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.
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 Krakow – Patryk 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
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.
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.