5 Bold Predictions for Polish Hockey In 2019-20

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.

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“Can Never Count Them Out” 2019-20 PHL Team Previews: Cracovia Krakow

Leading up to the start of 2019-20 season, we will preview every team in the PHL

There are just some sports teams that never seem to lose, no matter how the odds are stacked against them, they just seem to still be there contending for a shot at the title. Cracovia Krakow is the New York Yankees or New England Patriots of the PHL. Last season, they struggled, and it seemed that Cracovia was done for. Torun had taken their place in the standings at times and every part of the team seemed inconsistent. Then they went to the finals anyway losing to GKS Tychy. Since 2007-08 they have appeared in the finals 9 out of 12 times. There is just no counting them out. ITS A TRAP THEY LULL THE OTHER PHL TEAMS INTO BEFORE STRIKING LIKE A VIPER.

Forwards

Ondrej Mikula – Michal Vachovec – Damian Kapica

Mateusz Bepierszcz – Kamil Kalinowski – Michal Barta

Filip Drzewiecki – Adam Domogala – Sebastian Brynkus

Lukasz Kaminski – Kasper Bryniczka – Mateusz Bezwinski

Other forwards: Antoni Dziurdzia

The offense is similar to most years with Cracovia, some familiar faces with talented imports surrounding them. Damian Kapica is the best Polish forward in the PHL without a doubt. He is an incredibly gifted goal scorer as shown by his five-goal performance against Ukraine at the World Championship. Michal Vachovec returns after finishing third in scoring during the 2018-19 PHL season. Vachovec is a really skilled player and a joy to watch. Ondrej Mikula is the most significant addition to the team this year. The Slovakian winger has played 480 games in the Tipsport Liga, recording 239 points. In pre-season matches, he has produced quite well for Krakow. Cracovia will now also have Kamil Kalinowski for a full season. After coming over from GKS Tychy, he had 16 points in 22 games. Michal Barta is currently on a try-out and an interesting import. Barta has produced well in the top two levels of Czech hockey and had an above-average season in the Tipsport Liga. Adam Domogola is a personal favorite player of mine, and I was glad to see him post career-high numbers in the PHL last season. He is finally starting to break through and reach the potential he showed as a younger player. Then there are key pieces to the national team’s future like Sebastian Brynkus and Lukasz Kaminski. It is an ideal offense in the league without import rules.

Defensemen

Miloslav Jáchym – Bartlomiej Bychawski

Maciej Kruczek – Mateusz Rompkowski

Ales JezekJiri Gula

Patryk Gosztyla – Bartosz Dabkowski

Other defensemen: Adrian Gajor

The defensive group is one of the best in the PHL and features some of the best depth in all of Poland. Miloslav Jáchym came over mid-season from Unia Oswiecim and was impressive. Like a lot of defensemen on Krakow, Jachym is a defensive first guy and doesn’t really offer a lot at the offensive end. I usually prefer defensemen that have stronger offensive tendencies, but none of the defensive only guys on Krakow can be upgraded that easily. Bartlomiej Bychawski is a fun player to watch. You never really know what you’re going to get. He is good at both ends of the ice, but also can be overly physical and take a lot of penalties. Maciej Kruczek is one of the top defensemen in Poland. He plays a strong two-way game. You know he is going to play a reliable game if Cracovia supplies his equipment… Patryk Gosztyla returns to Poland after developing in the Slovak junior system since 2015. Gosztyla has polished his skills and is ready to try his hand at professional hockey. This is a great defensive group with a lot of depth. I would prefer more offensive types, but this model as never dragged down Cracovia before.

Goalies

Miroslav Kopriva

Robert Kowalowka

The goaltending for Cracovia should be near the top, as Miroslav Kopriva showed a lot during his 16 game stint last season. Kopriva also has a strong history in the Central Hockey League and Tipsport Extraliga. The problem is his more recent performances in the Czech Republic’s first league and the Elite Ice Hockey League. There he posted back to back seasons with save percentages under .900. If Kopriva does struggle that could be the kiss of death for Krakow, as they no longer have a ready to start back-up like Michael Luba to turn to. Robert Kowalowka has been pretty inconsistent in his career so far and never played more than 11 games. Part of me wishes he played more though given his success in juniors and in small sample sizes in the PHL.

Prediction: 4th 

I am not as a big of a fan of Cracovia’s roster as I am for some teams. They still have a solid roster that should contend for a championship, but I feel there are more skilled and exciting teams. You can never count them out though, whenever things are bleak they still find a way. You also can’t forget about late-season transfers with them. Kalinowski, Kopriva, Jachcym, and Jezek all arrived halfway through the season last year and that isn’t counting ones who didn’t re-sign like Marek Tvrdon. You just can’t count them out.

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Is the Tipsports Liga Worth It For Polish Clubs?

There was a time where I was a huge supporter of a Polish team joining the Tipsport Liga. There is a lot of value to the idea. This would be great exposure for Polish hockey and a great experience for Polish players. A lot of the benefits would be for the national team in the short term. Long-term though it could have some risk for Poland. Losing top clubs would result in a weaker Polish Hockey League. The league is undoubtedly on the rise now and has as much talent and competition as ever. The vital question becomes what is best for the growth of hockey in Poland. What will help the game grow more, a strong domestic league or a strong national team?

The benefits to the national team may not be that strong anymore. This year so far, PHL teams have a record of 6-4 against Tipsport Liga teams. There is no doubt in my opinion that the top half of PHL teams would be competitive in the Tipsport Liga. I believe they would fare better than the Hungarian teams that entered the league. This shows the rising talent of Polish teams, but as well as the decline of the Tipsport Liga. The top Slovak league has been falling for a bit now. The two factors should make PHL teams fit right in, but this isn’t about fitting in. It is about improving the national team. How much can players gain or what opportunities could they earn from the slight bump in play?

I don’t think what Polish teams could gain is worth the damage it will cause to the PHL. I think the model that all small hockey countries should want to be is Great Britain. The idea of a single or a couple top teams in stronger leagues has not shown amazing progress for the likes of Croatia and Kazakhstan. Their results may grow for a bit, thanks to the influx of talented imports, but they then decline or flatline. It is a short-term bandaid that hasn’t been able to spur more significant growth.

Great Britain has grown the Elite Ice Hockey League (EIHL) to such a high level that the country is passing the domestic leagues of France, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia. They now are even nipping on the heels of Austria, in my opinion. The league allowed talented imports, especially welcoming those from North America. This helped shaped the current style of British hockey. Only the top percent of British players appeared in the league. This has improved league quality a lot and granted British players wonderful opportunities. Liam Kirk was able to be drafted from the league. They shot up in IIHF rankings and World Championships tournaments. They made it to the Elite division and are staying there.

The PHL has removed the import rules like the EIHL did. While there is a lot of pushback from some in Polish hockey. The skill level of the league has already grown a lot. The league is as competitive as ever. Teams no longer have to try and compete over the same small group of top Polish players to win. They can bring in better depth as well. This is very important for teams in large markets that are outside Southern Poland. Torun and Gdansk can play meaningful hockey games now, both teams are leaders in Polish attendance. Stronger teams mean better attendance, which leads to more money, attention, and more kids getting into hockey.

The Visegrad Cup is a significant test for Polish hockey in regards to gaining acceptance into the Tipsport Liga. JKH GKS Jastrzebie went undefeated to win their group, Podhale lost a single game and finished second. While Katowice dropped both their contest so far it was in a competitive fashion. If the tournament was set to judge how competitive PHL teams would be, they proved their worth in a major way. This forces the Tipsport Liga decision soon though.

The PHL is on the rise, and the Tipsport Liga is on the decline. I don’t believe the Tipsport Liga is worth it for Polish clubs. I don’t think there is enough that Polish clubs and players gain from moving the Tipsport Liga. Growing the PHL should be the top concern for Polish hockey. A goal being to get the PHL in more larger markets like Lodz and Poznan, both of which have hockey teams in the lower Poland divisions. In losing top teams, the PHL would also lose their Champions Hockey League spot which is excellent exposure for Polish hockey. The PHL can not absorb such losses.

In this scenario, the current crop of Polish players do take a hit. There are fewer jobs for them in the PHL, and top players lose on some growth. Top Polish players need to leave Poland to get better, and the current generation of talent seems to believe that. Wronka has left for the EIHL, Łyszczarczyk is staying in America, Lewandowski is in the United States Hockey League, and Zygmunt left for the Tipsport Extraliga. Polish players in stronger leagues and a growing PHL are exactly what Polish hockey needs.

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“The Slovenian Strategy” 2019-20 PHL Team Previews: Unia Oswiecim

Leading up to the start of 2019-20 season, we will preview every team in the PHL

Last season was the worse finish for Unia Oswiecim since the club was relegated to the first league in 2010. This was despite some big offseason moves. The struggles continued to start this offseason. Roman Stantien took the team’s head coaching job but left after two weeks to take a job with HC Slovan Bratislava. This left the team needing a new head coach and one that was committed to the team for a few years. That job went to Nik Zupancic, the former head of the Slovenian national team. Stantien’s departure may end up being a blessing for Unia Oswiecim though. Zupancic has brought some great players with him and has had an impressive pre-season.

Forwards

Andrej Themár – Luka Kalan – Gregor Koblar

Anatoli Protasenya – Alexei Trandin – Martin Przygodzki

Lukasz Krzemien – Dariusz Wanat – Dominik Raska

Sebastian Kowalowka – Damian Piotrowicz – Patryk Malicki

Other forwards: Adrian Prusak, Krzysztof Dudkiewicz

This is a very talented forward group, and one that I feel is going to be underrated. This is due to how unfamiliar people are with some of the import talents. Andrej Themár is one that Polish fans are well familiar with though as he was an above a point per game player in his two seasons in the PHL with GKS Katowice and Unia Oswiecim. He has lined up in pre-season games with Gregor Koblar and Luka Kalan. Kalan and Koblar both had solid performances in the Alps Hockey League last year. Anatoli Protasenya is set to be the tallest player in the PHL this year at 6’6. Despite his size, he is not an overly physical player, but a strong goal scorer. More familiar faces include Alexei Trandin, he shined as a top performer for Orlik Opole and holds a career point per game of 1.10 in the PHL. As well as Martin Przygodzki who once finished fourth in PHL scoring during the 2015-16 season. He always has excellent offensive potential but can be inconsistent. Lukasz Krzemien showed he is a strong leader last year. At just 22-years-old, he led Polonia Bytom through an awful season. He is an impressive young player and really needed a chance with a top club. I really like this group and think they have a lot of potential for production across all four lines.

Defensemen

Klemen Pretnar – Jakub Wanacki

Peter BezuskaPatrik Luza

Miroslav Zatko – Jakub Saur

Milosz Noworyta – Patryk Noworyta

The defense has a lot to like. One of the best defensemen in Poland, Jakub Wanacki, signed a two-year deal with the club. Wanacki is sharp at both ends of the ice, with defense being the stronger of the two. His partner in pre-season matches has been Klemen Pretnar. Pretnar has a long history in the Erste Bank Eishockey Liga and with the Slovenian national team. Wanacki and him could be one of the best pairs in Poland. Patrik Luza is a former KHL player and at 25 is always on the move. Since 2016, he has played for seven different teams. Luza was once highly thought of. The defensemen appeared twice for both the Slovakia U18 and U20 team at IIHF events, as well as being a regular in the KHL for HC Slovan Bratislava. He is a defensive first guy and his resume earned him a two-year deal. I think he could really shine if finally given a chance to settle down. Miroslav Zatko will be making his return to the PHL after a year off. Zatko has played in 11 PHL seasons, and Polish fans are well accustomed to his skills. Milosz Noworyta has a bright future for the national team, I had him ranked 41st in my top 50 Polish U23 rankings.

Goalies

Clarke Saunders

Sebastian Lipinski

In terms of actual duos in the PHL, which there are not many, this may be the best. Clarke Saunders was a bit of a controversial choice, when the team announced his signing. He struggled last year in the Alps Hockey League posting a .892 SV% during the regular season. Saunders did have some merit though, the previous year he posted a .930 SV% in the regular season and then led the Alps Hockey League playoffs in SV% with .935. He also had a decent track record in the ECHL and NCAA. So far in pre-season games, Saunders has impressed me. I think the Canadian was the right choice. Sebastian Lipinski is the future of Poland in goal. He isn’t ready to start yet, but Saunders should allow him to play more games then he did last year. Former long-time starting goalie, Michal Fikrt is also staying with the team as a goaltending coach. Lipinski has a solid foundation around him to develop. Either goalie could lead Unia to victory.

Prediction: 5th

I am really enamored with this team. I think they are going to be the most exciting team to watch in the PHL this year. There are a lot of interesting players, and these players would be top players on other PHL clubs. Of all the mid-tier teams in the PHL, Unia Oswiecim is the best in my opinion. They should have their best finish since the 2013-14 season.

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“Roller Coaster Offseason” 2019-20 PHL Team Previews: Podhale Nowy Targ

Leading up to the start of 2019-20 season, we will preview every team in the PHL

Podhale stayed on their normal course last year playing for a bronze medal for a fifth straight season. The offseason got underway with the expected departure of head coach Tomek Valtonen. Then rumors started to spread about the team in regards to their finances. Top players like Mateusz Michalski, Oskar Jaskiewicz, and Patryk Wajda departed for GKS Katowice and more departures seemed likely. Then Phillip Barski was named head coach and Podhale was able to retain the rest of their core. Drama would arise once again though when it came to getting a license to play in the PHL, and Podhale would only receive theirs at the last minutes. A couple of days before the team would fully ramp up their training and begin to play exhibition games news broke that they had requested some veteran Polish players to take a pay cut. Polish hockey legends Krzysztof Zapala and Marcin Kolusz would leave the club because of this. More departures were expected, but none came to light while the team added more import players. A true roller coaster of an offseason, but how will that affect the team on the ice?

Forwards 

Bartlomiej Neupauer – Krystian Dziubinski – Tomas Kominek

Richard Jencik – Emil Svec -Dariusz Gruszka

Emil Svec – Tomas Franek – Jakub Worwa

Kacper Guzik – Filip Hudak – Filip Wielkiewicz

Other forwards: Adrian Pawel Slowakiewicz, Daniel Kapica, Dylan Willick, and Lukasz Siuty

The offense saw one major late departure in Zapala, maybe two depending on where you play Kolusz. I think they did an adequate job of replacing lost talent here. The forward group is not the best in the PHL, but is above average. Krystian Dziubinski is one of the best skaters and two way forwards in Poland. Bartlomiej Neupauer is quite a strong offensive producer and has been very impressive during his time with the national team. Dariusz Gruszka returns to Podhale and should hopefully see his production increase after a disappointing year with Unia Oswiecim. Tomas Kominek is the biggest import addition after spending the past three seasons with JKH GKS Jastrzebie. Richard Jencik should be a major import contributor as well. Jakub Worwa is Podhale’s best young forward and I would like to see him have quite a larger role this season. Again the offense is above average, there are no glaring holes in it.

Defensemen

Samu Suominen – Maciej Sulka

Robert Mrugala – Santeri Arousva

Jason Seeed – Yevgeni Kamenev

Other defensemen: Patryk Wsol

The defense took a lot of hits, only one of the Finnish defensemen from last year returned and they saw the major departures of Dutka, Kolusz, Jaskiewicz, and Wajda. Samu Suominen was one of the best Finnish defensemen last year and is really good re-signing for Podhale. Maciej Sulka is a decent add from JKH GKS Jastrzebie, but only really a Dutka replacement. Santeri Arousva is an interesting import addition, Metsis alumni have had quite a bit of success in the PHL. Arousva should be able to hold down a top-four spot in the PHL. Yevgeni Kamenev is an interesting prospect and I had him ranked 36th in my top 50 U23 Polish player rankings. He was a really good junior prospect but has struggled at the professional level. This defense lacks top-end players and could use some depth. It really is the only major problem the team has.

Goalies

Przemyslaw Odrobny

Blazej Kapica

Pawel Bizub

The witcher is still in net so there is nothing to worry about. Przemyslaw Odrobny is the best goalie in Polish hockey and will help Podhale stay in any game. It is hard to say what they have in a backup. Blazej Kapica has struggled at times this pre-season but also recorded a .929 save percentage in seven PHL games last year.

Prediction: 6th

The worse finish for Podhale since 2013-14. A weak defense and an offense that well not bad, is worse than last year has Podhale finishing sixth in my rankings. There isn’t much young talent to bet on, but some imports may be able to lead them to a higher place. Podhale is currently in a rebuild. They need to find new leaders and build up new young talent. More chances for the Worwas and Kamenevs.

2020 Polish NHL Draft Prospect Jakub Lewandowski Moves to the USHL

Poland’s top prospect for the 2020 NHL Draft has improved his chances quite a bit by making a move to the United States Hockey League (USHL).

The Sioux Falls Stampede announced their training camp roster on Tuesday and included on the list was Polish forward Jakub Lewandowski. Lewandowski will be only the second Polish national team player to play in the USHL, Rob Gubala played two games during the 1995-96 season. (John Murray and Mike Cichy played in the USHL prior to joining the Polish national team). Polish-born Kamil Sadlocha and Wojciech Stachowiak also played in the league during the 2017-18 season. Both made NCAA division 1 commitment after the season.

Last season, Lewandowski had 48 points (22-26-26) in 48 games with HC Vitkovice U19 in the Czech U19 league. He also played one game for PZHL U23 in the PHL recording 1 assist. Prior to last year, the 6’2 forward had played in the HC Vitkovice U18 system since 2016. Before moving to the Czech Republic, he played for Sokoly Torun in Poland. Lewandowski represented Poland at the 2018 U18s, where he recorded 7 points (5-2-7) in 5 games.

Lewandowski will be one of the 28 players trying to earn a spot on the 23 man Stampede roster. Last season Sioux Falls were the USHL Champions but will see of five of their top scorers move on in their careers.

The United States Hockey League is the top junior hockey league in the United States and a major source of NHL draft picks. Last year 47 NHL draft picks played at least 15 games in the USHL during their draft year.

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“The Russian Trio” 2019-20 PHL Team Previews: Zaglebie Sosnowiec

Leading up to the start of 2019-20 season, we will preview every team in the PHL

Last year Zaglebie Sosnowiec was able to buy their way into the PHL shortly before the season began. This left a roster made mostly for the 1st league. They finished third to last in the PHL. This year Zaglebie is back for vengeance. They went out and had one of the biggest offseasons for any team in the PHL. Their biggest signings included signing the Russian trio of Daniil Orekhin, Robert Korchokha, and Semyon Garshin. The Russian trio dominated the PHL last year propelling KH Torun to 6th place in the league. Loaded up with some nice imports and young talent, Zaglebie Sosnowiec could potentially shock the league.

Forwards

Semyon Garshin – Daniil Orekhin – Robert Korchokha

Blazej Salamon – Damian Slabon – Tomasz Kozlowski

Filip StoklasaNikita Butsenko – Dominik Nahunko

Michal Bernacki – Lukasz Rutkowski – Jakub Blanik

Other forwards: Adam Jaskolski, Aleksander Gniewek, Andrzej Stojek, Kamil Sikora, Patryk Jarosz, and Vasili Yerasov. 

This forward group has so much talent. The Russian Trio of Daniil Orekhin, Robert Korchokha, and Semyon Garshin give them a line that can match up with any top line in the PHL. Blazej Salamon had a rough time in GKS Tychy last year, but still showed how much he can produce offensively with Polonia Bytom and Sosnowiec. Some of the young talents include Jakub Blanik and Michal Bernacki. Blanik was the captain of the Polish U18 team last year and had quite the strong performance. Bernacki was a goal-scoring machine during his junior days. Really excited to see what these players can do in a strong offense. Of the mid-tier teams in the PHL, they may have the best offense.

Defensemen

Vyacheslav Tryasunov – Marek Kaluza

Matej Cunik – David Turon

Lukasz Podsiadlo – Kamil Charousek

Other defensemen: Adrian Duszak, Marcin Horzelski, Michal Domogala, and Michal Dzialo.

The defense is pretty good but is nothing special. It is pretty veteran-led, with, in my opinion, only one player of their best six being under 30-years-old. Vyacheslav Tryasunov is an exciting import currently on a try-out basis right now. Tryasunov is a defensive first guy with experience in the KHL and has represented Kazakstan at the World Championships. I think he is the exact kind of player that young players like Adrian Duszak and Marcin Horzelski could learn a lot from. Matej Cunik is another good import. I think he brought a lot of value to Gdansk late last year and is a really great second pairing guy in the PHL.

Goalies

Rafal Radziszewski

Michal Czernik

Make no mistake Rafal Radziszewski is one of the best Polish goalies of all time, but he is no longer at his former status. Among goalies with at least 15 games played, he ranked 8th last year in the PHL for save percentage with .914. I would have liked to see them add another goalie, potentially a younger one, to split starts with Radziszewski. I think there were plenty of PHL goalie free-agent options for that like Michael Luba, Nick Vilardo, or Tomasz Witkowski. Michal Czernik has shown potential in the past but really struggled in the PHL so far. I think they could have really used another goaltender in that room to play some games.

Prediction: 7th

Zaglebie Sosnowiec is taking a big step forward this season, but a lot of veteran options need to help bring along the young talent this team has. As who knows how long some veteran players can keep up their production and play. Their goaltending is going to be in the bottom half of the PHL, and that prevents me from ranking them higher despite my high praise for their offense. This team is going be similar to KH Torun last year. A big part of Turon was the performance of Patrik Spesny in net, something Sosnowiec won’t likely have.

If you want to keep up with all the offseason news, make sure to follow us on Twitter @PolandHockey and like our Facebook page.