The return of five thoughts! I never thought that this year I was going to be able to write five thoughts. After a successful PHL season though, the PZHL hosted the three seas tournament. We got to see the Polish national team in action. Poland took on Estonia, Latvia U23 (or Latvia B, they had a few veterans), and Lithuania. Croatia was also supposed to play in this tournament but dropped out before the tournament began.
The three seas tournament was an interesting challenge for Poland. It is the second national team event of the year after a couple of exhibition games against Hungary. The last time Poland played Estonia at the Worlds, they beat them 3-2 in OT. While Lithuania is a foe that had given Poland quite a bit of trouble recently. Then Latvia was the wild card. Latvia is a great hockey country that if not for their small size, I believe would be among the best in Europe. Their U23 or B team was a wildcard roster. The team was a mix of borderline Dinamo Riga players, Latvian league and MHL standouts, along with a few vets who played outside of Latvia. Could these wildcards pull off a crazy upset though against Poland? Let us find out!
Developing top defensemen has and is still a big problem for Poland. For international tournaments, it is always fun to see which young players have made big strides. Olaf Bizacki took advantage of every opportunity at the three seas tournament. The 5’7 defenseman finished with one goal and three assists in two games. He has also earned himself a spot on Poland’s roster for the national team grouping during May in Slovenia.
A Top Forward Import
As I was writing this piece it was announced that Kazkasthan added former Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Viktor Svedberg to the national team. Poland has added a few forwards to the national team, but none had any major success. In his second appearance for the Polish national team, Christian Mroczkowski once again made an impact. This time recording one goal and two assists in three games. Poland appears to have a long-term impactful import with the Canadian winger.
Zygmunt the New Prince?
When a player plays overseas it can be hard sometimes to look at their stats and see them as a step ahead of a lot of Polish players. Zygmunt kinda fits that billing as his stats in the Tipsport Extraliga are not eye-popping. The physical big forward made a huge impact at the three seas tournament. He led team Poland in goals with four and added an assist on top. While his ceiling might have never thought to be as high as other Polish players he deserves to be in the discussion for the best U23 player.
The Three-Headed Monster in Net.
In recent years, we have seen the national team have quite a few changes in goal. The latest change is Odrobny seemingly being no longer an option for the national team. The three-headed monster was set to be a two-headed one between Murray and Raszka. Murray is soon to be 34-years-old, and Raszka recently turned 31. The national team is going to need to find out who is next behind them. It seems they seem the answer to that is 25-year-old Michał Kieler. He played well at the three seas tournament and got a game earlier in Hungary.
A Clean Sweep, But No True Test For Kalaber.
Poland won each of these games, they beat Lithuania 8-1, Estonia 6-1, and then Latvia 4-1 to end it. All convincing victories against teams that really are not the greatest. This was an improvement on how they finished against Estonia at the last world championship Poland played in, but this was a downgraded roster. This was the correct result. This is what Poland needed to do. It really proves nothing though for the national team or Kalaber. They have a huge tournament with a chance to move on to the Olympics coming soon, I’m not saying Poland has to win that, but it needs to be competitive. We don’t really have a bar to see if Poland is better or worse so far under the current coaching staff. Hopefully, the Beat Covid-19 Cup in May will show us that.
Wronka is still the most fun player to watch in hockey and I will see no arguments otherwise.
Pasuit is back in a Polish uniform and it’s good to see. Easily one of the best centers in the country.
Unlucky injuries were a big story for Poland in this tournament, Oskar Jaskiewicz is going to be out for a bit, while Filip Starzynski missed the final games.
I have had players tell me before that some foreign clubs don’t sign Polish players due to the poor reputation of Polish hockey. One team that is certainly not scared to take a chance on Polish talent is HC Ocelari Trinec. The club of Aron Chmielewski has added a pair of players from GKS Tychy in Bartosz Ciura and Filip Komorski per Hokej.net. Both players have signed one-year deals that will have them splitting time between HC Ocelari Trinec and HC Frydek-Mistek.
Bartosz Ciura is a stay-at-home defenseman with some physical chops. The 28-year-old captained team Poland at the three seas tournament, where he recorded three assists in three games. The three-time Polish champion with GKS Tychy recorded one goal and four assists this year in 46 games. He has played for Tychy since 2016.
Filip Komorski also joined the squad and is one of the most underrated Polish forwards, in my opinion. The sniper from Warszawa is one of the best goal scorers for the Polish national team, recording two goals at the three seas tournament. Since 2013, when Komorski debuted in the PHL, he is eighth in goals with 153. This included 20 goals and 20 assists in 45 games this year with GKS Tychy.
Both players are more than likely to start the year with HC Frydek-Mistek. HC Ocelari Trinec is one of the best clubs in the Czech Republic, winning the Tipsport Extraliga championship in 2021. They are technically back-to-back champs since no champion was awarded in 2020. HC Frydek-Mistek finished 14th in the Czech second league this past season. This is their fourth straight season where the club missed the playoffs. Bartosz Ciura and Filip Komorski are the third and fourth Polish players to sign abroad this year. Previously, Filip Stopinski signed with IceFighters Leipzig, and Michael Luba re-upped with Cholet.
KH Torun has named their new head coach in 43-year-old Jussi Tupamäki. The Finnish coach currently works as the head coach for the Estonia National team. On the club side, he worked for JYP in the Liiga last year as their Director of Player Development, along with joining the coaching staff as an assistant in October.
KH Torun needed a new head coach after parting ways with Yuri Chukh. Belarusian coach Yuri Chukh had been leading Torun since 2017, helping the team work their way up from the second league. He had a very strong knack for finding diamonds in the rough. Under him, Torun was able to find PHL stars out of the lower leagues of Europe. Torun finished strong under his leadership, including 5th in 2021. The team under Chukh relied heavily on imports much to the dismay of some Polish players.
Torun has recently stated a desire to develop more home grown talent. That seems to make Tupamäki a perfect fit. The former Liiga coach has a vast amount of experience. He started as a head coach in the women’s second league in Finland. He moved to coaching the junior ranks, even coaching in the top junior leagues of Finland. He then served as a head coach for the Estonia national team, and in the Mestis and EBEL. In 2021, he joined JYP in the Liiga as their director of player development. Tupamäki has experience as a coach, director of player development, director of coaching, and scout. He really ticks all the boxes that Torun needed.
This past season has seen a lot of top imports play in Poland. We have seen a lot of notable North American names. There has also been a considerable surge in European talent with players like Marek Hovorka and Kirill Lyamin. The arms race in the PHL has undoubtedly proved to bring a lot of new talent. It is a shame fans are not able to see it in person.
We recently made a team looking at the best North Americans to ever play in the PHL. Now is a chance to look at the top Europeans to ever play in Poland. The North American team had fewer roster choices to make as the number of North Americans to play in the PHL is pretty low. It also had the advantage of almost every North American to play in Poland has done so since I have been covering the PHL. That is not the case for Europeans in the PHL, as they have been an extended part of the PHL’s history. This means relying more on statistics and achievements. And the enormous error that some statistics and accomplishments are missing.
I feel this is going to make some roster choices more debated. I reached out to some of my contacts and hockey fans in Poland to measure some players’ impact. I did have a final choice on all picks. For rules on players, all European players are counted. Yes, Russian players are counted. Players must have played at least one entire season in the PHL. I will only consider what they accomplished in the PHL. What they did before or after does not matter. We will select 13 forwards, seven defensemen, and two goalies.
Milan Baranyk – Josef Vítek – Martin Vozdecký
Petr Šinágl – Richard Karl – Karel Horný
Marián Kacíř – Teddy Da Costa – Andrei Gusov
Roman Skutchan – Peter Tabaček – Marek Hovorka
Josef Vítek (2009-Present) – Vítek is the first pick for this list and would be on the all-time PHL team. The talented Czech forward has recorded 645 points in 671 games. He is 7th all-time in PHL scoring, with the most amount of points by a non-Polish player. As well as one of only seven players to record 300 or more goals in the PHL. He is a two-time PHL champion and a three-time Polish Cup winner. At 40-years-old, he is still going with a 20 point season for Stoczniowiec Gdansk in 2021.
Martin Vozdecký(2009-2018) – Vozdecký career in the PHL is nothing but achievement after achievement. No matter if it was for Sanok, Tychy, Polonia Bytom, Jastrzebie, or Katowice the talented forward had success. In 384 PHL games, the Czech forward posted 460 points. The second most by a non-Polish player. He is also a two-time PHL champion that has led the league in both goals and assists in separate seasons.
Milan Baranyk(03-04, 07-11, 12-14, 18) – The talented Czech forward appeared for five different PHL clubs, usually with stops in other European leagues between them. During his long career, Baranyk appeared in the PHL over 11 seasons. He recorded 444 points in 439 games, the 4th most points by a non-Polish player in the PHL. He also is a two-time PHL champion wining both with Podhale Nowy Targ.
Richard Kral (2011-2014) – Kral is one of the most distinguished Czech players ever, with a long and outstanding career in the Extraliga. He finished his career with JKH GKS Jastrzebie, where he recorded four straight years of at least 50 points. The Czech forward was always among the leaders in points, including leading the regular season in scoring in his first season. Overall he finished his PHL tenure with 257 points in 192 games. His 1.34 PPG is the third-highest by a non-Polish player.
Petr Šinágl(2014-2018) – The long-time Czech2 forward made an immediate impact when he joined KH Sanok in 2014 with a 75 point season. He would spend five years in the PHL with Sanok and Krakow. In total, he posted 312 points in 266 games. His point total is the seventh most by a non-Polish player in PHL history. Šinágl also won 3 PHL championships and a Polish Cup while leading the league in assists twice.
Karel Horný (00-02, 05-12) – Horný was a journeyman in Poland, appearing for six different clubs and two different Polish hockey levels. The Czech forward started his Poland career off by winning two straight PHL championships with Unia Oswiecim. He would later post high-scoring years for Krakow, Krynica, and Tychy. He later helped Oswiecim earn a promotion back to the PHL. Horný ranked up 298 regular season PHL points in his career.
Teddy Da Costa(06-10, 12-13, 18, 20-Present) – While Das Costa comes from a Polish mother, he is french born and represents France on the international stage. He helped raise awareness of the PHL by playing in the World Championships’ Elite Division while playing in the PHL. Da Costa has played for six different clubs in Poland, even spending part of his junior career with Zaglebie Sosnowiec. A ten-year ongoing PHL career has resulted in 386 points in 424 games.
Andrei Gusov (1995-2000) – Gusov, or Husau, could probably be named the head coach of this team if I named one. He is a multiple-time championship coach in the PHL. His playing career was even more impressive as the Belarusian national team forward played in parts of 6 PHL seasons. His six years included three with Podhale Nowy Targ. He ranked up at least 250 points in the league, some statistics are missing. He was the captain for SMS I Warszawa in 1999.
Marián Kacíř (2006-2011) – When you look at the mid-2000s, Imports were not as prominent. There was a huge star among them in Kacíř. He was an NHL draft pick, former AHL, DEL, Liiga, and SHL player. More importantly, he was a star in the PHL. In 6 years from 2005 to 2011, only the Polish legend Leszek Laszkiewicz had more points than Kacíř. And that 2011 season, the Czech forward played just nine games in the PHL. In 2008, he led the league in assists and points while helping Podhale Nowy Targ to a PHL championship. His final stat line was 298 points in 258 games.
Peter Tabaček (2008-2019) – When looking at the best forwards all time to appear for Unia Oswiecim, Tabaček has to be up there. The Slovak forward spent 12 years in the PHL, the first two with Naprzod Janow but the next ten straight with Oswiecim. For his career, he racked up 385 points in 503 games. Tabaček sits fifth in all-time points for Unia Oswiecim and is one of only five players to hit 300 points. He also won two bronze medals with the club and served as captain.
Marek Hovorka (2021-Present) – Hovorka had an excellent European career and was an Olympian for Slovakia at the 2012 winter games. He is now nearing the end of his career and is on a long-term deal with JKH GKS Jastrzebie, similar to Richard Kral. While his first PHL season is not yet even complete. The Slovakian forward led the regular season in scoring with 51 points in 35 games. That is nine more than second-place Zack Phillips. He is also poised to lead the league in overall scoring. While it may be only a year, the PHL is the strongest it has been in a while.
Roman Skutchan (99-02, 05-11) – Players seem to fall in love with the city of Gdansk and stay for a long time. That was the case with Roman Skutchan, who doesn’t have much of a record playing outside Poland. Of his 14 year career, 11 years were in Gdansk, including all but one of his first 12 seasons. In total, he recorded 370 points in 378 games for Stoczniowiec Gdansk.On a side note, his son Adam Skutchan played for MH Automatyka Gdansk in 2017 and 2018.
Vitali Semenchenko (1998-1999) – Semenchenko was a record-setter in the PHL. He set both the regular season and overall PHL scoring records. In 1999, he recorded 88 regular-season points and 11 playoff points. His overall record would stand until 2014, while his regular-season record lasted until 2016. Both of his records made it past a decade. His record-setting year was also pretty much double his point total the previous year with Podhale Nowy Targ. In his two seasons combined, the Ukrainian left-wing posted 139 points in 120 games.
Miroslav Zatko – Tomáš Jakeš
Pavel Mojžíš – Nicolas Besch
Peter Novajovský – Peter Bezuška
Miroslav Zatko (07-15, 17-18, 20-Present) – You don’t see many careers like Zatko. While they were not all in a row, he spent 13 years in the PHL, making the playoffs in 12 of them. While he never won a PHL championship, he did win two Polish Cups. The Slovakian defenseman also led PHL defenseman in goals, assists, and points numerous times. His 467 games are the most by any non-Polish defensemen, and his 313 points are the third most by any defensemen in PHL history.
Tomáš Jakeš (2006-2014) – The only defensemen to come close to the longevity that Zatko has in the PHL is Jakeš. He has played in nine PHL seasons, making the playoffs in eight of them. He is a PHL champion with Podhale in 2007 and then won three straight Polish Cups with GKS Tychy from 2008 to 2010. His final stat line came in at 204 points in 447 games, along with over 500 penalty minutes.
Pavel Mojžíš (2012-2015) – While a lot of players made it in parts thanks to their longevity in the PHL, Mojžíš was an offensive dynamo. He did stay for four years with Sanok and Tychy. He was such a force to reckon with production-wise that he would easily make the team with just his two best years. In 212 PHL games, the high-scoring Czech defenseman produced 183 points. The third most by any import on the back end. His .86 PPG is the most by any defenseman in PHL history with at least 50 games. He is also the only defensemen in PHL history with two seasons, where a defender averaged at least a point per game.
Nicolas Besch(2012-2015) – With Besch taking a spot on this list, 50% of all French players to play in the PHL made the team. He is a three-time PHL champion who also represents France at the IIHF elite level while playing in Poland. Besch recorded 149 points in 210 games. The french defender finished top 5 in scoring among defensemen in all of his PHL seasons.
Peter Novajovský(2016-Present) – Strong two-way play has made Novajovský one of the best defensemen in the PHL for this decade. He is a four-time PHL champion and one time Polish Cup winner. Since the Slovak defender arrived in Poland in 2016, only two defensemen have more points than him. Only one defenseman has a higher point per game among players with a min of 50 games. Novajovský continues to be a top defender for the top teams of Poland.
Peter Bezuška (2016-Present) – Bezuška joined the PHL, the same year as Novajosky. Both post pretty similar numbers. The Slovak defenseman has managed to stay healthy and be a workhorse for Unia Oswiecim, with whom he has spent his entire PHL career. His 254 games are the third most by a non-Polish defenseman in the PHL. He is only one of nine import defensemen to record 100 or more points in the PHL.
Martin Ivicic(2009-2012) – Ivicic impacted the scoresheet one way or another as the physical defenseman with strong two-way abilities. The Slovak defender posted 101 points in 144 games, along with 174 minutes. He bounced around in the PHL, playing with a different club in each of his PHL full seasons. His journeyman run resulted in a PHL champion with Podhale in 2010 and a Polish Cup with Sanok in 2011.
Ondřej Raszka(11-12, 14-Present) – Raszka is one of those players who has a chance at making an all-time PHL team, not just the European squad. His 308 games are the 6th most by any goalie in PHL history and the most by an import. His career .933 SV% is one of the highest among goalies in PHL history. Add in two-time PHL champion and one-time Polish Cup winner. Plus, being the backstop to so many great PHL clubs, he was an easy pick here.
Tomáš Fučík (17-18, 20) – Picking the second goalie was hard. There were a couple of goalies with longevity. Then you had a few goalies with great short runs. Fučík was right in the middle of those categories. The Czech goalie posted an SV% above .930% in all three of his PHL seasons. His run was also split and showed dominance upon his return in a better league on a worse team. That cemented him in the lineup to me. While his accomplishes don’t match others on this list, besides leading the 2020 regular season in save percentage. Each of his seasons ranks among the best goalie seasons in the PHL.
If you wanted to know which country had the most here you go.
Here some honorable mentions of players by their country: (Belarus) Andrei Prima (Czechia) Richard Bordowski, Dusan Adamcik, Pavel Urban, Michal Fikrt (Finland) Jesse Rohtla, Jarmo Jokila, Joni Haverinen (Kazaksthan) Yuri Karatayev, Alexander Artyomenko (Latvia) Maris Jass (Russia) Alexei Trandin, Denis Sergushkin (Slovakia) Milan Furo, Andrej Themár, Zoltan Kubat (Sweden) Kevin Lindskoug
In what is a crazy year that continues to be spontaneous for Poland’s best player. Alan Łyszczarczyk has found himself traded to the Tulsa Oilers. The Orlando Solar Bears have been pretty quick to make moves this year, so this trade comes as no surprise. It seems it was be traded or be cut for the prince of Poland, as the Solar Bears traded him for only future considerations, likely nothing in the ECHL.
Łyszczarczyk started the year with Podhale Nowy Targ in the PHL. He did well in the blue and yellow, recording ten goals and eight assists in 23 games. His return to the ECHL has not been as strong as the forward only has two goals and one assist in 13 games. He has not recorded a point in his past eight games. The 23-year-old recorded 46 points (19-27-46) in 57 games the previous year with the Fort Wayne Komets of the ECHL.
The Tulsa Oilers will be Alan’s third ECHL team. The Oilers are the ECHL affiliate of the Anaheim Ducks of the NHL, and with the San Diego Gulls of the AHL. They currently sit fifth in the Western Conference of the ECHL with 15 wins, 14 losses, and three overtime losses. They currently are second to last in goals for in the ECHL this year with 72. (Fort Wayne has less, but they have only played 14 games.) They have to be hoping Łyszczarczyk can recapture his scoring touch.
This year has seen a huge influx of North American players in Poland, with quite a few big names like former NHL players Gilbert Brule, Paul Szczechura, and Victory Bartley recently signing. This trend started earlier in the year with JKH GKS Jastrzebie picking up former Minnesota Wild first-round pick Zack Phillips. There is certainly an arms race going on in the PHL right now. You can even build a pretty good team out of just North Americans.
Most of these players though, won’t leave a lasting impact on Polish hockey directly. Of course, big names are good for the league, and if they have a good experience, it will encourage more players to take a chance in Poland. These names are a result from the COVID-19 pandemic causing many leagues to be canceled, delayed, or without a majority of the teams participating. Most of them will play 20 or so games in the PHL and then return to a stronger league.
With all this in mind, it got me thinking about the most important North American players to play in Poland. A player like Mike Cichy, for example, is crucial to the history of the sport. Cichy set the PHL scoring record, and since he arrived in the PHL in the 2015 season, he has 89 more points than the next closest player. On the other hand, while a player like Wojtek Wolski may have been a bigger name to play in the PHL, his direct impact on the league wasn’t that large, as he just played in just nine games.
Today I decided to take on the challenge of making an all-time team out of just players from North America who played in the PHL. For this, we will only consider what they accomplished in the PHL. What they did before or after does not matter. The player must have also played at least ten PHL games. We will select 13 forwards, 7 defensemen, and 2 goalies.
Christian Mroczkowski – Mike Cichy – Alex Szczechura
Dave Kostuch – Jared Brown – Samson Mahbod
Nick Sucharski – Zack Phillips – Jordan Pietrus
Rafal Martynowski – Mike Danton – Kelly Czuy
Extra: Justin Chwedoruk
Mike Cichy – Cichy and Szcezchura are players that are not just on the North American all-time team but the all-time PHL team. Cichy arrived in Poland with Sanok in 2014 and since has played for Opole and Tychy. In 2015, Cichy set the record for points in a PHL season with 113, nine more than the previous record. Since he arrived in Poland, he has 437 points in 324 games, the most by any player during that time frame. His 188 goals and 249 assists are also both the most by a player since 2014. To top it off, Cichy is a three-time PHL champion.
Alex Szczechura – The year after Cichy arrived, Alex Szczechura arrived in Poland with Opole. He and Cichy had instant chemistry, becoming two of the best offensive players the PHL has ever seen. He has played for Opole, Sanok, and GKS Tychy. In 253 games, he has 298 points—the second-most points since 2015, behind only his duo partner, Cichy. The former Ohio State forward has three PHL championships with GKS Tychy.
Christian Mroczkowski – The perfect third piece of the Cichy and Szczechura line has long been searched for. In reality, any player you paired with the duo will succeed. In 2019, Christian Mroczkowski arrived in Poland on a tryout with GKS Tychy. The young power forward has instantly impacted the league, leading the 2020 regular season in points. The 6’0 right-winger has only repeated his success in 2021 as he currently sits tied for third in the PHL for points. So far, he is one for one in seasons with a PHL championship.
Samson Mahbod – For someone to break a record, there has to be a record in place. The scoring record that Cichy broke was held by Samson Mahbod. Mahbod arrived in Poland very late to the 2013 season with GKS Katowice. The high-scoring forward returned the following year to appear for KH Sanok. That year was one of the best seasons in PHL history as he recorded 36 goals and 68 assists for 104 points in 53 games. His 104 points setting the new PHL scoring record at the time. Mahbod used his PHL success to jump to stronger leagues in the VHL, Liiga, and KHL. It showed players that the PHL could be used as a launching pad for stronger leagues in Europe.
Jared Brown – Brown is a mainstay of Europe’s lower professional leagues. Playing for multiple teams in Hungary and Poland, along with stops in France and Romania. In Poland, for three separate teams, he had above a point per game regular season. While his trips were not always the longest, he racked up 71 points across 51 PHL games with Katowice, Opole, and Sanok.
Dave Kostusch – Kostuch left Canisius College after two years to play for Krakow in the PHL during the 2010 season. In his first year, he was a star posting 55 points in 47 games, good for ninth among all Polish players. He would miss most of the following season but return for the Polish Cup and playoffs, recording 23 points in 15 games. He retired after the 2012 season.
Jordan Pietrus – Pietrus came from the ECHL with a very good resume, more than 150 ECHL points in 272 games. In his lone PHL season, he would finish with 70 points in 53 games. His 66 regular-season points led the league. He also had a strong continental cup with 5 points in 6 games. The talented center with Polish roots posted one of the best years ever by a North American.
Zack Phillips – Phillips makes the list despite 2021 being his first PHL season. The former first-round pick currently sits second in PHL, scoring 35 points in 29 games. In just one short year, he has proved to be a valuable forward for JKH GKS Jastrzębie.
Nick Sucharski – Sucharski was a 5th round pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets and a captain at Michigan State. He joined Krakow in 2011 and recorded 38 points in 37 games. The Polish-American jumped ship to GKS Katowice the following year. This was another strong year with 34 points in 38 games—a top-line forward for two different clubs, who also served as an assistant captain with Katowice.
Kelly Czuy – Czuy is an interesting player. The physical winger with Polish roots bounced around the AHL, CHL, and ECHL. He started a couple of seasons in the PHL with Podhale Nowy Targ but would end the year back in the United States. In total, he recorded 62 points and 218 penalty minutes in 60 games. This included leading the league in penalty minutes with 123 in 2011.
Mike Danton – A controversial figure in hockey, but no doubt proved to impact the lower leagues of Europe, including Poland. He joined KH Sanok for the 2014 playoffs and went on to play two more years with the club. He recorded 132 points and 266 penalty minutes in 133 games. Danton won a championship in 2014 and led the league in penalty minutes for the 2015 season.
Rafal Martynowski – Martynowski came to Poland in 2010 after spending two years in the fourth tier of German hockey. In two years with Krakow, he recorded 72 points in 96 games. His highlights being a point per game continental cup and playoff run in 2011.
Justin Chwedoruk – A talented, hard-working, and two-way forward, Chwedoruk dreamed of representing Poland on the international stage. He signed in Poland with GKS Katowice before the 2014 campaign. The former Edmonton Oiler minor league player recorded 42 points in 35 games but would miss most of the playoffs with an injury. He returned the following year with Sanok but would suffer a concussion that ended his career after 14 games.
Zach Josepher – Jason Seed
Matt Williams – Adrian Gajor
Sam Roberts – Ryan Barlock
Defensemen are really a weaker portion of the team as strong defensemen are really hard to come by for almost any league. Despite that, there have still been some North American defensemen to impact the league—especially those with an offensive or physical presence.
Zach Josepher – Josepher was seemingly bouncing around from ECHL and semi-pro teams multiple times a year. Gdansk signed him for the 2016 season, their first back in the PHL. While it was a rough year for the team, it was great for Josepher. He recorded 39 points in 37 games. 9 points coming in 6 relegation games. The fourth-best point per game posted by a PHL defenseman since 2000.
Jason Seed – When it seems imports are coming from stronger and stronger leagues, a guy coming from France’s second league is not the biggest move. Seed has proved himself to be a solid defenseman in the PHL over the 2020 and 2021 seasons. The strong two-way play resulted in him with 38 points in 76 games. He served as an assistant captain with Podhale in 2020. For 2021, he joined three-peat champions GKS Tychy.
Matt Williams – Williams was a physical force on the defensive back end. He contributed at both ends with 35 points in 54 games. That was 6th among defensemen in points for the 2015 season. Williams posted 131 minutes in the box, which was second in the league during his lone year. He was the typical import that Sanok recruited at this time, bringing an offensive and physical presence.
Adrian Gajor – Gajor was a player who I often overlooked. He came to Poland last playing inline hockey, with really no major league to his name. He was still young and had Polish roots, but it seemed like an odd move when Krakow signed him in 2018. The guy who was playing roller hockey, before coming to Poland, has now played 109 games putting up 23 points. A point total that is seemingly increasing each year. He also has been named to a Polish national team international roster.
Sam Roberts – Roberts was a strong two-way defenseman in the QMJHL, ECHL, and lower European leagues. In his lone PHL season, he posted 33 points in 49 games. The third most in points and PPG among defensemen in 2016.
Ryan Barlock – Barlock impressed in France with his defensive and physical pace. He brought that same play to Poland, even earning a leadership role with GKS Katowice as their assistant captain. In his lone year, he posted 19 points in 39 games.
Quinn Sproule – Sproule came to the PHL after one ECHL year. In his lone PHL year with Sanok, he provided the club 7 goals and 18 assists in 54 games. His .46 PPG was 7th among PHL defenders in the 2016 season.
John Murray – When the Polish national team had so many top goalies, it seemed the depth chart was air tight with no room to break in. Instead, John Murray forced his way into becoming Poland’s national team starter. Murray bounced around the CHL and ECHL before signing in Poland for the 2014 hockey year. Murray was a brick wall in the playoffs with a .958 SV% in 14 games leading KH Sanok to a PHL championship. He would move on to Opole the following year and post a .920 SV%. He would leave in 2015 for Kazakhstan but return to Opole the following year. Since 2017, he has represented the colors of GKS Tychy. Murray is a four-time PHL champion and easily one of the best PHL goalies in history.
Clarke Saunders – Saunders had a star-making MVP performance with Unia Oswiecim in 2020. After coming over from the Alps Hockey League, it was hard to predict what he would achieve in the PHL. The Brockville native posted a .932 SV%, good for third among PHL starting goalies. His playoff run appeared to be off to an even better start with a .955 SV% after just five games. He returned in 2021, and well not as strong as his previous year, he remains a solid PHL goalie. Saunders has come clutch on many occasions for Unia Oswiecim. He has kept them in a top PHL spot, despite early struggles.
The Covid-19 pandemic was at one point thought to potentially have the power to kill off the PHL. Instead we are now having a arms race the league has never seen. So many teams are adding talented and well-kwon players to their ranks. That trend has continued as current champion GKS Tychy added former NHL forward Paul Szczechura and ECHL forward Alex Tonge.
Paul Szczechura is well known to Polish fans by being the brother of GKS Tychy forward Alex Szczechura. Alex, the younger brother, has played in the PHL since 2016. Paul, 35, during that time was playing in the top hockey leagues around the world. The Brantford Ontario native took the college hockey root playing for Western Michigan. After a standout career at Western, where he was the assistant caption in his final year. He would sign in the AHL with the Iowa Stars as an undrafted free agent. From 2007 to 2012, he played in three NHL organizations mostly for their AHL squads. He signed his first NHL deal with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2008. He did play in 92 NHL games recording ten goals and assists for the Buffalo Sabres and Lightning. He owns a .71 PPG in 271 AHL games.
The 5’11 center has played in the KHL since the 2012-13 season, most recently with Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod. He appeared in five different clubs and four different countries during his KHL time. In 395 regular season games, he has 244 points (100G-144A-244PTS). The fourth most points by a Canadian skater in KHL history. He was named a KHL all-star during the 2018 season.
Alex Tonge joins GKS Tychy as well after playing in the ECHL. Tonge was an all-star in the OJHL during his junior career. The Canadian forward went the American academic route playing for Robert Morris University. In four years and 146 NCAA games, Tonge recorded 56 goals and 82 assists. Following his college career, he went pro in the ECHL bouncing around between three clubs, but posting strong offensive production for each. In 52 ECHL games, he owns a .71 PPG.
Unia Oswiecim continues their string of big moves under new head coach Kevin Constantine. This time it is former 6th overall pick Gilbert Brulé. The 34-year-old Brulé is a physical forward with 299 NHL games, along with 278 KHL games. He joins ECHL top scorer Brett McKenzie and former NHL defensemen Victor Bartley in recent big moves by the club.
Brulé was drafted 6th overall by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2005 NHL entry draft, after a successful junior career with the Vancouver Giants. He made his NHL debut during the 2006 season playing in seven games recording two goals and two assists. After a few years in Columbus, he was traded to Edmonton for Raffi Torres during the 2008 offseason. Struggling with consistency he found himself scratched, injured, or playing in the minors a lot during his time in Edmonton. After a strong start to the 2012 AHL year, he earned a call up to the Oilers. He had to pass through waivers first, which is when the Arizona Coyotes placed a claim. He played the rest of the year in Arizona, along with getting his only NHL post-season action during the Coyotes’ playoff run. The following year, he signed in Switzerland during the lockout. He would request to terminate his contact though after just 14 games with the ZSC Lions. The Edmonton native would return to the Coyotes for the 2014 season, but would retire from professional hockey on January 1st, 2014.
This retirement would not hold as Brulé signed in the Kontinental Hockey League for the 2015 season. He would play the next six seasons in the KHL with six different clubs, most recently with Kunlun Red Star. In 2018, he was named to the Canadian Olympic team that took bronze at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. Now in 2020, he signed in Poland with former Kunlun Red Star teammate Victor Bartley.
The expectations were high for Unia Oswiecim after their second place finish in 2020. Injuries and few disappointments among imports led to the team struggling from the start. Things reached a peak when head coach Nik Zupancic resigned from the team after an altercation with an official. The team hired former NHL head coach Kevin Constantine in his place. It appears they are making a quick turn around as well, as the team has made it to the finals of the Polish Cup vs. JKH GKS Jastrzebie.
Alan Łyszczarczyk will be returning to the USA, and back to playing the in the ECHL. The top Polish forward started the year playing in Poland for Podhale Nowy Targ. The COVID-19 pandemic forced the ECHL to delay their season til late 2020. Before the season, Łyszczarczyk’s rights were traded to the Idaho Steelheads by the Fort Wayne Komets. The Steelheads though forfeited his rights, once it was announced they won’t be apart of the of the first ECHL start date. In his lone PHL season, he recorded 10 goals and 10 assists in 23 games. He would often play in the bottom forward lines for Podhale, as the team prepared for a future without him. That future has come as the team announced that Łyszczarczyk was returning to the USA.
Hokej.net is now reporting that his return is to be with the Orlando Solar Bears of the ECHL. It is an interesting move as the Solar Bears is the ECHL affiliate of the Tampa Bay Lightning, a team that has taken their development in the minor leagues very seriously. The previous year, Alan played with the Fort Wayne Komets putting up 19 goals and 27 assists in 57 games. One of the best seasons among ECHL rookies. Recently some his teammates from that Fort Wayne team signed in Poland. Former Canucks draft pick Brett McKenzie, who played on a line with Łyszczarczyk, signed in Unia Oswiecim, while defensemen Taylor Doherty signed in Krakow.
The Orlando Solar Bears are off to a good start with four wins in their first five games. The team finished fifth in the ECHL last year, but the playoffs were cancelled due to COVID. The team’s head coach and GM is Drake Berehowsky. Berehowsky is a former long time NHL player with over 500 NHL games to his resume. He also has a connection with Łyszczarczyk, as Berehowsky was an associate coach with the Sudbury Wolves from 2015 to 2017, the same years that Alan played for the OHL club.
Former NHL forward Wojtek Wolski has announced he is retiring from professional hockey. The 34-year-old was born in Zabrze, Poland, but his family moved abroad when he was two. He was a standout in junior hockey, leading to a successful OHL career. In the 2004 NHL draft, the Colorado Avalanche drafted him with the 24th overall pick.
At the end of his OHL season in 2006, he immediately jumped to the NHL with the Avalanche. The 6’3 winger started his career off blazing, posting above 40 points in his first four seasons. The Avalanche would trade him to the Coyotes 2010, for Kevin Porter and Peter Mueller. Despite a point-per-game start with the Yotes, concussions would start to derail his NHL career. After disappointing production, Wolski found himself traded to the Rangers, for Michal Rozsival. The Rangers chose not to re-sign him, and then later signed for the minimum with the Capitals in free agency. During the 2012 lockout, Wolski signed with KH Sanok scoring three goals and seven assists in nine games. He returned to the Capitals after the lockout ended. In total, he put up 107 goals and 177 assists in 480 NHL games, making him one of the most accomplished NHL players to appear in Poland.
He would spend the next six and a half years in the KHL. His KHL career almost matching his NHL career in length. This includes being out eight months after suffering a broken neck during a KHL game. Wolski would battle back and represent Canada at the 2018 Winter Olympics. Halfway through the 2020 season, he would sign with HC Ocelari Trinec in Czechia, where he teamed up with Polish national team star Aron Chmielewski. The 34-year-old winger did not sign anywhere for the 2021 season. For most of the season, Wolski was on the Canadian figure skating competition show Battle of the Blades, which he would win! Following the show, Wolski continued to talk to clubs, but decided to announce his retirement on December 15th via the Spittin’ Chiclets podcast.