to the states and put on some fantastic matches including an hour-long draw with legend Frank Gotch. Wrestling at this time was more of a real sport but shifting into more of a shoot. Zbysko was still able to claim the World Heavy Weight Championship twice including a 1925 match, where Zbysko turned a worked match into a real one and repeatedly pinned former football player Wayne Munn til being awarded the title in a match Munn was booked to win. Zybsko is regarded as one of the best legitimate wrestlers of all time, and another legend in the business, Larry Zbyszko, adopted his last name as a tribute.
The most interesting of these early wrestlers was Polish Strongman Stanley Radwan. The Krakow native was incredibly strong and some of his feats seem unbelievable. He was able to pull cars with his teeth and remained undefeated in wrestling for 20 years.
One of the most famous stories is about an event that took place at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, the same concentration camp that Anne and Margot Frank spent their final days. Radwan was captured during the Nazi Germany invasion of Poland. Radwan attempted to escape the camp by pushing over a brick wall. The news of the feat attracted the attention of Adolf Hitler. Per Ohio Magzine, Hitler ordered Radwan to put on a show for him and some other Nazi leaders. Radwan refused and then was meant with a gun pointed at his head, where he promptly bit the gun chamber closed. After the war, Radwan immigrated to the United States and began his strongman and wrestling career.
Stanislaus Zbyszko’s younger brother Wladek was also a wrestler. Wladek Zybszko was a two-time AWA World Heavyweight Champion and wrestled from the early 1910s and into the 1950s. Another notable Polish wrestler from this time was Abe Coleman. Coleman was never a championship wrestler but is credited with the invention of the dropkick. Coleman wrestled from 1928 to 1958. The Lodz native was described as a solid mid-card worker and is believed to be the only wrestler to live to be over 100 years old.
Since the end of the pioneer era in wrestling, there have not been many big Polish wrestlers. Ivan Putski is the biggest name since the early days. Putski was a tag team specialist winning tag team gold in Big Time Wrestling, Southwest Championship Wrestling, and the World Wrestling Federation. He was inducted into the WWF Hall of Fame in 1995.
The most recent Polish wrestler to make it big in wrestling is Babatunde Aiyegbusi. The Wroclaw native was originally an American football player. Babatunde was a star offensive linemen in the Polish American Football League. His strong play in Poland earned him a chance with the Minnesota Vikings of the National Football League. He was released after three preseason games. In April 2016, he signed with WWE as apart of their performance center. Babatunde appeared in some large multi-man matches before making his singles debut on January 14th, 2017. The 6’10 355lbs wrestler is quite the monster and has been booked as since winning almost 80% of his matches since debuting.
Wrestlers with Polish Heritage
There are also plenty of people that have stepped into the squared circle with Polish heritage. Plenty of Hall of Famers and former champions.
Debut – Ring Name – Notable Career Achievement
1947 – Killer Kowalski – WWF Hall of Fame 1996
1947- Johnny Valentine – 3x NWA Television Champion
1967- Ole Anderson – 2x AWA Midwest Heavyweight Champion
1970 – Greg Valentine – WWE Hall of Fame 2004
1986 – Scott Putski – 1x GWF North American Heavyweight Champion
1990 – Rob Van Dam – 1x WWE Champion
2000- Trish Stratus – 7x WWE Women’s Champion
2001 – Beth Phoenix – 3x WWE Women’s Champion
2002 – Chris Masters – 1x Ironman Heavymetalweight Championship (This title was once won by A pint of beer, a cat doll, and various other intimate objects.)
Hockey is officially back. GKS Tychy has already played two games in the Champions Hockey League while the first Polish Hockey League regular-season game takes place next week. This is a big year for Polish hockey. There are three national teams that will be playing in foreign leagues including the senior women’s team. Polish players are also playing overseas in the highest numbers since the late 1990s. It certainly seems that it should be a great year for Polish hockey, with that in mind here are five bold predictions
1. GKS Tychy Will Win One Champions Hockey League Game
So far already GKS Tychy has taken Alder Manheim to overtime, and in their game again Stockholm it was 2-1 til a costly third period. The team that GKS Tychy would most likely beat is the Vienna Capitals of the Erste Bank Eishockey League. Last year, Tychy beat HC Bolzano 5-3, then lost their second game 6-4. GKS Tychy should be able to win at least one of the two games against the Capitals. If the win was in regulation it would set a new high in points by a Polish team in the Champions Hockey League competition.
2. Adam Kiedewicz Will Play for Poland
This year is kinda now or never for Adam Kiedewicz in regards to representing team Poland. The talented younger forward is rumored to be gaining interest from the German national team, though he would not be eligible to represent Germany for years to come due to him representing Poland at an earlier U18 Championship. I asked head national team coach Tomek Valtonen, about Kiedewicz and if he would consider giving Kiedewicz a chance to play with the senior team. Valtonen believed it was a possibility and now that he is in Germany, he will be sure to keep an eye on him. Kiedewicz can play for Poland at the U20 World Championships as well, but I would imagine we would most likely see him with the senior team if he does make an appearance.
3. Both Women’s Teams Will Be Promoted
This year both Women’s IIHF tournament that Poland will compete in are going to be hosted in Poland. In front of their home country crowd, both teams will be able to earn promotion. The Women’s U18 team was very young last year and will be only losing a single player. Wiktoria Sikorska recorded ten points last year, and is going to come back even better. Every team should be afraid. Defender Julia Zielinska will be playing in the top level of Women’s hockey in Finland gaining extremely valuable experience that will be well above her competition at the U18s. The team should be in line for their best result in team history. On the senior level, almost the entire team will be playing together in the Elite Women’s Hockey League for the season. They will face tough competition and develop chemistry. The team will be upgrading their bronze medal to a golden one.
4. A Polish Player Will Be Drafted
The long wait for the next Polish NHL draft pick will be over next offseason. There are quite a few players that will be throwing their hat in the ring through performances in top junior leagues around Europe, with the most notable being Jakub Lewandowski. Lewandowski is attempting to make it in the United States Hockey League, the best junior league in the United States. Lewandowski checks plenty of NHL boxes and has the best chance to be the first Polish player drafted since Marcin Kolusz.
5. Risto Dufva will take Charge of the National Team
After this year, Tomek Valtonen will be out as the head of the national team. I believe current GKS Katowice head coach Risto Dufva will take the reigns. It was already unkown coming into this year if Valtonen was going to return to Poland. His first year was filled with controversies both in and out of his control. The back-up plan for Poland seemed to be Risto Dufva, who served as a consultant during Valtonen’s first year. Dufva is a pretty good fall back option given his coaching resume is pretty impressive and quite better than Valtonen’s. While Valtonen is staying for at least one more year, Dufva is also now an assistant rather than a consultant. Dufva should have quite the influence over the national team regardless of Valtonen’s plans for the future.
I have been asked why I write about Polish hockey a lot. Sometimes it is a serious interest or times in a manner suggesting it’s a waste of time. Writing about Polish hockey itself is already an uncommon endeavor, but writing about it in English is even more unusual. I mean, I do think about what is the point to myself a lot. Who do I write more for English speakers or Polish speakers? My analytics say English speakers, but I do often question how authentic their engagement is. That engagement is something website statistics can not track.
Polish Puck was started on April 25th, 2015. It was just a twitter account. Probably the worse time to launch the page given there was no actual news to report on really. The account was just pretty much dedicated to Lyszczarczyk news and stats leading up the CHL import draft, where Lyszczarczyk was not drafted because at the time it wasn’t known his birthplace was in the United States. While I continued to attract a small number of followers, it really wasn’t much interaction. I was in my freshman year of college, taking general business classes. I always had a clear interest in working in hockey but never really wanted to be a hockey writer. I can’t lie my writing skills are always still evolving, and it’s always cringe-inducing to look back at old posts, but also amazing to see how far things have come.
There were a lot of points where I thought about just shutting down Polish Puck. I mean, it was pointless to begin. Only the random tweets of a bored college student who liked Polish hockey. I have long fought a personal battle with depression, especially in my first few years of college. Finding the motivation to do anything was hard. I always felt like anything I was doing was pointless, and I couldn’t find joy in anything. Polish Puck was something that I could barely ever bring myself to do in the early years of it. The only reason Polish Puck was able to survive is because of Mike Danton.
Well, he is a controversial figure in hockey and especially Polish hockey, him following me on twitter kinda gave me new energy to continue the page. It felt like validation that I actually was doing something good. Yes, a twitter follow is a tiny insignificant thing, but at the time it meant a lot to me.
I continued to add more coverage for the prospects and just spend more time on Polish Puck overall. More and more research into Polish hockey. The purpose of Polish Puck became clear to me. There are tons of Polish Americans and Canadians or people with Polish heritage who I think would follow the national team if the coverage was there.
I feel you see a lot of that for other large European hockey countries. There are English blogs for Russia, Sweden, or just general European hockey. I also saw how passionate people in America are for the Polish National “soccer” team or for Polish teams and athletes during the Olympics. It was a small niche audience, but one I thought was there and wanted to pursue.
The blog was set up in December, and the first post talked about some recent North American signings in the PHL. North American imports felt so much more common when I first started compared to now. The blog was fully started because I didn’t want to do constant threads on Twitter anymore. I felt bad blowing up peoples timelines to tell them about the newest small roster move.
The blog really didn’t get too much attention for the first three years of existence. I wasn’t the most consistent poster at it to be fair, but overall there was a lack of interest in the blog for sure. I can remember writing game day pieces on the u20 world championships getting zero views and feeling absolutely crushed. The game day pieces were pointless in a way. I had already tweeted the score if not live-tweeted the game. The twitter account was my only way of promoting articles, so if someone followed me there was really no reason to read the recap.
At the end of the day news can just always be tweeted or posted to Facebook in a couple hundred characters there is no need for articles on it in my format unless the news is just that big. I have to give people more of a reason to read my stuff. I switched my writing to more giving analyst and trying to do more out there pieces. Finding even more niche topics in a niche topic.
Since I made this change in 2018, I had a new high in views and visitors to the site. Furthering this approach even more in 2019, resulting in more views than the first four years of the blog combined and its only July. Polish Puck is on pace to exceed over 15,000 views and visitors in 2019. It is truly astounding to me how far the blog has come from the days of zero views. I am an analytical person, and numbers really speak to me. So seeing the growth that the blog has had has been an amazing accomplishment for myself.
Why I write about Polish hockey doesn’t have a single answer. First, it’s my passion for hockey in the country, and I want to see it grow and thrive. I have interacted with so many great people and fans of the game from Poland that deserve to celebrate a strong national team and league. So many great players, coaches, and staff that deserve a bigger stage to show their ability. Second, I feel I am filling the hole of coverage for people who want to follow the national team, but can’t find coverage or don’t speak the language. This isn’t just fans, but other writers or hockey players, coaches, etc. Third, I believe I am contributing something new and different for Polish fans. I feel I can provide more and different coverage then great sites like hokej.net, hokejfan.pl, and planetofhockey.com. Last I just enjoy doing it. It’s been a lot of fun. I have had the pleasure of meeting and interacting with some wonderful people through the blog. Each time staying up all night or getting up extremely early to watch games, or giving up weekends for events has been worth it. I even watched during my own graduation.
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
Sometimes you just need to step on a lego, stub your toe, or pull your own teeth out. The pain makes you feel alive. Today we are going to be just doing that as we make a team out of players that chose another country over representing Poland. The rules are a bit lose here as some players never actually made a choice. Basically, if a player has a Polish flag on their page in elite prospects and doesn’t play for Poland, they’re qualified. Alright time to start pouring lemon juice mixed with salt in our cuts.
1st Line: Wojtek Wolski – Stéphane Da Costa – Teddy Da Costa 2nd Line: Jacob-Micflikier – Evan McGrath – Jordan Pietrus 3rd Line: Wojciech Stachowiak – Kamil Sadlocha – Adrian Grygiel 4th Line: Bartek Bison – Krys Kolanos – Jakub Borzecki
Okay, let us get that pain started with first line winger Wojtek Wolski. Wolski and Da Costa are two of the best imports in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL). They will form a lethal duo on the top line. Joining them on the top line is Teddy Da Costa, the brother of Stephane and a member of GKS Katowice. Wolski was born in Poland but his family left when he was about 3. He represents Canada internationally playing for them at the 2018 Olympics. Both Da Costa brothers were born in France to a French father and Polish mother. Teddy Da Costa has played hockey in Poland during 8 seasons in his career with his upcoming season for GKS Katowice being number nine. His wife is Polish and he lives in Oswiecim during the offseason. Both Da Costa brothers are longtime members of the French national team.
That second line features quite a few players who have made their way around various European minor leagues. Jacob Micflikier was a top scorer in the AHL, before moving to Europe in 2012, since then he has played in the KHL, Swedish Hockey League (SHL), and National League (NLA). He has represented Canada at multiple Spengler Cups and non-IIHF international events. Evan McGrath has had a similar career to Micflickeir, being a solid AHLer, before moving to Europe. He has played in Sweden, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, and the United Kingdom in that order. McGrath represented Canada at the 2004 U18 World Championships. The final piece of this line is a familiar one to Polish fans as Jordan Pietrus played for Sanok in 2014. He was a high scorer in the ECHL before moving to Poland. Since then he spent three seasons in the United Kingdom and played last year in Denmark.
The third line is quite an interesting one. Wojiech Stachowiak and Kamil Sadlocha both play in the NCAA. They were both born in Poland, but chose to represent different countries. I did a more in-depth piece about their careers here. Stachowiak represents Germany, while Sadlocha wears red, white, and blue. Adrian Grygiel is the babysitter veteran of this group. Grygiel played over 900 games in the DEL from 2000 to 2019, an extremely long career. He is tied for the 9th most ever games played in the DEL. His streak ended when he signed with Eispiraten Crimmitschau in the DEL2 midseason last year. He has re-signed with them for this year. He represented Germany at multiple U20 World Championships and one U18 World Championship.
The final line is the wild card, not really sure what to expect out of it. Bartek Bison is a promising young player for the Netherlands. He has played in the North American Hockey League, United States Hockey League, and Western Hockey League. He has represented the Netherlands at the World Championships and U20 World Championships. Former NHLer Krys Kolanos will be centering the fourth line. Kolanos has faced quite a few injury problems during his career. He played 151 NHL games with the Coyotes, Oilers, and Wild. Kolanos played for GKS Tychy during the 2017-18 season. That 2017-18 season was also the most recent in his hockey career, as he did not play in 2018-19. He represented Canada at the 2003 World Championships. The last player is the son of Polish hockey legend Adam Borzecki. Jakub Borzecki holds American, German, and Polish citizenship. He was born in New York, while his father was playing for the Syracuse Crunch in the AHL. Borzecki and his family moved to Germany in 2005, where Adam Borzecki continued his career. Jakub Borzecki developed in the German system and has represented Germany at the U16, U17, and U18 level, including the 2019 U18 World Championships.
While the offense was impressive the defense is vomit inducing. I had to break some of my rules just to field a full defense. I went back to 2013 trying to find a decent defenseman to take a spot, but nothing. This defensive core is extremely weak. 23-year-old Lukas Ogorzelec is one of two non-junior players on the defense. He has played 169 in the Oberliga for ECC Preussen Berlin. He is paired with Arkadiusz Dziambor, a 17-year-old, defenseman in the Jungadler Mannheim system. He was born in Pyskowice, Poland. Dziambor has played for Germany at the U16 and U17 level. Damian Szurowski has played in Poland the last two years with Cracovia Krakow. While Damian never made a choice he is eligible for Poland, but it is unlikely he would make Poland or Sweden. Maksymilian Szuber is a top German prospect for the 2021 draft. The 16-year-old defenseman has already played for the German U16, U17, and U18 team. He was born in Opole, Poland but has spent most of his junior career in the Austrian system playing for RB Hockey Akademie and EC Salzburg. He is the youngest member of our defense. The final pairing is the worse of the three. It is made up of Alexander Andrews, a Canadian Polish GMHL player, and Oskar Pulaczewski, a 20-year-old, who plays in Germany’s 5th tier of hockey for Weserstars Bremen II. I also believe that Oskar Pulaczewski is eligible for Poland, but he has spent most of his junior and youth hockey days in Germany and we needed bodies for this defense.
Starter: Will McEwen
Back up: Maksymilian Jan Mojzyszek
Our two goaltenders are both young and pretty inexperienced in professional hockey. McEwan is committed to play for Gustavus Adolphus College in NCAA III. He split the last two years in the U.S. junior leagues between the Western States Hockey League and Eastern Hockey League. McEwan was born in Connecticut and played his entire junior career in the states. Mojzyszek is the back up for the team. The 19-year-old goalie plays for Nittorps IK in Sweden after starting his career in Iceland. He has represented Iceland at the U18 and U20 World Championships multiple times.
The Big Question
The big question to me is could this team beat Poland. When looking at the two teams, team non-Poland has the advantage on offense, but Poland has them beat on defense and in the net. The large advantage in net should be able to slow down the fierce offensive attack of team non-Poland. While Polish stars like Aron Chmielewski, Damian Kapica, and Patryk Wronka should slice through the weak defense and goaltending. I’ll give it a final score of 5-3 for Poland.
It is hard to think of all the offensive talent that Poland has lost. So many great players that would instantly be among the top forwards for Poland. On defense, there are not many huge professional losses, but so many great young future pieces. In net Poland is great and players who have chosen another country would be unlikely to make Poland. The goal for Poland going forwards needs to be convincing top talents to play for Poland, while not all of these players ever had the option to play for Poland it still remains something Poland needs to pay attention to. If Polish hockey is going to advance they can’t lose players like Wojciech Stachowiak or Adam Kiedewicz.
The video game industry can be a toxic place right now. There are numerous stories on overworked employees that had to work insane hours to make deadlines. Developers publishing unfinished and broken games for premium prices. Legal forces coming down on things like loot boxes. As well as general frustration from gamers that continue to mount with developers, publishers, and the industry as a whole. As all this toxicity boils in a single pot about to burst, there is one studio that being herald as an industry leader and what other studios should try to be like according to gamers.
That studio is CD Projekt Red. The studio’s claim to fame is the highly acclaimed video games series The Witcher. The focus is now on their new game CyberPunk 2077. The game has a massive hype train that was only made bigger at E3 this year when it was revealed that actor Keanu Reeves would be in the game. His appearance was one of the biggest moments of E3 and is still talked about to this day. It also became a really good meme.
What people might not know about the video game giant is that the company is Polish. The company was founded all the way back in 1994 in Warsaw, Poland. They started off simply doing localizations of video games, but have now grown into one of the biggest game companies in the world. They are the leading company in a fast-growing Polish video game scene. You also can’t forget about People Can Fly, a studio that worked on the Gears of War series along with the extremely popular Fornite.
As a couple of studios in Poland continue to work on some of the largest games in the industry there is one genre where Poland maybe silently one of the leading countries. That genre is horror.
The genre of horror has undergone many changes since it’s inceptions. It is one that struggled to find it’s true identity. It was once just more composed of side scrollers, shooters, and beat them ups in spooky levels or against scary enemies like skeletons or monsters. Then came the game of Sweet Home. Sweet Home was based on a Japanese film of the same name. The game focused more actually surviving than overpowering an enemy. It had a lot of puzzle elements as well. It laid the groundwork for a sub-genre of horror games called survival horror.
Survival horror contains most of the games that most people think of when thinking about horror games. This genre includes games like Alone in the Dark, Clock Towe, Resident Evil, and Silent Hill. These games all focused more on the atmosphere in your setting. The concept of being unfamiliar whether with a location or enemy. With the exception of Resident Evil, you are not a suited up military trained soldier ready to fight enemies with ease, but you are a normal person and you can’t just overpower your enemy. You mainly looked for ways to hide or avoid them while studying and learning along the way. Puzzle solving was a key gameplay element. The games had psychological elements never seen in games before. The identity of the horror genre really started to form around these ideas. The market was relatively dominated by Japanese developers with many Western horror games attempting to mimic the Japanese style.
The genre changed forever though when one of the most popular horror game franchises, Resident Evil, switched from survival horror to more action based horror games starting with the release of Resident Evil 4.
The game was immensely popular and starked another change in the genre as now horror games were mostly geared to be more action-oriented. The horror landscape quickly switched from the Japanese style of horror games to a more Western-based one. It did end up killing off some legends of the horror genre or at least diminished their popularity. Silent Hill was probably the biggest of these. Konami published lackluster titles produced by Western studios after the original games were made by the Japanese based Team Silent. The change did give birth to series as well with new games like Dead Rising, F.E.A.R., and Left 4 Dead. Another series that was born during this time was NecroVision.
NecroVision was developed by The Farm 51, a Polish studio based in Gliwice. The studio was started by former members of People Can Fly. They previously worked on a game called Painkiller, a shooter game versus demons. When starting off their own studio they kept the shooter element but went with a horror vide to create NecroVision. The game was released in February of 2009. The story takes place during World War 1. You play as a British soldier going up against the German army when during the war, your squad is ambushed. Our protagonist collapsed and when he re-awoke found the battlefield being rampant with zombies and creatures from hell. It was the first dive into the new horror genre by a Polish studio. The game did well enough to earn a prequel in NecroVision: The Lost Company. The Farm 51 has made other games since NecroVision including a sequel to PainKiller. They are now returning to their initial horror roots. This time with a survival style, instead of a shooter, in their new game Chernobylite. A game based around a person returning to the Chernobyl disaster site in order to find their former partner 30 years after the event. The game is set to release in Autumn of 2019.
The next Polish studio to put make their mark on horror genre was Techland. Techland is a studio that was started all the way back in 1991 originally just distributing software. They would enter the video game market in 2000 and have been a growing developer since. They currently have headquarters in Warsaw and Wrocław. Their biggest break came in the horror genre with Dead Island. The game was announced in 2006, but we wouldn’t see anything of it till 2011. In 2011, the announcement trailer came out.
The announcement trailer took the gaming world by storm and is truly what an announcement trailer should be. It sets up the setting and world they are creating in a very intriguing way. I was so excited for Dead Island at the time. The game would release in early September of 2011. The game received generally solid reviews with most being in the range of 7 out of 10. It went on to sell over five million copies. It is still one of my favorite games to this day and I have played through it multiple times with each character. The game takes place on the fictional island of Banoi, a destination tourist Island. The island has now been overrun by a mysterious plague that has caused people to turn into the infected, which want nothing more than to eat and kill the living. The survivors now must battle their way off the Island to survive. Dead Island went on to become a franchise getting several spinoffs and other media properties like comics. Only one of the spinoff games was developed by Techland. This was Dead Island Riptide, a direct sequel to what happened after the story in Dead Island. Dead Island 2 was originally supposed to be developed by Techland but they became involved in a new horror project.
This new project was Dying Light. Dying Light is similar to Dead Island in a lot of ways, but also much different. The game is so fun to just move around in and there are so many ways to traverse the game’s world. The game’s combat feels wonderful and there are a lot of interesting concepts in the game like the Day-Night cycle. It was much dangerous to be out at night, so you better run. It really feels like the evolution that Dead Island would have needed. The game has an amazing story involving the survivors stuck inside the quarantine zone of a town called Harran. You play as Kyle Crane, an undercover agent, is sent into the city to retrieve some stolen information that is vital to the Global Relief Effort. The game received generally strong views mostly in the 7s and 8s when out of 10. I loved the game and I continue to replay it. Part of the reason I love the game is how well it has been supported by Techland with expansions and other things being adding to extend the life of the game. They really tried to create and care for the community. Dying Light 2 was announced at E3 2018 and is scheduled for a release in the first half of 2020.
Now Dead Island, Dying Light, and NecroVision are more on the side of action or shooter horror that really started to take over the horror genre in the mid to late 2000s. Most survival horror games during this time and the early 2010s were being done by indie or smaller developers. Poland saw quite a few studios trying the survival horror style during this time.
The first attempt at a survival horror game was done by the Nibris. Nibris, based in Krakow, was developing a Nintendo WII titled called Sadness. The game was in all black and white and used the WII’s motion controls to simulate running away from some kind of creature or evil. It had a fair amount of interest but was sadly canceled when the company was closed. When the company was active they had created a studio called Bloober Team SA. The studio had become independent from Nibris before Nibris shut down.
Bloober Team started out creating mobile and other smaller “cheap” games. Things did not look good for the studio. Their 2014 title Brawl, received really poor reviews. The game was so badly received that the Bloober Team promised to completely rebuild it from scratch. The team apologized to gamers and promised to try and rebuild trust within the gaming community. The first step they did to do this was giving the new version of Brawl free to anyone who originally bought the first game. Their next step was more impactful though.
In 2016, a game came out titled P.T. It was discovered the game was a playable teaser for the next game in the Silent Hill franchise. It was a return to the roots for Silent Hill and appeared to be the evolution that survival horror needed to reignite the glory days of the sub-genre. Unfortunately, Konami would cancel the game in a series of very controversial moves. P.T. was still able to have an impact on the horror genre and that can be seen in a lot of games that came after it like the playable demo to Resident Evil 7 as well as Layers of Fear.
Layers of Fear was a really drastic change in the type of games from Bloober Team. It was a physiological horror game. It is a really amazing experience and the story of the self-torture of a deranged creative mind. It came out of nowhere from Bloober Team and I think that adds to the experience if you know their history. Bloober team has now stayed in the psychological horror lane. Just a year later they would release Observer. A more futuristic psychological horror game that is also set in Poland. It has a lot of cool concepts and I am currently just starting my playthrough of it, I haven’t been able to put it down since I started.
Bloober team also released a sequel to Layers of Fear in May of 2018. Layers of Fear 2 again focuses on another creative person and the twisted way they see the world. The team also announced their newest project at E3 this year with Blair Witch. This game is based on the cinematic series of horror films of the same name. The game earned a fair bit of hype and trailer was well received. The studio has now become one of the top psychological horror game studios after such humble and different beginnings. I applaud their work and what they have turned their studio into.
In 2014, another studio made up of former employees from People Can Fly jumped into the horror genre with their first game as well. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter developed by, Warsaw-based studio, The Astronauts came out of nowhere. It is a beautiful game with amazing environments to explore and challenging puzzles as you try to figure out the disappearance of a missing boy. The game is regarded as very good earning many high scores and praise. The game also won Best Game Innovation at the 2015 British Academy Games Awards. The Astronauts are currently working on a shooter for their next project titled the Witchfire.
A newer face in the scene is Madmind Studio. They are made up of many former employees from various Polish game studios. They released Agony in 2018 to generally poor reviews. While many survival horror games feature plenty of gore and sexual content it is usually done in more subtle ways or used in moments to stress the severity of the situation. Agony immediately goes to these big moments and never comes down from them, which did not resonate well with most people. The game has generated a niche fanbase though. They are scheduled to be releasing a new trailer for their next game Paranoid soon.
The Polish video game industry is growing and thriving. That is especially true in the horror genre as there are numerous new games coming from Polish studios including Dying Light 2, Blair Witch, and Paranoid. So many of these studios started at such small scales and worked their way up to now producing large international titles. As well as not just making good horror games, but starting horror franchises. In a genre that has sometimes been know as Japan dominated, I think Poland is starting to really start making themselves known as one of the leading countries in the horror genre, as well as one of the leaders in the video games industry in general.
The PZHL has made some big moves this offseason. There is always a need for more Polish players to develop and test their skills aboard and now more than 60 plus players will be doing that. This is due to the fact that three national teams will be playing in foreign leagues next season. These teams are the Women’s Senior National team, Men’s U18 team, and Men’s U16 team.
The Women’s senior team will be playing in the Elite Women’s Hockey League. They will be playing under the name of Silesia Brackens. The Elite Women’s Hockey League, or EWHL, is mostly comprised of women’s teams from various countries. Two countries have multiple teams as Austria has three and Hungary has two. Denmark, Italy, Kazakhstan, and Slovenia will also have a team in the competition. All of the other countries involved are ranked higher than Poland’s women team in the IIHF, besides Slovenia. A majority of every country’s national team plays in the EWHL.
This is a great move by the PZHL. Right now a big part of the growth in women’s hockey has been the ability to grow top stars like Kamila Wieczorek or Karolina Pozniewska. There has been a lack of depth though that has been the falling point for Polish teams. This is a great way for Poland to develop depth as players will be facing tougher competition. The team will also be playing together for an entire season and that could help build chemistry. This league could be a stepping stone for younger Polish players to reach higher leagues. Poland will also be playing some of their international opponents quite a few times, which will allow them to gameplan better for the World Championships.
I have been a big supporter of the job Ivan Bednar has done as the head coach of the national team and look forward to this being another great tool in his chest. Praise must also be given to Marta Zawadzka in her work to get a Polish team in the league. Overall women’s hockey has a really bright future in Poland.
The Men’s U18 team will be playing in the Czech Republic U20 junior league. There are two divisions of the Czech U20 league a top league and a second tier. Though it has not been announced which league Poland will be playing in I have a strong belief that it will be the second league. The Men’s U16 team will be playing in the Czech Republic’s U17 league.
This is a really good thing for a lot of young players in Poland. This provides them the chance to develop their skills against tougher teams without having to leave Poland. As much as Poland needs players to leave Poland and develop, it is not an easy task. It is a lot of weight to put on a teenager’s shoulder in having to move to new a country away from their family. The teams in the Czech leagues will provide a lot of the same benefits as Poland’s EWHL team. This will create stronger depth, be a stepping stone, and further develop chemistry.
These are the kind moves that PZHL needs to make to keep developing hockey in Poland. It is an instant boost to all of Poland’s national teams. It may also help continue to remove some of the doubts about Polish hockey players that some players are facing. If the Polish players do well in stronger leagues it helps the credibility of Polish hockey. When you add in the expected improved IIHF results this may create a quick fix to a problem that appeared it was going to take much longer to fix.
Tomek Valtonen will remain with the Poland national team as head coach.
Tomek Valtonen came to Poland with a lot of fanfare. The former Liiga player had Polish blood and spoke the language. He also was to be the head coach of Podhale, meaning he would be in Poland year round. He was also relatively young for a coach of his experience at 38-years-old. He had a long coaching career in Finland, serving as an assistant on Jokerier U20 team and Finland’s World Junior team before taking over as the head coach of Sport (Liiga) from 2014-18.
Valtonen’s lone season in Poland started with a bunch of potential. Poland did well in a big test at the Euro Ice Hockey Challenge facing off against Austria, Denmark, and Norway with a depleted roster. The rest of the season saw controversy after controversy arise some involving Valtonen others not and out of his control. This includes Valtonen taking a job in Germany and players retiring from the Polish national team. This would all come to the head where at the World Championships, Poland came in with a somewhat lackluster roster and would lose one game in overtime to Romania causing the team to the stay in Division 1B for 2020.
Valtonen staying is a huge boost for Poland. While he had consistency problems that other coaches in Poland have suffered through there was a lot that Valtonen did right. He incorporated more youth into the lineup. When the players fought for better conditions, he stood by them. I have to imagine that situation between players and the PZHL would have been worse without him. Valtonen also made some necessary line up changes that benefited Poland tremendously like moving Marcin Kolusz to defense.
This will be the first season in 2 years that Poland will not be looking for a new head coach. The expectation is that Risto Dufva will also be taking more of a larger role with the Polish national team. Dufva served as a consultant last year for team Poland. This season he will be the head coach for GKS Katowice and assistant for the national team. Tommi Satosaari will stay on as the goaltending coach. The team also announced that Jacek Szopinski and Marek Zietara would not be behind the bench next year making it an all Finnish staff.