Tag: Cracovia Krakow

The Most Interesting Import on Every PHL Team

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

Cracovia Krakow – Ben Blood

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

GKS Katowice – Shigeki Hitosato

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

GKS Tychy – Alexander Younan

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

JKH GKS Jastrzebie – Bence Bálizs

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

KH Torun – Ervīns Muštukovs

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

Podhale Nowy Targ – Lukáš Hvila

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

STS Sanok – Vladislav Lysenko

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

Unia Oswiecim – Pavel Padakin

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

Zaglebie Sosnowiec – Nikita Butsenko

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

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2022-23 PHL Standing Predictions

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

9. Podhale Nowy Targ

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

8. Zaglebie Sosnowiec

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

7. STS Sanok

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

6. KH Torun

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

5. JKH GKS Jastrzebie

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

4. Cracovia Krakow

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

3. Unia Oswiecim

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

2. GKS Tychy

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

1. GKS Katowice

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

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

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Cracovia Krakow Adds Czech Defender Daniel Krejčí

While the rest of Poland has begun to heavily favor Finnish imports, Cracovia continues to load up on Czechs. The team has added veteran Czech defensemen Daniel Krejčí on a one-year deal. The 30-year-old represented Czechia at the 2012 World Juniors.

Daniel Krejčí developed in his hometown’s HC Slavia Praha’s junior program. He worked his way up to being one of the best young defensemen in Czechia, leading to him representing his country at the U18s and World Juniors. While his professional career might not have lived up to what his junior success indicated. He has played in over 100 games in Czechia’s top league and another 100 in Slovakia’s top league. Most of his career has been spent in the second level of Czech hockey, the Chance Liga, where he has 111 points (27G-84A-11PTS) in 276 games.

Cracovia has had an extremely busy offseason, and it will only continue. They have been, without a doubt, the biggest spenders in free agency. They will be representing Poland in the Champions Hockey League after winning the Continental Cup in 2022. The team lost their leading scorer Yevgeni Bodrov and starting goalie Denis Perevozchikov due to the team committing to not signing Russian players. Krejčí is the first new defenseman of the offseason for Cracovia.

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Cracovia Krakow Becomes The First Polish Team to Win the Continental Cup

For the first time in Continental Cup history a Polish team has taken home the cup as Cracovia Karkow secured the trophy! This win also guarantees Krakow a spot in the Champions Hockey League, meaning Poland will have two teams in Europe’s competition of the best.

The finals of the Continental Cup were originally supposed to happen a few months ago, but we’re delayed to a Covid-19 outbreak. Another change was recently made when the pool of teams went down from four to three. Belorussian club HK Gomel was suspended from the tournament due to Belarus supporting the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

It was not an easy tournament at all for Poland’s oldest sporting club. In the semi-final round Cracovia failed to win a game in regulation settling for overtime wins against Asiago from Italy and HK Propad from Slovakia. They also suffered a loss to Kazakstan club Saryarka Karaganda.

Strangely enough Saryarka Karaganda would be Krakows first opponent in the finals. In an upset Poland took them down 2-1 in large thanks to Russian goaltender Denis Perevozchikov. This win meant Poland only needed one more win to secure the cup.

In game two of the tournament Poland took on Denmark’s Aalborg Pirates. Just over seven minutes into the game Canadian Collin Shirley would put Krakow on the board. They would double it a minute later this time from Russian Anton Zoblin. Krakow would add a third goal in the second. While Polish legend Damian Kapica would score an empty netter. The first one was all they needed though as Perevozchikov stopped every shot he faced, earning a shutout for the 4-0 final.

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Krakow Advances to Continental Cup Finals

The Continental Cup returned this year after a COVID-19 hiatus! The 23rd edition of the tournament featured Cracovia Krakow representing Poland. While the Cup has lost a lot of luster since the creation of the champions hockey league. The Continental Cup is still a great chance to see how Poland fares against mid and lower-level leagues and teams of Europe. For Poland, we got good results this year, with Krakow finishing second in Group E, earning them a spot in the final round.

Krakow hosted the tournament but did not receive a great thank you for that in game one. As Kazaksthan rep Saryarka Karaganda shut them out 2-0. The team from Kazakhstan really controlled the game, limiting Poland to only 18 shots while putting up 38 of their own. Denis Perevozchikov was sensational in the game and would remain that way throughout the tournament.

The red and white would bounce back with a 4-3 shootout win over Slovakia’s finalist HK Poprad. The Polish and Slovak clubs would trade the lead throughout the game. Poland took the lead first after an early goal by Ales Jezek. Poprad would score their first halfway through the period and take the lead just 21 seconds into the 2nd period. Krakow would be down 2-1. Łukasz Kamiński would tie it with four minutes left in second. Both teams would score in the third to take it to overtime. A shootout would be needed. There Erik Nemec and Ivan Yatsenko were successful, giving Krakow the critical win. On a side note, former PHL champion and Krakow forward Patrik Svitana played for Poprad.

With both top slots advancing, a win over Poprad looked to secure promotion for Poland. In the first game of the final day, Saryarka Karaganda took out Poprad, putting Krakow’s fate in their own hands. Asiago Hockey, repping Italy, was not a pushover and had kept pace with Poland’s previous opponents. That held true as halfway through the game, Asiago held a 2-1 lead over Krakow. While Cracovia would take the lead in the third, the Italiens would tie it up with just five minutes to play. The game would eventually go into overtime, where Artyom Voroshilo would bury the winning goal.

The final round will take place in January of 2022 from the 7th to the 9th. There is no venue set yet, but we do know who Poland will be facing. Saryarka Karaganda finished first in Group E and will face off with Poland again. Coming from Group F will be the Aalborg Pirates from Denmark and HK Gomel representing Belarus.

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Swedish Defensemen Damian Szurowski Getting a Chance to Represent his Parents’ Home Country

When Robert Kalaber named his first Polish national team group, it became clear that the longtime JKH GKS Jastrzebie head coach would be trying out a lot of new names. Kalaber has been at the head of a Polska Hokej Liga team since 2014. His experience in the PHL allowed seeing most of the talent Poland has to offer pretty frequently. One of those players he has seen plenty of is Damian Szurowski. 

Damian Szurowski was born to Polish parents in Ö Husby, Sweden. A lot of his family remained in Poland, where he would often visit a couple of times a year. In Sweden, though, both he and his brother worked their way up the junior ranks. His younger brother Mateusz Szurowski is a top junior player for Linköping HC and just missed being drafted in the 2020 NHL draft. For Damian, he first developed in the Arlanda HC hockey program. At the same time that Vegas Golden Knights forward, William Karlsson played for the team. In 2011, Damian Zurowksi was named the Arlanda HC 18U team captain while also playing for their 20U squad. 

He moved the following season to Nynäshamns IF. With Nynäshamns IF, he played up and down their junior ranks and made his professional hockey debut in Sweden’s division one at the age of 17. The 6’0 defender earned more and more trust until spending most of his time with the Men’s team during the 2014 season, where he posted four goals and twelve assists in thirty-two games. 

The next year he moved to Bålsta HC in Sweden’s second division, the fourth tier of hockey. Bålsta HC gave him a chance to play a lot of minutes and full time against men. After a second year with Bålsta HC, he made another move, but this time was jumping back to division one. In thirty-four games for Vännäs HC., the defensemen recorded one goal and four assists. Szurowksi would remain on the move once again in his career. This time though, a club was giving him a much more unique opportunity. 

In 2017, Cracovia Krakow approached Damian Szurowksi about coming to Poland and joining their defense. The club was coming off a second straight PHL championship and played in the Champions Hockey League once again. The defensemen would spend the next two years in Krakow, playing in 64 games and recording seven assists while winning a PHL silver medal in 2019. He would depart Cracovia but stay in Poland for 2020 after signing with Lotos PKH Gdansk. In Gdansk, he was afforded a much larger role and able to contribute more. Szurowski would post five goals and six assists in forty-seven games. His production beat his point total from the previous two seasons while finishing top 20 in goals among defensemen. 

Coming off his PHL career-best season, he was able to return to Krakow. Krakow gave him his big initial chance in Poland, and while playing for Krakow, he received one of the best opportunities of his career. Head coach Robert Kalaber named him to the national team camp for games against Hungary in early November. Szurowski is the only player on the national team from Cracovia Krakow after Damian Kapica pulled out with an injury. While by IIHF rules, Damian Szurowski is an import, there is no doubt that he bleeds red and white, and after four years in the PHL, he gets a chance to show that on the international level.

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One Young Player To Watch on Every PHL Team

The PHL season is fully underway. With plenty of teams facing a COVID-19 related cut to their roster. This left plenty of roster spaces open for young players to earn. COVID-19 also caused PZHL U23 to be left out of the plans for the hockey year. It also left many players without a way to play a sizable amount of games in the PHL, which is an excellent development experience. If a player were going to get meaningful minutes in the PHL, they would have to prove it to their clubs’ coach that they are ready to contribute in the league.

I think those conditions make it the perfect time to check in on the young talent for each PHL club. I also am setting a goal to pick players that are not as traditionally regarded as a top player. Sure Dominik Pas is a great young player, but he has also been in the PHL for years now. So I am setting a rule of less than 50 PHL games coming into the year.

Cracovia KrakowPatryk Gosztyla. In the past couple of years, Krakow started to make an apparent effort in bringing in young talent. Gosztyla was part of that initial group. The 6’2 defensemen got a bit lost in the shuffle in 2019 after returning to Poland from the Slovak junior system. This year though, he has cemented himself as part of the Krakow defensemen lineup, already topping his games played total from last year. The 20-year-old also has posted five points (1G-4A-5PTS) in six games in the Polish second league. Honorable Mention: Igor Augustyniak

GKS Tychy – Kacper Gruźla. Gruźla had a breakout year last year in the Polish second league. This earned him a long term spot with PZHL U23 and an appointment to the Polish U20 squad. This year he has run with it playing in six games for GKS Tychy. Since then, he has already impacted the boxscore, recording two goals and two assists. If the 6’1 forward continues his upward trend, he could find himself with a larger PHL and national team role. Honorable Mention: Jan Krzyżek

JKH GKS Jastrzębie – Dawid Wróblewski. Jastrzebie has the most young talent of any team in Poland. With that, a lot of the talent has already played more than 50 games, as a lot of the talent has long been promoted to the PHL. Wróblewski saw a lot of action across different Polish junior teams putting up solid production wherever he went. This year, with Jastrzębie not having a team in Poland’s second league, the 6’4 forward was loaned to Polonia Bytom. There he has put up six goals and six assists in eight games. He should be able to start trying to force his way into the Jastrzebie roster. Honorable Mention: Marcin Płachetka

KH GKS Katowice – Maciej Miarka. Miarka joined the Katowice squad after seeing the logjam of goalies in Jastrzebie. In Katowice, the former Poland U18 and U20 goalie should play quite a few games in the PHL this year. In Katowice, the Łódź native will be backing up veteran Slovakian goalie Juraj Šimboch. So far, in two PHL games this season, the 6’1 goalie has a .912 SV%. Including stopping all seven shots, he faced in relief against defending champs GKS Tychy. Honorable Mention: Marcin Wyśnik

KH Energa Toruń – Oskar Bajwenko. Before we knew if this hockey year would go on at all, Toruń had a team mostly of junior players with a few imports and returning veterans. One of the few junior players from that group to earn a contract was Oskar Bajwenko. Bajwenko is a smaller defenseman but not afraid to go into the corners and get physical. He has received a small amount of junior national team consideration. He is a project. He could develop into a tremendous physical defenseman with two-way abilities. He has only played in one game so far in the PHL, but with the start the club has had this season, it is understandable they may not want to change up the lineup. Honorable Mention; Filip Mazurkiewicz

Podhale Nowy Targ – Ernest Bochnak. Nowy Targ came into this season, emphasizing finding new Polish talent and has already tried out quite a few new young players. This includes Ernest Bochnak. Bochnak comes over after time in the Czech and Finnish junior systems. Last year he played most in the third level of Czech hockey, recording two goals and four assists in twenty-two games. Bochnak has long been one of the best Polish junior players. He now has a chance to show that in Podhale. Through eight games, he has two points notching both a goal and an assist. Honorable Mention: Fabian Kapica

Stoczniowiec Gdansk – Michał Zając. I have many feelings about the club and how they will be as a place for developing young talent. The team will undoubtedly provide a lot of value to young players in terms of ice time. Zając is taking advantage of that, playing in each of the team’s games so far. In those ten matches, he has recorded one goal and three assists. This matches his production from last year with PZHL U23 but in a much smaller role. He is making the most of his opportunities. The 6’1 forward would have easily made the Polish U20 squad if not for COVID. Honorable Mention: Bartosz Wołoszyk

STS Sanok – Jakub Bukowski. Sanok is one of the youngest teams in the PHL, leaving many options for this choice. For their pick, I went with Jabuk Bukowski as he is probably the most pro hockey ready. He showed up well in the pre-season and has done well so far in the regular season. He has three goals and one assist. His point total is tied for third on Sanok. The talented forward showed a lot of potential in smaller Czech and Swiss leagues and now has a great chance to show his skills in Poland. He has been given many top line chances in Sanok, giving him an excellent opportunity to develop further. Honorable Mention: Maciej Witan

Unia Oswiecim – Sebastian Lipiński. While I tried to pick less known players for this list, the gap between Lipiński and the rest of the Oswiecim roster was too big. Lipiński is one of the best young goaltenders Poland has seen in a long time, with few rarely even able to play the amount of PHL games he has at his age. So far, in his lone game this season, he posted a 15 save shutout vs. Gdansk. Honorable Mention: Patryk Kusak

Zaglebie Sosnowiec – Marcel Kotuła. Sosnowiec is another team packed with a lot of young talent, but most of their young talent are seasoned veterans of the PHL. As mentioned in Lipinski’s paragraph, young goalies don’t get those chances in the PHL. This season Marcel Kotuła will compete with 24-year-old Michal Czernik for reps. Last year Kotuła led all goalies in save percentage for the Polish first league. So far through four games between the PHL and Polish first league, he has a .917 SV% along with one shutout. Honorable Mention: Szymon Luszniak

Polish Puck’s 2020-21 PHL Predictions: Middle of the Pack

Just a few games into the PHL season and I already feel a bit uneasy about my predictions. KH Torun is now undefeated and leading the league while shutting out their opponents twice already. I haven’t changed my predictions though. The five remaining teams all hold a solid chance of winning the PHL championship. Everyone is going all out this season in the hopes of ending GKS Tychy’s reign of terror.

5. Comarch Cracovia Krakow

2019-20 Finish: 5th

This is my hottest take and the ranking I feel I am most wrong about. You just can never count out Krakow. The offseason was rough for the team as they had to say goodbye to basically every non-young Polish player on their roster. In fact of the nine non-U23 Polish players on the team’s roster from last season only two, Filip Drzewiecki and Robert Kowalówka, are returning. The team is solely made up of imports and young Polish talent.

On the Polish side, all the young Polish players are in for larger roles with the holes in the line-up. Dawid Musioł already made his senior national team debut. Łukasz Kamiński and Sebastian Brynkus really needed more time to further their development. Igor Augustyniak, Mateusz Bezwinski, and Patryk Gosztyla all have great chances to earn full-time spots in the PHL.

Now the imports, they have a major Czech flavor with ten of the eleven imports being from Czechia. Five of them are defensemen. Aleš Ježek and Jiří Gula return to the team after solid seasons in the red and white. Michal Gutwald is a big defenseman at 6’3 and spent the last three years in the Elite Ice Hockey League in the UK. Jakub Šaur joins after quite a few strong years with Unia Oswiecim, including finishing fourth in points among defensemen for the 2019 season. Martin Dudáš returns for a third stint in Krakow. Dudáš has been named captain of the team. In net Michael Petrásek will hold down the fort after posting a .918 SV% in the Chance Liga.

On the forward end, five imports join Filip Drzewiecki and Krakow’s young talent. Erik Němec joins after spending a year between the top two Czech leagues, but posted 70 points in 103 EBEL games. Richard Nejezchleb is a former New York Rangers fourth-round pick in 2014, and spent last year in the second Czechia league. Štěpán Csamangó returns to Krakow after spending last year in the Erste Liga. Csamangó previously posted 41 points (22G, 19A, 41 PTS) in 42 regular games during the 2019 PHL season. Tomáš Franek posted a point per game regular season last year with Podhale Nowy Targ. The lone Finnish import is Taavi Tiala, who posted a .40 point per game average in 322 Mestis games.

Damian Szurowski was the only non-import player to join Krakow from another Polish club. Imports can be very hit in and miss in the PHL. Sometimes you get players that are top scorers and key players easily. Other times you get players that don’t even hold up after a few games and are quickly released. That is the risk Krakow is taking, and they don’t have the depth to make up for the handful of players that won’t live up to what the team hoped. But it feels weird counting them out, even after early struggles.

Role: The New England Patriots

4. GKS Katowice

2019-20 Finish: 6th

Every year GKS Katowice has championship expectations but comes up short. Each year this has resulted in quite a few massive roster changes. This year is no exception to that as the team saw quite a few Polish stars like Marcin Kolusz and Oskar Jaskiewicz head abroad. Top imports like Robin Rahm and Teddy Da Costa also departed. There was a lot of talent coming in though.

On the Polish side Bartosz Fraszko, Maciej Kruczek, and Mateusz Zielinski all joined from rival PHL clubs. Polish players were not the only ones jumping ship to GKS Katowice. As the team signed Filip Stoklasa and Matej Cunik from Zaglebie Sosnowiec, while also bringing back Jesse Rohtla after a year with JKH GKS Jastrzebie. The team made their new goalie, former HK Nitra starter, Juraj Šimboch.

Patryk Krezolek is really poised to be a star on this team. The club also made sure to retain key pieces like Grzegorz Pasiut, Mateusz Michalski, and Patryk Wajda. GKS Katowice has a lot of talent. It is also really nice to see how much of the team is Polish national team talent. This roster is one of the top in the PHL, but not one that I can see taking down the teams I have ranked ahead of them in a best of seven series.

Role: Reloading

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Four National Team Members Won’t Return to Cracovia Krakow

After a disappointing fifth-place finish in the PHL regular season, Cracovia Krakow came into the playoff as an underdog. However, the team still was able to take JKH GKS Jastrzebie to seven games in a back and forth first-round series. In the end, the green and black would get the better of Krakow in the series. The results are clearly not up to par with what is usually expected from Cracovia, as the 2019-20 season is the first season since  2014-15 that club did not compete for the championship or for bronze. While the rest of the world doesn’t know what to do right now, Cracovia knows they want to reshape their roster.

Per Hokej.net, Adam Domogała, Kamil Kalinowski, Maciej Kruczek, and Mateusz Bepierszcz, all will not be returning to Krakow. Most of these players excelled in the 2018-19 season but struggled as the league improved this year.

Adam Domogala posted 28 points (11-17-28) in 46 games during his fifth season in the red and white. The Katowice native played his junior hockey in Germany, along with spending his first few professional seasons in the DEL2 and Oberliga. He made his senior IIHF debut for Poland at last year’s World Championships and recorded two goals in five games. I have to imagine GKS Katowice could be a likely destination for the soon to be 27-year-old forward.

Kamil Kalinowski recorded 14 points (6-8-14) in 32 games in his first full season with Cracovia Krakow. He joined them in the middle of last year after spending the previous three seasons with GKS Tychy. He made quite the impression in a short time recording 16 points (5-11-16) in 22 games, but could not repeat that success. Kalinowski last represented Poland at a non-IIHF event in 2018. The 28-year-old center is a product of the Torun junior system, and brother Michal plays for Torun. Given KH Torun’s emergence, I wonder if Kamil could return to the program like Bartosz Fraszko did.

Maciej Kruczek posted 16 points (5-11-16) in 44 games during his sixth season with Cracovia Krakow. The defensemen served as captain of Krakow in 2018. Kruczek has represented Poland three times at the World Championships, and most likely would have been four if not for an equipment issue in 2019. The veteran defensemen should have a large number of suitors for his strong two-way game.

Mateusz Bepierszcz posted 23 points (7-16-23) in 52 games with Cracovia this season. This is a far cry from his production last year, where he posted 55 points (24-31-55) 58 games. The 6’3 left winger has bounced around plenty of top teams in the Polish league and will be looking to join his fifth team this offseason. The 28-year-old has only represented Poland at one World Championship but has represented Poland at two Olympic qualifier tournaments, and is a regular at non-IIHF events.

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